travel

Japanese travel guide for East Africa filled with thrilling tales of danger

28 Comments
By Casey Baseel

Japan is, by almost any criteria, an extremely safe country. You can wander most back alleys of Tokyo in the dead of night without any sense of danger, and calmly carry huge amounts of cash secure in the knowledge that you’re about as likely to come across a mugger in downtown as a man riding a horse.

While this bubble of safety is definitely a plus when you’re inside it, the flipside is that Japanese travelers, unaccustomed to street crime, violent or otherwise, tend to be extremely risk averse when going abroad. Driving this point home is the East Africa edition of a popular series of Japanese guidebooks, which is filled with warnings of danger that seem more like something out of a pulp action novel than a travel reference.

Publisher Diamond has a wide variety of travel guidebooks in its "Chikyu no Arukikata" series, most of which include detailed outlines for walking tours.

"Chikyu no Arukikata’s" writers took a different tack with their East Africa edition. More so than its descriptions of historic and cultural sites, the book’s nonstop parade of cautionary tales is what really makes an impression on the reader.

The book covers Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania. Recently, one of the writers for our Japanese-language sister site read through the chapters on Kenya, and shared some of the more chilling bits of advice it contains, such as this:

"We don’t want our readers to run into any trouble, so please don’t think we are exaggerating the dangers mentioned here. Even in situations and locations we have not explicitly described, danger can suddenly occur, so please keep you guard up at all times."

Clearly, in "Chikyu no Arukikata’s" eyes, Kenya is not to be trifled with.

A large portion of the book’s Kenya section is dedicated to cataloging the perils of Nairobi, the capital city.

"In the markets, beware of pickpockets and purse snatchers. In addition, it is safer not to take pictures," the book advises.

So far, this mainly seems like common sense when travelling in crowded places, although we’re not sure exactly what "Chikyu no Arukikata" is getting at by recommending not taking pictures, aside from possibly not drawing attention to your expensive camera.

The danger level gets kicked up several notches when talking about going to the bank, however.

"If you must go to the Nairobi Bank, don’t go alone. Always go in a group, preferably one that includes locals. Do not carry a shoulder bag or camera, and be sure to leave the area by 4 p.m., using a taxi. In choosing a taxi, we recommend selecting the newest car available. In particular, taxis equipped with radios are less likely to be the target of carjackers."

The insistence on a taxi is a little surprising for a guidebook series that ordinarily champions pedestrian sightseeing, until you notice that the guide’s description of Nairobi also includes this: "Downtown Nairobi is filled with desperate, potentially dangerous individuals. It is not unusual for robbery or murder to occur at any time or any place. This is an extremely dangerous place, and foreign tourists and expatriates should absolutely not go there."

OK, so if the market, financial district, and downtown in general are out, what’s left? Maybe a nice stroll though the park? Not so fast, says our guide book. "Travelers should by no means enter the parks in Nairobi. There have been incidents of foreign tourists being attacked by gangs of robbers who appeared out of nowhere."

Yikes. If what "Chikyu no Arukikata" tells us is true, maybe we’d be better off just hopping in a car and getting out of Nairobi entirely. Maybe we should head to Maasai Mara, the gigantic nature preserve in southwest Kenya. But the book informs us that even on the road, danger abounds.

"In an increasingly common scam, marijuana is thrown into a moving car. When the occupant picks up the drugs to remove them, fraudsters will blackmail the victim, saying that he could be convicted of possession, which carries a penalty of three to six months’ incarceration, through fingerprint analysis."

We’re curious as to just how huge a ball of cannabis you’d have to make so you could actually toss it between moving vehicles. Are Kenyan highways filled with beach ball size wads of pot being tossed from one lane to another? If that is indeed the case, maybe we’ll just take the train. Except as "Chikyu no Arukikata" points out: "In December of 1971, rail service was temporarily suspended after a head-on collision between a train and an elephant."

In all fairness though, this does put the frequency of elephant-related rail accidents in Kenya, over the last 35 years, at the same level as Tokyo.

But even should fortune smile upon you, allowing you to reach Maasai Mara without any unwanted encounters with scam artists or pachyderms, you’re still not out of the woods.

"Gangs of robbers often appear in Maasai Mara, and during one such incident in 2005, a Japanese tourist had his finger cut off. Opt for tours with large groups of people travelling in several cars."

Even then, travelers will need to take precautions in dealing with the nature preserve’s animal inhabitants.

"Maasai Mara is home to elephants, lions, black rhinos, and buffalo. All will attack if you enter their personal territory, with rhinos and buffalo being particularly aggressive."

"Chikyu no Arukikata" isn’t leaving us with a lot of options. The guide hasn’t yet mentioned any dangers lurking in the sky, though. The more we read, the better a hot air balloon ride, high above threats from armed robbers, angry rhinos, and marijuana chuckers is sounding. But, as the book informs us:

"Hot air balloon safaris are popular with tourists, but crashes occur frequently, and have resulted in death and partial paralysis. The balloons are sometimes blown off course by strong winds and have to touch down in Tanzania. To be on the safe side, make sure to take your passport up in the balloon with you."

You might think that "Chikyu no Arukikata" is picking on Kenya, but in fact the East Africa guide is filled with similar horror stories for the other three countries it covers, as well. Our hearts couldn’t take any more, though, so we stopped with Kenya, which "Chikyu no Arukikata" most succinctly states its opinion on with this nugget regarding Nairobi.

"Normally, we like to tell our readers about many interesting places in the cities of the world, and encourage them to walk around to get the best feel for the town. However, due to worsening safety in Nairobi, we absolutely do not recommend walking even during the day."

Strong words from "Chikyu no Arukikata," which literally translates as How to Walk Around the Earth. Might be time for a new name.

Source: "Chikyu no Arukikata"

Read more stories from RocketNews24. -- Beware the Dangers of Free Wi-Fi -- Taboo behavior abroad according to Japanese travelers -- The top seven items experienced Japanese travelers recommend you bring along on trips

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28 Comments
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Makes sense. Africa is a dangerous continent. Rather they take these exrtreme precautions than we read about some poor young Japanese tourist being mugged or raped or murdered because he/she was innocent of these dangers.

5 ( +10 / -5 )

The Best Advice: Don't go there.

4 ( +10 / -6 )

makes total sense, dont go there unless you have local friends or a part of large well organised group.. we dont need to read about you in the news.

3 ( +7 / -4 )

akbfan: Makes sense. Africa is a dangerous continent.

The book is about east Africa, four countries specifically. There are 54 (55 depending on who's counting) countries in Africa. Places such as Ghana, Botswana and Morocco are considered quite safe, as are plenty of others. Additionally, there were over 50 million tourist who traveled to various African destinations in 2011 alone and the vast majority experienced few if any issues. There are certainly problems in some African countries just as there are in Asia and other places. According to the Citizen Council for Public Safety and Human Justice, the top 10 most dangerous cities in the world in 2012 were all in five countries, those being Brazil, Colombia, Honduras, Mexico and Venezuela. The first African city, Cape Town made the list at 34 with two other South African cities in the top 50, so there's that. A country is not a continent and to lump them all together as if they are one big, dangerous place is simply ignorant and incorrect.

7 ( +9 / -2 )

Japan is, by almost any criteria, an extremely safe country. You can wander most back alleys of Tokyo in the dead of night without any sense of danger

couldnt read any further, laughing too hard. if you go by the number of crimes reported this might pass, but we all know the number of rapes and assaults on women that actually end up reported is minuscule.

6 ( +11 / -5 )

Ambrosia. That so? i love lists. Sorry i didn't have time to do a country by country analysis, but anyway. good luck to any single Japanese tourist walking around at night in (say) downtown Gaberone or Casablanca. and just look at per capita crime stats for any number of non East African countries to see they are dangerous by anyone's measure. Try Nigeria, Libya, Somalia, Mozambique and many others for a start. And i think you meant 4 countires are not a continent, but anyway. You ever been to Africa?

-3 ( +3 / -6 )

akbfan: Ambrosia. That so? i love lists. Sorry i didn't have time to do a country by country analysis, but anyway.

Nor did I do a country by country analysis but its's pretty easy to find the information rather than stereotyping a whole continent.

good luck to any single Japanese tourist walking around at night in (say) downtown Gaberone or Casablanca.

Why would Japanese tourists be in danger any more so than anyone else if these places are as dangerous as you claim?

and just look at per capita crime stats for any number of non East African countries to see they are dangerous by anyone's measure. Try Nigeria, Libya, Somalia, Mozambique and many others for a start.

For a start, Mozambique and Somalia are both east African countries. As for Nigeria and Libya, no one would deny that there are dangerous countries in Africa. There are dangerous countries on every continent. That doesn't make the whole continent dangerous but feel free to stereotype.

And i think you meant 4 countires are not a continent, but anyway.

But anyway, what? That's pretty much the point of my comment or did you need that to be spelled out more clearly?

You ever been to Africa?

Yes, many times and I've never had a problem nor have any of the many Japanese I've known who've traveled to Ghana, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Botswana, Namibia, Kenya, Senegal, Mauritius, etc. But, you know, if a person perceives the world to be just one, big, scary place then, by all means, they should just do everyone a favor and stay home.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

Japan is, by almost any criteria, an extremely safe country.

Glad to see I wasn't the only one who started laughing at this. I guess someone missed the article about safety and foreign women here run recently the JTs. Worth a read.

0 ( +6 / -6 )

@tmarie

laughing at what, Japan is one of the safest first world nations for men, women and kids. If foreign women have trouble i would think it is due to their excessive alcohol consumption and acting in an unlady like manner which is frowned on in Japan and i agree. Japan is not the west with waddling drunken fools out every weekend.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

In the markets, beware of pickpockets and purse snatchers. In addition, it is safer not to take pictures, the book advises.

I moved to New York and the same thing can be said to tourists visiting Times Square and many other places. As for the picture taking, it is considered rued. Most tourists come to Eastern Africa to see the wildlife on safari so picture taking by a STRANGER who has not asked to do so is seen as something you do for animals.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

@ambrosia ... I like what you wrote. The stuff about Kenya in the above article made me laugh. Because I have been there a few times, including Nairobi and Maasai Mara, and, really, I have never seen any of the things the article mentioned. Have never been to Ethiopia or Tanzania, though. But have briefly been to Uganda - the whitewater rafting is fantastic and highly recommended.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

kazungu: It just gets annoying, doesn't it? It's the second largest continent, the second most populous continent and the most genetically diverse continent but yet knee-jerk reactionaries insist on talking as if it's all the same from tip to tail and side to side, conveniently forgetting that Afghanistan (war), Pakistan (border issues, terrorist incidents, political instability) Bangladesh (terrorist incidents), India (attacks against women), Thailand (high rates of gun violence and homicides) and Papua New Guinea (high rape incidents) are all in Asia. Can you travel to most of those places and have no problems, most likely. Should the fact that Asia, a huge and diverse place, has dangerous parts mean all of Asia is dangerous? I'd say no but that's just me.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

ambrosia, thank you, for throwing all those other countries under the bus for the sake of making your argument.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

Bummer. Guess I'll have to settle for Robert Pelton's Black Cafe guide to Somalia when I get ready to take the wife and kids to visit Mogadishu on the weekend. Guess I'd better ask the locals about taking photos with the family first before I get to be a shutterbug of sorts.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Namibia safe? i lived there for 4 years and that just ain't so. from Wikitravel: Namibia does, however, have a relatively high crime rate. Be careful around ATMs. For men, it is not prudent to walk or ride taxis alone in Windhoek or Oshakati after midnight. For women, it is not prudent after 9 p.m. Pickpockets can be a problem. Lately, there are many armed robberies reported; in most cases, tourists get robbed of belongings carried with them in a bag. For home security, electric fences are installed in almost every house in Windhoek.

Egypt? Even CNN reporters get sexually harassed and there are numerous reports of women being gang assaulted by groups of men.... and morocco and Tunisia have always had a reputatio for being a bit difficult for female tourists. i was making a general statement, not "stereotyping a whole continent". I really didn't mean to hurt Africa's feelings. i lived there (including SA, Namibia, Botswana, Swaziland) for 19 years and have relatives who live in Tanzania.

And the reason i specified Japanese tourists is that they are apprently seen as softer targets by street criminals and anyway, this is JT and the article was about warning Japanese tourists how to behave.

Mozambique is a Southeastern African country......

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Yes, many times and I've never had a problem nor have any of the many Japanese I've known who've traveled to Ghana, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Botswana, Namibia, Kenya, Senegal, Mauritius, etc.

It was nice of you to give the fellow poster a lesson in the semantics of geography. But his/her point seems to be lost on you. Africa is a very dangerous continent. The "guidebook" seems to be a bit over the top, but if you have any experience with Japan, you know that the average Japanese tourist is not savvy at all when it comes to personal safety abroad. Sometimes it may be necessary to present some of the more extreme possibilities in order to make people think seriously about how they conduct themselves when they are in a foreign country.

For the record I spent several years in Africa (although the only country on this list I have much familiarity with would be Kenya) and I think its a great place. Some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. But lets not pretend that it isn't a place where, by and large, tourists need to be extra mindful of what's going on. As it is, there are at least a half dozen countries on the African continent where it is simply not safe to travel period. I would love to set my eyes on the pyramids again one day, but I doubt that it will ever be safe to return there in my lifetime.

there were over 50 million tourist who traveled to various African destinations in 2011 alone and the vast majority experienced few if any issues.

The fact that you cite other, supposedly less safe, destinations in an attempt to mitigate the dangers of African travel is irrelevant. So its not the worst - its bad enough that tourists need to be made aware of the potential dangers, so people publish books like the one featured in this article.

And I'm sorry, but the low crime figures you reference are absolutely a reflection of how few people visit Africa. You say 50 million people traveled to Africa in 2011 like that's a lot. As you say we are talking over fifty countries ... that's barely 1 million per country. The US alone sees more than that in one year, the UK over 30 million. Countries like Canada, Australia, Japan are all around 10 million. By any yardstick the number of tourists to Africa is small. Lets not pretend the reason for that isn't linked to the violent and lawless image of the continent.

Check this table of violent deaths. You will find many African countries in the top twenty five. Pointing out that Guatemala or Mexico is worse should be of little consolation. Oh - and for tmarie and the others who scoffed at the image of Japan as one of the safest countries in the world. Read it and weep. Japan is sixth from the bottom of this list. Indisputably one of safest places on the planet from a standpoint of random violence and crime.

http://www.worldlifeexpectancy.com/cause-of-death/violence/by-country/

1 ( +2 / -1 )

don't condenm a place/ country unless you've been there and had a first hand experience. i'm from Nairobi, and it's not as bad as they say. of course there are some streets that even locals don't venture into day or night. but that doesn't mean that the whole city is waiting to grab whatever gadgets the tourists have on them. so let's not believe everything we read in these guidebooks. my advice is; read a wide variety of guidebooks, research and ask those that have been there! after all is said and done...we welcome you to Kenya.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Can't call it East Africa and dangerous without mentioning Sudan and Somalia.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

akbfan: Africa is a dangerous continent.

i was making a general statement, not "stereotyping a whole continent".

What's the difference?

For women, it is not prudent after 9 p.m. Pickpockets can be a problem. Lately, there are many armed robberies reported; in most cases, tourists get robbed of belongings carried with them in a bag.

You've just explained how people in most major cities throughout the world can stay safe.

Even CNN reporters get sexually harassed and there are numerous reports of women being gang assaulted by groups of men.

Yes, unfortunately she was but that was during the revolution and not a time when most people would have considered visiting as tourists.

hidingout: But lets not pretend that it isn't a place where, by and large, tourists need to be extra mindful of what's going on. As it is, there are at least a half dozen countries on the African continent where it is simply not safe to travel period.

Absolutely, and I made it perfectly clear that there are definitely African countries where there are problems - just as there are on most continents.

The fact that you cite other, supposedly less safe, destinations in an attempt to mitigate the dangers of African travel is irrelevant. So its not the worst - its bad enough that tourists need to be made aware of the potential dangers, so people publish books like the one featured in this article.

It was not to mitigate the dangerous of trouble spots but to point out the ridiculousness of labeling a whole continent as "dangerous". As for the book, a quick search will find you dozens and dozens of books on how to travel safely to most anywhere on this planet. As a tourist, no matter where you go, you should be aware of potential dangers, be that London, Accra, Kuala Lumpur, Lima or New York. To fail to do so simply makes you a fool.

The point isn't that the continent as a whole doesn't have trouble spots. The point is that to make the statement "Africa is dangerous" is as simplistic as saying all Africans are poor and uneducated and that there are wild animals roaming around everywhere there. There are enough misconceptions and ignorant ideas about Africa without people, who otherwise seem intelligent enough to know better, adding fuel to the fire.

If we're going to quibble about numbers, most anyone who's been in Japan for a while, especially women, can tell you with no uncertainty that while Japan is, without a doubt, safer than many places, the stereotype of Japan as a place where one can wander freely without any issues is far from correct and that the number of official assaults, sexual and otherwise are not a reflection of reality for many women here, myself included.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Difference in tone. you seem to have taken offence on behalf of the whole continent. Wasn't me explaining, was an extract from WikiTravel. It is the same in Egypt now. there are groups runnig in Cairo specifcally to assit women who have been bundled off the streets by groups of men. don't think my little post on JT is "adding fuel to the fire" . i think you may just be a little bit too outraged about stuff to realise that not every little thing is intended as a provocation or critiscism.....

0 ( +1 / -1 )

akbfan: i think you may just be a little bit too outraged about stuff to realise that not every little thing is intended as a provocation or critiscism....

Outraged, hardly. Surprised that inevitably someone would post that Africa is dangerous, no. Annoyed, yes.

If calling a whole continent dangerous isn't something you consider a criticism then my supposed over-sensitivity is greatly surpassed by your utter lack of sensitivity.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

No SOMALIA?? ETHIOPIA??

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Outraged. Annoyed. tomato. tomato. do you really think that Africa was hurt by my comment? Offended? And i do think "utter lacK" is a bit strong. Anyhooo, Africa and I can always kiss and make up next time i am there (next month).

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

akbfan: Outraged. Annoyed. tomato. tomato. do you really think that Africa was hurt by my comment? Offended? And i do think "utter lacK" is a bit strong.

Did I say Africa was hurt by your comment? Did I say Africa was offended by your comment? I was the one who was annoyed by your comment, me and perhaps the 7 who thumbed up by initial comment. My African spouse was tooth-kissingly annoyed by your comment as well but found it typical and expected. Outraged and annoyed are hardly the same but since you've now suggested that you think they are I'm going to stick with - utter lack of sensitivity - since you seem incapable of understanding vocabulary nuances. Nakutakia siku njema!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The point isn't that the continent as a whole doesn't have trouble spots. The point is that to make the statement "Africa is dangerous" is as simplistic as saying all Africans are poor and uneducated and that there are wild animals roaming around everywhere there. There are enough misconceptions and ignorant ideas about Africa without people, who otherwise seem intelligent enough to know better, adding fuel to the fire.

Its not about labeling places ambrosia. Its about picking your spots, and sadly there are some spots these days where most travelers had better not go. Inexperienced travelers who intend to travel to these dangerous areas no matter what need to be presented with some scary scenarios in order to shock them into sobriety.

If you travel in Africa, and yes I mean the whole continent, you need to understand that there are going to be various challenges. Crime, civil unrest, genocide, religious conflict, spotty infrastructure and medical care ... these are all factors one has to weigh. And yes, there are wild animals to consider. And I'm not just talking about the lions,rhino and buffalo mentioned in this article. My traveling companion was bitten by a scorpion in Namibia while we were staying in a fairly nice hotel. And I can't count how many snakes I've seen in Africa. Do you think most travelers watch for snakes and scorpions where they walk or where they sleep?

Again, let me say that none of this should be taken as any sort of slam at Africa. But having experienced it for myself I would honestly say that its probably not the place most Japanese should be going for their vacation.

If we're going to quibble about numbers, most anyone who's been in Japan for a while, especially women, can tell you with no uncertainty that while Japan is, without a doubt, safer than many places, the stereotype of Japan as a place where one can wander freely without any issues is far from correct and that the number of official assaults, sexual and otherwise are not a reflection of reality for many women here, myself included.

You are right that Japan is undoubtedly safer for men than women. I'm sorry that some women don't feel safe here. Its a real shame.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I like how you don't like me lumping all countries in Africa into one comment but then refer to your spouse as "African". Any particular country? Wasn't sure i got the last comment - Swahili? Still think you are being way oversensitive. Having lived in a number of African countries for almost 20 years i really am not trying to cause offence. Maybe hidingout says it a little more "sensitively" than I do. note also you have just skated obver the obvious factual inaccuracuies (Namibia? Egypt? A few other North African countries?) in your previous tirade.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I said "African" because 1) that you don't seem to have a problem with generalities and 2) I purposely choose not to put much of my personal information on sites like this. I did not skirt over the problems in Egypt. I said that the female reporter had been attacked during the revolution and that that was a time when most people with any sense wouldn't have considered traveling there as tourists. As for Namibia, since you're the one who quoted Wikitravel selectively, let me include the bit you left out:

Namibia is a peaceful country and is not involved in any wars. With the end of the Angolan civil war in May 2002, the violence that spilled over into northeastern Namibia is no longer an issue.

Most reported robberies take place just outside of the city centre. The police report that taxi drivers are often involved: they spot vulnerable tourists and coordinate by cell phoning the robbers. Take these warnings in context; if you are alert and take some common sense precautions, you should have no problems.

Travellers should have no problem visiting the townships, but do not visit the townships alone unless you are familiar with the area. If you have been travelling in Southern Africa for a few months, you probably know what you are doing.

Oh, and I love how it's a "tirade" when someone disagrees with you and how they're "outraged" for expressing a dissenting opinion. We're going to have to agree to disagree on this topic as I see no need to continue spending my time responding. It's been fun. Moving on.....

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Agree with ambrosia.

Lived for 10yrs in SA and we often partied in the townships, also travelled the african continent during that time. Great memories

0 ( +1 / -1 )

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