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"
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