In a special edition of our “how safe is it to visit…” series, we shed light on the risks involved when travelling to Japan for this year’s Rugby World Cup.
The 2019 Rugby World Cup is due to be held in twelve stadiums across Japan from 20th September to 2nd November. Over 600,000 visitors from around the world are due to attend the event, along with thousands of domestic fans. Japan is a LOW security risk destination, with the majority of visits passing without incident. However, in this article, Healix International outlines some of the top travel tips for those attending the event.
The Rugby World Cup is due to kick off in the prime of Japan’s typhoon season. The season runs annually from July to October, with August and September being the most frequently impacted. Every year, an average of eleven typhoons impact Japan and, typically, three of these impact in September alone.
Given the formation pattern and trajectory of most typhoons, Japan’s southernmost prefecture, Okinawa, tends to be most-affected; no games are due to be held in this prefecture. However, a large number of typhoons then tend to move north-east and impact Kyushu Island and, occasionally, Honshu Island. These islands host three and eight stadium venues respectively, making them vulnerable to inclement weather. For example, in September 2018, the strongest typhoon in over 25 years hit the country, Typhoon Jebi, resulted in the closure of Osaka’s Kansai International Airport and caused a fatality toll of at least eleven. There is also the security risk posed by landslides and flooding following a typhoon. Heavy rains following the passage of Typhoon Prapiroon in July 2018 led to widespread flooding and landslides that killed more than 200 people. Should a similar natural disaster occur this year, it is highly likely to impact event proceedings.
The games’ organisers have reportedly put contingencies in place, but this may involve games being postponed, relocated or cancelled if inclement weather occurs. The first half of the tournament, which also happens to be the busiest, is most at-risk of being disrupted by typhoons.
Top Tips: Healix International publishes information on in-bound typhoons through our ‘Travel Oracle’ app. In order to receive alerts, clients and their employees can add Japan to their ‘Watch Country’ list, and enable push notifications. In addition, information on weather can be obtained via the Japan Meteorological Agency, which publishes weather warnings in English language. Mobile applications, including one by NHK world, can be downloaded to receive notifications on natural disasters, and locations of the nearest shelter, medical facility, and even water supply. In the event of a typhoon, ensure you stay indoors in a secure stand fast location. Any stand fast location should have enough food, drink and other supplies for the entirety of the storm.
In addition to typhoons, Japan lies within the Pacific ‘Ring of Fire’, and earthquakes are common given the country’s location on major seismic fault lines. This makes it vulnerable to frequent low-intensity earthquakes, as well as occasional, destructive high-intensity earthquakes. The country, on average, experiences over 1,500 earthquakes per year. There is also a risk of tsunamis in coastal areas of the country.
Japan’s northernmost main island, Hokkaido, as well as the Pacific Coast of Honshu Island are considered to be most at-risk of large-scale earthquakes. In September 2018, at least 40 people were killed and over 600 wounded following a M6.6 earthquake near Sapporo, Hokkaido Island; Sapporo is a host city for the Rugby World Cup.
Again, the games’ organisers have put contingencies in place, but in the worst case scenario, the impact of a strong magnitude earthquake could be critical. Since 1981, all new buildings have to adhere to strict building codes, ensuring that they can withstand a high-intensity quake. This should mitigate the risk of earthquakes significantly impacting event venues. However, the wider risk of damage, electrical power cuts and significant casualties would test event contingency plans and the local emergency services.
Volcanic activity can occasionally cause flight disruption as well. For instance, the eruption of the country’s largest active volcano in 2015, Mount Aso, caused disruption to air traffic serving Kumamoto Airport [KMJ]. An eruption in late 2014 also caused dozens of flights from KMJ to be cancelled. KMJ serves Kumamoto, which is a host city for the event.
Top Tips: The Japan National Tourism Organisation (JNTO) has launched an English-language mobile app called ‘Safety Tips’ that posts notifications in the event of a natural disaster and contains emergency services details. This can be used alongside Healix International’s ‘Travel Oracle’ app to remain abreast of developments. In the event of an earthquake, adopt the ‘Drop, Cover, Hold’ approach. This means dropping to the floor, covering your head and holding onto something sturdy. In the event of a strong earthquake, do not re-enter damaged buildings until it is confirmed safe to do so.
Crime is less of a risk in Japan, with the majority of incidents being of a petty or opportunistic nature. Pickpocketing and bag snatching are likely to be the main concerns. The risk of such crimes tend to increase in large-crowds, and an uptick in crime around event venues and on congested public transport systems is expected. There is also likely to be an increase in alcohol-fuelled criminality, particularly around entertainment districts and post-matches. The Japanese security forces are likely to significantly increase deployments in an attempt to mitigate the risk of crime impacting foreign nationals.
With the exception of alcohol-fuelled incidents, there is a generally low risk of violent crime facing foreign nationals in Japan. The risk tends to be increased around entertainment venues where the ‘Yakuza’ (criminal gangs) are known to operate. These groups tend to operate in illicit dealings, including illegal gambling, extortion, narcotics and the sex trade. The majority of violent incidents tend to be linked to inter-Yakuza rivalry, or linked to personal grievances.
Top Tips: In the unlikely event of something going wrong, Japan operates a 24/7/365 Visitor Hotline [(+81) 50 3816 2787] in English, Chinese, Korean and Japanese. If you need to contact the police, the emergency number is 110, though an English-language service cannot always be guaranteed. In Tokyo, an English-language line runs during office hours. Where possible, enlist the assistance of a Japanese speaker when seeking help from the police. Alternatively, contact your company’s security manager or your security assistance company, such as Healix International, who can also offer support. To minimise the risk of becoming a victim of crime, ensure that all your valuables are kept securely on your person and not in exposed or easily-accessible pockets. Exercise increased vigilance when in crowds or travelling on busy public transport services.
Culture and Local Customs
Japan has a unique culture and the organisers of the Rugby World Cup have taken steps to ensure that visitors are made aware of this. For example, tattoos remain taboo in the country; these have traditionally been linked members of the Yakuza, and people with visible tattoos can often be banned from the gym, onsen hot springs and other public areas. Organisers have briefed teams on potential cultural sensitivities, particularly as tattoos are common among players and fans alike, and many teams have offered to ensure tattoos are covered up.
There are also strict rules on smoking in some public areas, littering and other public offences. Even if not illegal, some behaviour that would be normal in many Western cultures could cause cultural offense within Japan. This can range from speaking loudly on public transportation, to even tipping service industry employees; tipping is not customary, and locals may find the gesture offensive.
Top Tips: Familiarise yourself with a few cultural and etiquette tips before departure; Healix International’s ‘Travel Oracle’ app and the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office website can be useful starting points for such information. Exercise cultural sensitivity where possible.
The Rugby World Cup venues are located across Japan and using domestic transportation services will be required to reach stadiums in many instances. Navigating Japan’s train system can be complex, and is often exacerbated by language barriers. While the majority of signs in major urban centres and at transport hubs will be in both Japanese and English, booking train tickets and finding the right platform can still be difficult.
Foreign nationals can pre-buy Japan Rail Passes to obtain unlimited travel on Japan’s long-distance services. On shinkansen (bullet train), express, and rapid train services, tickets will often have allocated seats. Services are expected to be exceptionally busy during the Rugby World Cup period, as thousands of fans make their way from international airports to the stadium cities.
Many Japanese cities will also have subway systems, which are generally a quick and effective means of transport. Again, these services will be exceptionally busy, particularly around match days. The majority of signage on subways is in both English and Japanese.
For larger corporate entertainment delegations, there is also expected to be a significant increase in demand for ground transport, whether this be executive vehicles, minibuses and coaches.
Accommodation options in many host cities are likely to deplete as the Rugby World Cup approaches, and booking should be made in advance to ensure availability. This is particularly the case for those attending events in smaller cities.
Top Tips: Keep your passport or Japanese Residence Card on your possession at all times; the police may question you if you do not have your passport to establish your status in-country. Healix International can assist with the arrangement of ground transportation and security options within Japan if required; please contact our Global Security Operations Centre for details. For those using public transportation, train travel should be pre-booked where possible. It should also be noted that Japan Rail Passes, which are available only to foreign nationals, must be purchased before arrival into the country. To assist with navigation in Japan, there are a number of mobile apps that can be downloaded to navigate the country’s subway and overland train systems. The most prominent of which is Hyperdia, which is a Japanese app developed for both domestic and foreign commuters, and it is available in English, Japanese, and Chinese. The JNTO has also launched the ‘Japan Official Travel App’, which is another useful tool, and is available in Japanese, Chinese, English and Korean.
Health risks to consider and healthcare facilities in Japan
There are no major health issues in Japan. The issue most likely to be encountered is the greater region’s ongoing problem with air pollution. As with neighbouring China, this is particularly bad during the winter months and those with respiratory illnesses may find they have to take extra precautions when going to the big cities in Japan. This should certainly be discussed with your respiratory physician if you have chronic respiratory disease.
There is a well established, excellent public healthcare infrastructure in Japan, supported by the National Health Insurance scheme and by the compulsory Employees’ Health Insurance plan. There is also a highly advanced private healthcare system.
Expats are required to register at their local government office in order to be eligible to receive healthcare under the National Health Insurance. However, they should also consider taking out additional private health insurance to cover any shortfall in contribution. If non-Japanese speaking and attending a public hospital it would be wise to take along a Japanese speaking colleague, if possible. Many doctors remain nervous about treating a non-Japanese patient, as there is a strong cultural principle of advocating decision making to the patient, with doctors often not keen to take on shared responsibility.
Travellers, on the other hand, should ensure that they have private healthcare insurance in order to avail themselves of one of the most advanced private healthcare systems in the world. The public system remains of a high standard but for the non-Japanese speaker the private system has an obvious advantage in that they are much more likely to have multilingual capabilities.
Similarly, pharmacies are well stocked and the pharmacists very knowledgeable but there may be a language difficulty and therefore, in the absence of a Japanese speaker, it will not be possible to ask detailed questions about the drugs. Call 119 in case of emergency – there is a good national ambulance service but outside Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto etc., it is important to bear in mind that you may well need to have a grasp of Japanese to summon help.
As with all travellers, up-to-date routine vaccinations are always recommended. These days the main media focus is on ensuring that you are fully immunised against measles, as outbreaks are occurring in Japan as is the case all over the world. The MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine is especially important in Japan as there is an ongoing outbreak of rubella in the Kanto region (Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba, and Saitama) with over 1,200 cases in 2018. Of course, you should also ensure that all other routine vaccinations are up to date, including DTP (diphtheria-tetanus-polio). Anyone at increased risk of seasonal influenza virus should remember that they will still be more vulnerable between the months of October and March in Japan, and indeed anywhere in the northern hemisphere, and should make sure they are up to date with the Flu vaccine. Always keep an eye on the international news stations for information regarding any disease outbreaks, such as avian flu for example, as you may need to take additional precautions. Those at increased risk of infectious diseases due to work, lifestyle choice or underlying health conditions should also be up to date with additional recommended vaccines – these could include Hepatitis B, Japanese Encephalitis, Rabies and Tick Borne Encephalitis (TBE).
Though there is no risk of malaria or yellow fever in Japan, all travellers should avoid insect or tick bites day and night as there is the risk of dengue fever, Chikungunya, TBE and Leishmaniasis (from sandfly bites).
As with all countries you should always take care to eat and drink safely when travelling, and make sure that you contact your health practitioner 6-8 weeks before travel to ensure that there is sufficient time for your health considerations.
The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or purchased abroad can be different in other countries, including Japan. If you’re travelling with prescription or over-the-counter medicine you should ensure that you take the packets and a prescription, if available. If you are not sure if the drug is available in Japan then it is recommended that you check with your health service provider in order that you can make suitable arrangements if a substitution is necessary. Otherwise you should take sufficient medication to cover your trip dates with a few days extra, just in case.