Pan-Arab poll finds a curious fear of natural disasters in Japan

Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan was hit by a 9-magnitude earthquake. (Reuters)
Updated 28 October 2019

Pan-Arab poll finds a curious fear of natural disasters in Japan

  • A YouGov survey conducted across 18 countries shows strong association of Japan with quakes
  • Experts say popular perception is no reason to avoid traveling to the East Asian country

DUBAI: Although many Arabs associate Japan with earthquakes, experts advise that it is not a reason to avoid traveling to the East Asian country.

According to an Arab News-YouGov survey, 43 percent of 3,033 respondents from the GCC, North Africa and the Levant associate Japan with earthquakes.

“While Japan is prone to earthquakes, the majority of these are small tremors and it is definitely not a reason to avoid traveling there,” said Matthew Sliedrecht, director of marketing at Cleartrip in the UAE.

“Japan has developed advanced infrastructure to support tourists in the rare event of a natural disaster.

“While we are surprised at the high percentage of respondents associating Japan with earthquakes, natural disasters are normally heavily covered in the media, so it is likely that this would have had an influence on their perception.”

With Japan hosting the 2019 Rugby World Cup and the 2020 Olympic Games, Sliedrecht expects to see a big change in the perception of Japan along with a significant influx of new travelers.

“Since 2017, we have seen traffic increase by over 9 percent year on year,” he told Arab News.

“This has been caused by multiple factors, including a growing number of non-stop flights between the Middle East and Japan, the introduction of larger planes such as the A380, and plans by other carriers to launch non-stop flights.”

Theodore Karasik, a senior advisor at Gulf State Analytics in Washington DC, said he is not surprised to see the high number of Arabs associating Japan with natural disasters.

He said the 2012 Fukushima nuclear plant disaster, following a catastrophic earthquake, and images of tsunamis in Asian waters have had an enduring effect on perceptions of Japan.

“Nevertheless, there has been sustained growth in recent years in tourism to Japan from the Middle East,” he said, adding “strong connectivity from carriers such as Emirates and Etihad is another positive factor fueling Emirati visitor numbers from 7,106 in 2017 to 7,782 last year.

“Total GCC visitor numbers rose from 20,742 in 2017 to 21,976 in 2018. Those numbers are expected to be much higher this year and into 2020, and this positive development is important for connectivity between the Gulf and Tokyo.”

Earthquakes are considered one of Japan’s natural characteristics. “We have lived with them for a long time,” said a senior Japanese diplomat based in the Gulf who did wish to be identified. “Yes, they have caused huge damage to people from time to time — but not every month, nor every year. We have overcome all those difficulties.”

The diplomat spoke of Japan not only having one of the most advanced earthquake-proof technologies in the world but also upgrading it as much as possible to cope with the challenge.

“There are geological features unique to Japan, which cause earthquakes from time to time,” the diplomat said. “But they are also contributors to a variety of beautiful landscapes and a large number of amazing hot springs all over Japan.

“Seeing is believing, so I urge people to visit Japan, not necessarily big cities, but our local cities, towns and villages, and enjoy exploring.”

Karasik says fear of earthquakes is unlikely to deter Arabs from traveling to Japan because those who are serious about visiting Tokyo or other areas will do so anyway. However, if necessary, potential visitors ought to know that the country keeps itself prepared for earthquakes through civil defense and neighborhood committees.

“The future looks quite bright for Middle Eastern tourism because of higher interconnectivity plus the harmony that Japan brings to a visit,” Karasik said.

“Major events such as the 2020 Olympics serve as a warmup to the 2020 Expo in Dubai.”

Sliedrecht said there is a need to educate the people of the Middle East about the beauty that Japan offers.

“From its rich culture and traditions to its nature and outdoors, it truly is a remarkable place to travel to,” he said.

“We expect to continue to see the growth of the travel corridor between Asia and the Middle East, and especially Japan, as consumers continue to seek new experiences.

“Emirati travelers have a visa waiver registration and most Middle East flag carriers operate direct flights to Tokyo or Osaka.

“So we continue to see a bright future for Japan-bound Middle East tourism.”


Hong Kong campus drama persists as city gears for elections

Updated 21 November 2019

Hong Kong campus drama persists as city gears for elections

  • At least a few dozen protesters at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University resisted pleas to surrender amid fears of being arrested
  • Some 1,000 protesters have either surrendered or been stopped while trying to flee

HONG KONG: A small but determined group of protesters remained holed up Thursday inside a Hong Kong university campus as the city’s largest pro-Beijing political party urged voters to “kick out the black force” in upcoming elections seen as a key gauge of public support for anti-government protests.

At least a few dozen protesters at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, that has been ringed by police for days, resisted pleas to surrender amid fears of being arrested. They are the holdouts from a much larger group that occupied the campus after battling police over the weekend.

Some 1,000 protesters have either surrendered or been stopped while trying to flee.

The city’s largest political party slammed the flareup in violence in the past week and urged some 4.1 million voters to use the ballot box this Sunday to reject the “black force” that had thrown the semi-autonomous Chinese territory into unprecedented turmoil since June.

“The black force say they want to fight for freedom but now people cannot even express their views freely. We have even been stripped of our right to go to school and work,” said Starry Lee, who heads the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong.

The party is contesting 181 of the 452 district council seats, a low-level neighborhood election held every four years. For the first time, all the seats will be contested and a huge win by the pro-democracy bloc could bolster the legitimacy of the protest movement.

Protesters, who believe China is increasing control over the territory, are demanding fully democratic elections and an independent probe into alleged police brutality against demonstrators.

The government, which rejected the demands, has warned the polls could be delayed if violence persists and transport links are disrupted. Earlier Thursday, there were long lines and delays at some subway stations. Some stations remained shut and protesters tried to block train doors from closing but the disruption was relatively minor.

A Hong Kong restaurant owner was deported from Singapore for organizing an illegal gathering last month to discuss the protests, Singapore media reported.

Alex Yeung, who founded the Wah Kee restaurant chain and is a staunch pro-Beijing supporter, will also be barred from entering Singapore without prior approval.

In a video posted on YouTube from Singapore’s Changi Airport, Yeung said he has been warned to refrain from any criminal conduct. He didn’t say where he was heading but urged Hong Kong residents to cast their vote on Sunday to “reject violence and support peace.”

Lee said the party’s candidates have faced threats and some have even been beaten up but they are ready for a “tough battle.”

“We believe that if we are united and if everyone comes out to vote, Hong Kong can be restored and violence can be stopped,” she said at a campaign event in a park downtown with dozens of the party’s candidates.

Lee and some candidates kicked black footballs as a symbolic gesture to banish the black-clad protesters.

More than 5,000 have been arrested since the protests started in June over a now-abandoned extradition bill that would have allowed criminal suspects to be sent to mainland China for trial. The protest has since swelled into an anti-China movement as many fear a loss of freedoms guaranteed to the former British colony when it returned to Chinese control in 1997.

A 12-year-old became the youngest protester to be convicted Thursday after pleading guilty to spraying graffiti outside a police station and subway exit last month, the South China Morning Post reported. A lawyer for the student reportedly said he was remorseful and acted on impulse. The court will sentence him on Dec. 19.

Pressure ratcheted up on Hong Kong as the US Congress approved legislation late Wednesday to sanction officials who carry out human rights abuses and require an annual review of the favorable trade status that Washington grants Hong Kong.

Another bill bans export of tear gas and other non-lethal tools to Hong Kong, President Donald Trump is expected to sign the bills into law, which is sure to anger China and jeopardize trade talks between the two economic giants.

“If the US continues to make the wrong moves, China will be taking strong countermeasures for sure,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said. “No one should underestimate China’s determination to safeguard the interests of national sovereign security and development, to implement the ‘one country, two systems’ policy and to safeguard Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability.”

Hong Kong’s Financial Secretary Paul Chan said that the US legislation was baseless and an unnecessary meddling into the city’s affairs. He urged Washington to reconsider, warning it would also hurt the interest of more than 1,000 American businesses in Asia’s top financial hub.