May 15th, 2018


Boars and Bombs and Bears, Oh My!

Tangentially from yesterday’s post, two things made me think a little bit about risk assessment, something human beings are notoriously bad at.

As I mentioned, before going for a walk in the woods yesterday, I was issued with a little bell, and told it would keep bears away. “But don’t worry,” I was told, “the woods are full of bear alarms and bear traps, so you almost certainly won’t be attacked.” Why did this make me feel less, rather than more, reassured?

Carrying my bell, I wondered how it was meant to keep bears off. Surely a charging bear wouldn’t break its stride just because I rang a little bell in its face? It only slowly dawned on me that the bell was meant to be rung all the time (e.g. by being attached to the outside of my bag), and that that would in itself be off-putting. Around the same time, an alarm went off in the woods to my left. I jumped, naturally. Did that mean a bear was in the vicinity?! It was only after a number of other alarms went off in the succeeding minutes that I realised they were there to keep bears away, rather than to alert me to bears that had somehow made it through British Hills’ ring of steel. Prevention was better than cure, in both cases.

Earlier, one of the staff told me that one of the reasons British Hills had become more popular in recent years was because of terror attacks in Europe. It wasn’t just London, or even just Britain: the whole continent was tarred with the same brush in the minds of many Japanese, despite the statistical unlikelihood of being caught in an attack. We tutted about this, but then it occurred to me to ask, hadn’t this very region of Touhoku been overflown by North Korean missiles more than once in recent months? And wasn’t this very prefecture of Fukushima the site of an earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown that not long ago had killed some 18,000 people and left swathes of land uninhabitable to this day?

Indeed, they admitted, all this was so, but when it comes to assessing risk inside Japan people take a very different attitude - accepting the inevitability of disaster in a resigned しょうがない sort of way. Foreign disasters, by contrast, are anomalous and frightening.