Last weekend, according to NHK, Japan’s public broadcaster, the Osaka Fire Department began emergency checks on the site of single-staircase buildings, revealing some 5,500 such structures in the city of nearly 2.7 million. The fire brigade checked whether these exits were blocked.
Two years ago, another arson attack on an anime studio in Kyoto, near Osaka, killed 33 people and injured dozens in one of Japan’s most massive massacres in decades. In this case, fire safety specialists identified numerous problems with the building, which also had only one main staircase and lacked fire protection on the internal fittings.
Such incidents undermine the fundamental sense of security in Japan, where the crime rate is relatively low and the homicide rate is one of the lowest in the world.
“There is a myth about security in Japan,” said Yasuyuki Deguchi, a crime psychologist at Tokyo Mirai University. “It is very, very difficult to stop these crimes,” he added. “Most of these crimes are committed without warning. You don’t even know what they think about arson. ”
Arson experts say it’s a public health problem and many criminals are showing signs of mental illness. Teresa A. Gunnon, a professor of forensic psychology at the University of Kent in England, said arsonists were often antisocial or had trouble establishing intimate relationships, and that they used arson as a survival mechanism or to gain attention.
Ms. Gannon and a team at the University of Kent have developed a training program for mental health professionals to treat people who have repeatedly set arson. She said that the team has trained professionals in the United States, Australia, Canada and Singapore, and that the manual is in Japanese.
There were about 2,500 arson attacks in Japan last year, which killed 236 people, according to the Fire and Disaster Management Agency.