Over the weekend, according to NHK, Japan’s public broadcaster, the fire department in Osaka started urgent on-site inspections of buildings with only one set of stairs, identifying close to 5,500 such structures in the city of nearly 2.7 million. Fire officials were checking to make sure those exits were not blocked.
Two years ago, another arson fire at an anime studio in Kyoto, not far from Osaka, killed 33 people and injured dozens in one of Japan’s worst mass killings in decades. In that case, fire experts identified numerous problems with the building, which also had just one main stairwell and lacked fireproofing on interior fixtures.
Such incidents disrupt a fundamental sense of security in Japan, where crime is relatively scarce and the murder rate is among the lowest in the world.
“In Japan there is a myth of safety,” said Yasuyuki Deguchi, a criminal psychologist at Tokyo Mirai University. “Stopping these crimes is very, very difficult,” he added. “Most of these crimes occur without any warning. You cannot even guess that they are thinking about arson.”
Experts in arson say it is a public health issue, with many perpetrators showing signs of mental illness. Theresa A. Gannon, a professor of forensic psychology at the University of Kent in England, said that arsonists were often antisocial or had trouble forming intimate relationships, and that they used fire-setting as a coping mechanism or to get 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 a record of setting fires. She said that the team had trained professionals in the United States, Australia, Canada and Singapore and that a manual was available in Japanese.
Last year in Japan, there were nearly 2,500 incidents of arson, which killed 236 people, according to the Fire and Disaster Management Agency.