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    Roller coasters

    One of the big news stories this weekend is the fatal accident at an amusement park in Osaka. A car on a roller coaster derailed and listed. One woman collided with a rail and was killed, and a few dozen people were rushed to the hospital. (Well, some of the English stories say “seats,” but it was apparently one of those rides on which you stand and have your torso held in by an overhead harness-type thing.) Not surprisingly, it’s suspected that lax enforcement of safety standards is the culprit:

    In February, the amusement park took the roller coaster apart for inspection. However, it said it did not inspect the integrity of the axle shaft because there was no garage available at the time. The park subsequently postponed the inspection until May 15.

    The police suspect improper safety management may have led to the accident, and are investigating the amusement park on suspicion of professional negligence resulting in death and injury.

    And at a different amusement park, there was another accident–this one a sort of fender-bender with nothing more serious than nausea resulting, luckily, though it still gives one cause for worry:

    Four people were taken to hospital after a roller coaster car carrying a parent and child rear-ended another car carrying a parent and child at about 2:50 p.m. Saturday at Wonderland amusement park in Sakai, Fukui Prefecture. The four complained of feeling nauseous after the collision.

    Local police questioned employees of the amusement park on suspicion of professional negligence resulting in injuries.

    Two accidents in one weekend don’t constitute an epidemic of safety violations, but they do indicate a problem that’s very real with infrastructure, industry, and public accommodations here: No one really knows where the accidents waiting to happen are, because government oversight of safety is erratic. There are some cases in which the evidence is heartening. Transportation authorities have been riding JAL hard over safety violations, for example, and they haven’t needed an airliner crash to motivate them to do so. The Aneha scandal literally hit the Japanese where they live, but it was brought to light before an real, live catastrophic earthquake revealed that all those fraudulently certified buildings weren’t actually safe. But in other sectors–nuclear power, toxic waste disposal, and pharmaceuticals are big ones–one wonders whether things are actually humming along generally well or it’s only a matter of time before luck runs out.

    6 Responses to “Roller coasters”

    1. John says:

      In pahrma, at least, the Japanese still err on the side of safety. But that as much to do with the attitudes of actual practicing physicians as it does the attitude of Koseirodosho.

    2. Sean Kinsell says:

      Well, if the only things you’re grouping under the category of “pharmaceuticals” are drugs prescribed by doctors to patients, yes, that’s true enough. But that didn’t prevent the use of HIV-infected blood for transfusions (under the jurisdiction of the pharma division at the MHLW) years ago, or the categorization of a diet preparation with physiological effects on the liver as, I think, a “dietary supplement” about which there were no official warnings until at least two people had died. If you think of pharmaceuticals as including all chemicals manufactured to be taken medicinally, the medical establishment’s squeamishness about new cancer drugs is of only limited comfort.

    3. John says:

      Ah, yes, I tend to be very literal about the term “pharmaceuticals” for reasons that you know well. However, the FDA does not regulate dietary supplements in the US, either, so I don’t think Japan is at a signficantly different safety risk from the West on that front. Perhaps you can say that more Chinese patent medicines are used in Japan than in the US. There is the scandal about 5 years back where all those Japanese women got liver failure from some Chinese weight-loss prep that you were referring to, and other Chinese patent medicines are cut with heavy metal salts, but they, too would have been categorized as a dietary supplement in the US. And to be fair, a lot of that stuff is illegally imported into Japan and the US.

      The blood thing is troubling in that they didn’t learn from the mistakes in the US, based on the prejusdice that AIDS is a disease for dirty foreigners, and that that Japan is a “clean” (hah – Fuzoku Industry anyone?) and relatively homosexual-free society (double hah).

    4. Sean Kinsell says:


      “However, the FDA does not regulate dietary supplements in the US, either, so I don’t think Japan is at a signficantly different safety risk from the West on that front.”

      YES. I probably made a mistake by lumping pharmaceuticals in with nuclear power and toxic waste disposal, in which the malfeasance and resulting cover-ups have been positively egregious. Japanese medical research, to judge from what’s publicized, appears to be mostly geared toward proving that folk wisdom about the benefits of green tea and seaweed are valid. Major advances in the treatment of the illnesses that fell people in developed countries are made elsewhere, but that doesn’t mean that what’s produced in Japan is actually unsafe.

      With drugs (and medicine in general), I think the problem is more that people are no longer willing to trust authority figures implicitly. There have been a few too many fatal screw-ups in operating rooms, a few too many exposures of problems at elder care facilities, a few too many friends and neighbors who’ve fled in desperation to China or Thailand for surgery. Specifically regarding pharma, there’s the long-standing ゾロ薬 (zoro-yaku: “pump-’em-out drugs”) phenomenon, which usually affects drugs for which the patents have just expired. (John, I’m sure you’re familiar with this, but others may not be.) Other drug companies will, in rapid succession, start marketing generic versions. No necessary problem with that, except sometimes they don’t get the ingredients right and consumers have to suffer the side-effects or plain lack of efficacy.

    5. Zak says:

      I was amused, or maybe the correct word is disgusted, at the “excuse” that the roller-coaster operator offered, saying that they “didn’t know” the safety checks were mandatory. In a case of gross negligence I guess they figure it’s the lesser of two evils to claim ignorance as opposed to negligent malfeasance.

      “Officer, driving drunk is illegal? I swear, I had no idea…!”

    6. Sean Kinsell says:

      I know. They were supposedly going to get around to test the axles in a few months, which would have been fifteen months after the last “yearly” test.

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