Japan seems to have an especially tragic relationship with fire. The combination of older homes built close together, the common use of kerosene heaters to heat rooms and the lack of smoke detectors (which only became required by law in the past few years) means that whenever I watch the news, I wonder if there'll be a new report of some horrible fire killing an entire family. Last week there was a terrible fire at nursing home in our prefecture resulting in ten deaths, an event that has Japan asking itself many hard questions about the quality of care it gives to its elderly. Then over the weekend came a report that the historic home of former Prime Minister Yoshida, who oversaw the signing of the peace treaty with the U.S., had burned to the ground. Whenever we hear the air-raid siren in our city sound at night, we know there's a fire somewhere, and on two occasions we've looked out the window to see houses near J-List burning. Fires have played a big role in Japanese history, too, and whenever you visit the beautiful old buildings in Kyoto you have to get out your guidebook and check how long the current building has been standing since the last big fire destroyed it.
Tragic fires are all too common in Japan.