JAPAN’S health ministry is to launch an investigation into bath-time fatalities after it was estimated that 14,000 people die every year in the tub - three times as many as those who died in car accidents.
According to the figures, 4,612 people died as a result of traffic accidents across the nation in 2011.
The Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare announced the first nation-wide study into bath fatalities after a number of local authorities began collecting statistics that point to a high number of victims being elderly.
The high number of bath deaths can be traced back to the role the bath plays in Japanese families and society. The ritual of bathing in Japan is less about washing but more about relaxing at the end of the working day and, in more traditional communities and older buildings, keeping warm in the winter.
Local authorities' data suggests most of the deaths were attributable to drowning, heart palpitations, heart attacks and subarachnoid haemorrhages, the Mainichi newspaper reported.
The numbers rose significantly in the winter months, when older people move from a warm part of their home to the bathroom and suffer "thermal shock."
The government was asked to look into the problem by a number of domestic organisations devoted to bathing and the effects on health, including the Japanese Society of Balneology, Climatology and Physical Medicine, and to support research that will reduce the number of deaths caused by taking a bath.
Authorities are being urged to draw up guidelines on how to take a bath safely, encouraging people to avoid excessive changes in temperatures, gradually and carefully soaking oneself in hot water and drinking lots of fluids.