Japanese people have for generations believed that whatever the times have in store, life's essentials such as water and safety would always be theirs for free.

Well, things ain't what they used to be in safety terms -- certainly not if you believe what sensationalists in the media and politics have to say. And as for water -- the booming bottled-water business speaks for itself.

In fact, Japan's consumption of mineral water (both domestic and imported) reached 1.37 million kiloliters in 2002, up 10.2 percent on the year before and a whopping four times the 1992 level, according to Tokyo-based trade organization the Mineral Water Association, which estimated the market's value at 116.4 billion yen last year, compared with 34 billion yen in 1992.