If you’re travelling to Japan, you’re probably wondering about Japan travel safety and whether or not Japan is safe. Here is a breakdown of Japan travel safety and everything you should know about as well as a few tips for your time here.
With the recent situation with coronavirus in Japan, it has raised a lot of questions as to whether or not it’s safe to travel in Japan. As more cases of coronavirus are emerging and you might be wondering what’s the situation of the coronavirus in Japan.
Is Japan safe?
In general, Japan is a very safe country. According to the Safe Cities Index 2019, created by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), Tokyo has the highest overall safety score in the world; Osaka isn’t far behind in 3rd place. Even as a solo traveller in Japan, there are many ways to safely travel in Japan.
The number of crimes in Japan is one of the lowest in the world, and the number continues to fall. The most common crime in the past few years in Japan is online fraud and billing fraud, where the predators make random phone calls to elderlies, pretending to be their relatives, to get them to wire money.
Most people in Japan commute by trains and you probably will too while you’re here.
You will notice that people tend to keep to themselves on all kinds of public transportation. It is usually very quiet within train carriages and buses. People are usually looking down at their phones, barely interacting with others.
Due to its density, train stations and trains can get extremely crowded, especially during peak hours. The 23 busiest train stations in the world are located in Japan, with 14 of those situated in Tokyo. Millions and millions of both local Japanese people and tourists go through these stations every day. During rush hour, you will probably feel incredibly overwhelmed and confused.
Shibuya and Shinjuku are ranked number one and two of the world’s busiest stations and they are areas that you will probably visit and that are always very crowded. What you may have seen online (people piling on top of each other on the trains, train station staff stuffing people into the train like sardines in a can) is true for some stations, in certain hours.
If you are uncomfortable with such large, dense crowds, it is best to travel on public transportation outside of rush hours. To enhance your Japan travel safety, be mindful of your surroundings and move swiftly to avoid running into people.
The peak of rush hour is said to be roughly 7:00-8:30, 17:30-18:30 on weekdays. If you want to be comfortable on the trains and possible have a seat, it would be best to ride the train between 10:00-16:00 on weekdays.
Commuting by trains is generally very safe for your Japan travel safety, although the issue of chikan is still a huge problem in Japan. Chikan is the Japanese word for molestation and it happens most frequently on crowded trains. Due to the nature of Japanese society where one is expected to maintain the peace of the community, victims often opt to remain quiet instead of causing a scene on the train. Chikan is such a widespread problem that there are women-only train carriages, though those carriages are women-only only from the time the first train runs until 9:30am.
Having said that, I’ve lived in Japan for more than six years and I am lucky that I haven’t had such an experience; however, I personally know people that have had unpleasant experiences on public transportation. It’s been said that young girls in school uniforms and office ladies tend to be the targets of many chikan cases.
There have been some heated debates lately regarding whether or not “women-only carriages” should be removed, due to the inequality that men feel about these carriages. However, with more than 70% of women strongly agreeing with the importance of “women-only carriages”, it doesn’t seem like these carriages will be removed anytime soon.
If you were to experience chikan or to witness chikan, report this to the train master. Train masters are there to help you and will hand the person over to the police. It can be a shocking experience in the moment and if you are unsure what to do, get off at the next stop and gather your thoughts.
Overnight buses are also available in Japan for long commutes. They are probably some of the cleanest and most comfortable overnight buses you will ever ride. There are many women-only overnight buses for you to choose from, although the regular overnight buses are safe and comfortable as they are.
For those of you that wonder if taxis are safe, they are. Taxi drivers are very polite and professional. Most of the time, they will keep to themselves and won’t converse with you, unlike the typical friendly and chatty taxi drivers you might get in other countries.
Even if you’ve been out drinking and you’re acting a little (or very) drunk, taxi drivers are used to it. They will likely still take you on with no hesitation. If you start to feel sick in the taxi, the taxi drivers usually have plastic bags for you to throw up in, or you can simply tell them to pull over. Even if you are travelling alone in the taxi, you will most likely be safe.
Walking around at night
Regarding walking around at night for your Japan travel safety, it is very common for people to walk around at all hours of the night. Because many shops and restaurants are either open 24/7 or until 5am, especially convenience stores, you will see people around at all hours.
If you are walking around in the city, you will probably see other people around. The city lights keep the street well-lit and safe. If you are walking in the neighbourhood areas or back alleys, it tends to be a little darker with less people. Just be aware of your surroundings and you’ll be alright.
If you are followed, approached or made to feel uncomfortable in any way, head over to one of the many police boxes or police stations nearby and ask for help. If you are unsure where the police box is, head towards one of the 24-hour convenience stores. There is always someone there and with the security cameras installed, you should feel relatively safe.
Although there are cases of stalking in Japan, they are not common, so it’s not a major cause for concern. One thing to bear in mind is that trains don’t run all night in Japan so be careful not to miss your last train, or you will be stranded or have to pay for an expensive taxi ride.
Pickpocketing and theft
Japan is probably one of the countries where you can forget your phone somewhere, come back hours later and still find it sitting there, and no one touched it. If you were to forget something somewhere and go to lost and found, you will probably get it back.
Japan is one of the few countries where you can forget your phone somewhere and return hours later to find it still there, untouched. Or, if someone has picked it up, they’ve probably turned it in to lost and found centers. In Japan, it’s extremely likely you will retrieve your lost items.
There have been several personal cases where I’ve left my phone or bag in trains, restaurants, convenience stores and, after realising this and coming back to look for them, I have been lucky to be able to retrieve them.
This is not to say you should leave your things just anywhere in public. If you were to leave something behind on trains or buses, if it was handed in, you usually have to travel to the lost and found centre and that could be a hassle.
If you lose something in Japan and are unsure what to do, here is a blog that tells you what you need to do, what you need to say, and where you need to go in this case.
Sleeping on the streets
Japan is so safe that you could pass out on the streets and wake up with your wallet, phone and other belongings still in your pockets.
If you’ve been in Shibuya or Shinjuku area during the nighttime, you have probably seen drunk Japanese people sleeping on the streets. There are also people sleeping on public transportation, in restaurants, cafes and all kinds of places. You will often see people with their bags lying around, phones and wallets hanging out of their pockets.
If you’ve heard of “Shibuya meltdown”, what I have described here is “Shibuya meltdown” and you can find a lot of funny photos here, for your entertainment.
Areas you should be careful
When you think of Japan travel safety, you would probably be worried about Kabukicho. Kabukicho in Shinjuku is the red-light district of Tokyo, with countless restaurants and bars.
It is generally a safe area if you want to walk around and check out the different places. However, there are some things that you should keep in mind.
If you’re walking down the streets of Kabukicho, you will see a lot of “information centres”. These are not your usual information centres, but rather, places for you to ask about escort services and prostitutes.
If you were to enter one of these places for their services, bare in mind that you can’t just “browse”, they usually get you to stay and spend money. So it would be best to avoid entering these establishments.
There are many host and hostess clubs in the Kabukicho area. They are places where you pay a seating fee, for high-end drinks, in exchange for the company of hosts or hostesses. These places charge you by the half-hour or hour, with minimum drink purchases.
Most places are quite clear with the system but as time flies when you’re having fun and getting drunk, it can get quite expensive.
If you’re walking down the streets of Kabukicho, you will probably get approached by different staff of various clubs, bars and services, telling you all the services they can offer.
It is best not to follow these people, since there has been a rising number of cases, where people are put in situations where they have to pay a lot of money for services that weren’t advertised. A lot of these activities are in the grey area or entirely illegal, so it is best to avoid them as well.
Roppongi is another area that you should be careful of. There are all kinds of businesses in the area, with some of the best nightlife, but some businesses are also in the grey area. There are cases where people’s drinks get spiked in bars or clubs, or cases of being charged more than what is advertised, or being targeted when drunk.
There are many workers on the streets of Roppongi that approach pedestrians, asking them to visit their venues, advertising certain services. You might even be approached by people selling you drugs and sex services.
If you are in the area, the best thing you can do is just ignore them and walk away quickly. It is advised not to enter these bars.
Similar to Kabukicho in Shinjuku area, various workers on the streets in Roppongi tend to target those that seem to be intoxicated. Be aware of your surroundings, keep an eye on your drinks and go to places that you trust when you’re in these areas.
As long as you are aware of these things, you will definitely have a good time.
Although most Japanese people are relatively quiet and reserved, there are certain situations in which they tend to get louder and more confident in approaching strangers on the streets. Unsurprisingly, these situations usually involve them being intoxicated.
Men approaching women on the streets is a common sight, especially at night. A lot of the time, you can see the man asking the woman if she would like to grab tea/coffee/a drink together. If they are rejected or ignored, the man will likely head off and look for a new target. This is nanpa, the act of hitting on someone.
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Especially after trains have finished running on the weekends, there are groups of male friends standing around, chatting up girls. They don’t mean any harm in most cases, and are just looking to have a chat. As mentioned earlier, if you ever feel unsafe or threatened, don’t hesitate to go to the police box to seek help.
So, is Japan safe? Overall, Japan is a safe country. Whether you’re travelling to Japan in the coming week or the coming year, bare these different aspects in mind to make sure you have a fun and safe journey here!