Safety while in Japan

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Crime:  Crime levels are low. It is generally safe to walk about at night and to travel on public transport, but you should maintain the same level of vigilance as you would at home and take sensible precautions.

Personal attacks, including sexual assault and rape, are rare, but do happen. Japanese law places a high burden of proof on the victim to demonstrate that the sexual relations were not consensual and committed through assault, intimidation or force. Reports of inappropriate touching or ‘chikan’ of female passengers on commuter trains are fairly common. The police advise that you shout at the perpetrator to attract attention and ask a fellow passenger to call the train staff.

If your passport is lost or stolen, you should report this at a police station and get a police report.

Tokyo’s entertainment districts, like Roppongi and Kabuki-cho (near Shinjuku station), are considered higher risk areas for crime, in particular at night. There are reports of foreign nationals being targeted for drink-spiking, credit card fraud, extortion, robbery, assault and sexual assault in clubs and bars.

There have also been reports of drink spiking or deliberately giving customers drinks with much higher levels of alcohol than would be expected. Victims have described waking up, often in an unknown location, with no memory of the preceding hours and finding out that large amounts have been billed to their credit card.

Getting a police report, which may be required by credit card companies in order for any claim to be processed, can be very difficult in these circumstances. Make sure anything you drink can’t be tampered with. Be wary of accepting drinks from strangers and always have a trusted friend to keep an eye on any unfinished drink if you need to leave it for a period of time.

British nationals have been arrested following disputes with bar staff and doormen. including for refusing to pay exorbitant bar bills.

Prostitution and street touts are illegal but commonplace. Don’t accompany touts to bars and clubs under any circumstances. To encourage people into establishments, touts commonly misrepresent the services on offer, and/or wrongly suggest clients are free to walk away on arrival if they don’t wish to proceed.

Emergency services: In cases of emergency, dial 110 for the police and 119 for the fire or ambulance services.  Calls are free of charge from any phone, including pay phones. Hospitals may want to confirm you have insurance or means of payment before accepting you as a patient.

Fukushima: There are some exclusion zones around the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, which are clearly identified by the Japanese authorities. These exclusion zones are kept under review and have reduced in area over the past 5 years. Areas where evacuation orders are ready to be lifted (marked green on the map) are still subject to some restrictions - for instance visitors aren’t allowed to stay overnight. Follow local guidance.  The exclusion zone around the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant has been designated a restricted area.

The Japanese authorities are carrying out comprehensive checks to monitor radiation in the area surrounding Fukushima and to monitor possible contamination of water, and food and produce. They impose strict controls where necessary. These reports are being monitored by UK government scientists. Any significant change in the current situation will be reported on this page.

Although the situation at Fukushima will remain of concern for some time, the risks are gradually declining.

Road travel: To drive in Japan, you must hold an International Driving Permit (IDP), a current UK license and insurance. An IDP is only valid for use in Japan for one year regardless of its date of expiry. Check the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department website for further details. You must carry your driving license with you at all times. Penalties for driving in Japan without the correct documents are severe.

There are two types of driving insurance available in Japan: compulsory insurance (jibaisekihoken) and voluntary insurance (nin’i no jidoshahoken). The compulsory insurance on its own may be insufficient in cases of personal liability.

Roads are well maintained. Driving is on the left, as in the UK. Road rules are mostly the same as in the UK, but drivers should pay particular attention to: pedestrians crossing roads at green lights, especially at junctions; cyclists travelling on the pavements or on the wrong side of the road and without lights at night; and taxi drivers stopping suddenly.

There are severe penalties to deter drunk driving, including allowing someone else to drink and drive (for example if you are a passenger in a vehicle being driven by a drunk driver). Legal limits are lower than they are in the UK and offences can attract a heavy fine or imprisonment. 

Political situation: Japan is a stable democracy. Civil disturbances and violent demonstrations are rare. Occasionally, demonstrations of a pro-nationalist kind can involve hostility to foreign countries. Keep yourself informed of developments and if you become aware of any protests, leave the area immediately.

Mobile phone networks: Only 3G and 4G capable UK handsets will work in Japan. GSM-only UK phones don’t work, as there’s no GSM network. If you plan to make lots of calls or use mobile data in Japan, SIM cards are available to hire online or in-store. WiFi zones are also increasingly available in coffee shops, hotels and other public spaces.

PICKPOCKETS RISK : As a top tourist destination with more than 25 million tourists annually, not surprisingly that pick-pocketing is common in Japan, but in comparison with other cities, it’s not that common.

MUGGING RISK : Japan is a country where you are not likely to be kidnapped or mugged. We recommend you not to accept drinks from strangers and avoid street touts, that are common in some neighborhoods.

SCAMS RISK : We highly advise avoiding carrying big amounts of cash to any public places. There are known reports of fraudulent credit card charges in the neighborhoods of Roppongi and Kabuki-Cho in Tokyo, thus don’t allow waiters or vendors to make any transactions with your credit card on their own, as they can copy the credit card information.  Keep an eye on your credit card all the time, while paying at restaurants, shops and especially in the bars.

TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK : Pickpockets operate in transit & public transport. During rush hours, women should note that gropers do hunt crowded trains. However, they usually look for local women (presumably they are less likely to make a scene). Luckily, many trains heading to the suburbs have women-only cars.

NATURAL DISASTERS RISK : Japan’s natural disaster risks may outweigh the calm criminal situation. Most common are, earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic activity. We recommend following the information regularly provided by The Japan Meteorological Agency.

Money: Japan is quite expensive as a country. In order to obtain the best currency exchange possible, try to exchange your money in banks, post offices or in some large hotels. The convenient currency exchange rate also can be found at the international airports in Japan. There is a risk of not accepting the card issued abroad by some trade and financial establishments. JP Post Bank ATM machines usually accept foreign cards. However, we recommend having a limited amount of cash with you all the time.

Yakuza (Gokudō) and Crime in Japan

Despite popular belief, Japan is not immune from organized crime – the Japanese call their version of this organization, the Yakuza. Known for their discipline and their wide-spread presence, they are not to be underestimated. 

The Yakuza are known to the Japanese people as corrupt and violent criminals – as labelled by the police – and are not respected in Japan. They are responsible for many different criminal syndicates in Japan, ranging from petty gambling and prostitution circles to having power in the Japanese media, politics, and in the financial sector. 

While they have a large presence in Japan, it should be noted that they are unlikely to harm or target tourists. In saying this, you should still exercise the usual amount of caution that you would in your home country.

Drink-spiking in Japan: As previously mentioned, it’s important to not be lulled into a false sense of security by Japan's reputation as a country with low crime rates. 

While Japan has a busy and exciting night scene, particularly in cities like Tokyo and Kyoto which have many cool and quirky bars and clubs, there has been an increase in reported incidents of drink spiking over the past few years. 

These occurrences, in some instances, have led to theft and even physical and sexual assault of the victim.

While this is usually rare, in areas such as the Roppongi district in Tokyo, you should exercise particular caution – don't accept drinks from strangers, and don't leave drinks unattended.Solo female travelers should be especially careful, as they can be a perfect target for these attacks. In saying this, practicing a bit of common sense and being aware of drink spiking dangers will go a long way.

Pollution Dangers in Japan

Pollution is often talked about in other Asian countries, but not often mentioned when discussing Japan. In recent years, air quality has declined. Some blame air masses originating from countries with high levels of air pollution, like neighboring China, as well as increased vehicle and industrial output.  This is particularly apparent in the winter months, especially on cold, still nights, so it's not advised to go walking outside in smoggy conditions.  While this is not something that most travelers should be concerned about, it should be advised that if you have ongoing respiratory problems, it may pay off to research the areas you are going to.

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