Crime and safety for visitors to Japan

Visitors to Japan can feel safe while they’re there, as it has a low crime rate compared with many other popular destinations. Japan is not completely crime-free however. While popular wisdom is that if you lose something, you will get it back, this does not hold true all the time. Here are a few ways to avoid being a victim of crime while you’re in Japan.

Theft

Exercise the normal precautions you would in your home country. Keep your wallet and passport tucked away securely, in an inside pocket or in a bag, not in the back pocket of your jeans. Aside from the risk of theft, they can also fall out and be lost.

Don’t leave wallets and valuables lying around in public. Once upon a time, Japanese would reserve a table in a restaurant by leaving their wallet on it, but they are far less inclined to do that now. There have been reports of thefts in hostels and on trains, rare compared with other countries, but not completely unknown.

Having a safe night out

The US Embassy has a useful guide to staying safe while enjoying nightlife, and this is well worth reading if you’re planning a night out.

Although violent crime is uncommon in Japan, there have been reports of people being threatened or attacked in certain establishments when they refused to pay excessively large bills. It is best to avoid any bar or club that employs touts to attract customers, and certain areas such as Roppongi and Kabukicho in Tokyo are known for these.

Scams

Scams are rare in Japan compared to other countries, but there are a couple to be aware of.

The first is a fake Buddhist monk asking for money and perhaps giving you some beads in exchange. Real Buddhist monks will not approach you to ask for money, although you may see them in some areas standing silently with their alms bowl, ready to receive a donation. If a person dressed like a monk actually asks you for money, keep walking.

The second has surfaced in recent years and is similar to the deaf/mute scam common in Europe. A person hands you a Japanese flag and then asks for payment, using a card in English and Japanese that says they are deaf/mute. Don’t accept the flag, and keep walking.

Neither of these are common, but it’s easy to be caught if you are unprepared and unaware that such things do happen in Japan.

Carrying your passport

Japanese law requires you to carry your passport at all times. That’s the actual document, not just a photocopy. There are reports of foreigners unable to show their passport being taken to the nearest police station, or sometimes back to their hotel to retrieve it. Although it’s unlikely that you will be required to show your passport to the police, there is always the possibility, so avoid any unpleasantness by being prepared.

If you are worried about theft (also an unlikely event) or losing your passport, make sure your store it securely, perhaps in a zippered pocket or a pouch tethered inside your bag, or a pouch around your neck, somewhere where you aren’t going to accidentally pull it out while getting something else.

The koban

When walking around Japanese cities, you may notice small buildings with police inside. These are known as koban, and are found in every neighbourhood. Sometimes they are staffed by only one officer, sometimes there will be more than one. The photo above shows a koban in Tsukishima, Tokyo.

If you’ve lost something, go to the koban nearest where you lost the item. It is likely to be handed in there, but not guaranteed. If you lose something on a train or bus, it’s worth checking first with the train or bus company.

If you’ve been a victim of crime, you can also report it at the nearest koban. If you need help with this, contact your country’s embassy.

Remember that if you want to claim on travel insurance for lost or stolen property, you will need to report it to the police.

Finally, although this hasn’t been a cheerful topic, don’t worry too much. Japan is a safe country to visit, and taking suitable precautions will make it less likely that anything happens. Enjoy your trip to Japan!

Do you have any questions about crime and safety in Japan? Please feel free to contact me.

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For further information, the ebook Japan Just for You is a practical step-by-step guide to planning your trip to Japan, starting with developing your own personal trip concept. It’s now available on Apple, Amazon and Kobo, and other stores.