Updated: Oct 9, 2019
By: Abbey Kruska
Published date: October 8, 2019
Welcome to the big apple of Japan, the sixth largest city on the planet, home to 13.6 million people. Tokyo is a dream destination for travelers, students, and workers, but despite Japan’s safe reputation, there are still things we should all look out for. Learn how to love your life in Tokyo all while staying safe!
A Very Safe Place
One google search will quickly show you--the statistics are in, and Tokyo is a pretty darn safe place. Tokyo’s crime rate is far below the world average, and a report in 2017 even marked Tokyo as the safest city in the world. But, though you’re not likely to get robbed or murdered walking on the streets of Tokyo, that doesn’t mean scary things don’t happen.
As a girl in her 20’s living alone in Tokyo for the past year, I’ve seen, heard, and experienced plenty of dangerous situations, and learned how to avoid them. So before you assume Tokyo to be a night-clubbing haven, read through this quick guide to learn what you can do to have fun and stay safe.
Crime isn’t common, but when it happens…
It’s often indiscriminate, random attacks of passion. In the past decade, despite experiencing a drop in the crime rate, Japan has seen a rise in the number of mass-stabbings--particularly in large cities. These attacks are very few and far between, and Japan’s intentional homicide rate is far less than other countries--for example the US homicide rate is nearly 18 times higher (5.4 compared to 0.3) than Japan.
However, for girls in Japan, we do have our own specific type of crime to watch out for.
Sexual Harassment is the Norm
Seventy percent of Japanese women say they have experienced sexual harassment, and for those of us living in Japan, we’re not surprised. Crowded trains, subway stations, and streets give many the opportunity to blame the environment, or avoid consequences by blending in with the crowd.
Whether you’ve been drinking or not, late night trains always pose a risk to girls riding alone. Regardless of the day of the week or area you’re riding from, starting at about 11pm, the drunks will appear. From teenagers to elderly business men, be prepared to be one of the few sober people on board.
Drunk men will talk to you--especially if you’re visibly a foreigner(white, black, non-Asian). It has happened to me countless times. The most recent case just days before writing this article. A very visibly drunk man tried to talk to me, standing over my seat on the train. When I ignored him, he continued. After ignoring his attempts to start a conversation three times, he tried to grab my phone from my hands to get my attention. I was able to tell him to leave me alone. He responded with some angry muttering and walked away, but sometimes men won’t accept that answer.
Staying Safe on Public Transport
Your best first option is to simply avoid putting yourself in an unsafe situation.
Ride in the Women Only Car
When riding in crowded trains, try to ride the 女性専用車両 josei-senyou sharyou, or “women only car”. This car will be marked by signs on the windows and train platform. Most women’s only cars are time-limited to only early mornings or late nights, and other times of the day men are also allowed to ride. You should note that the elderly, disabled, and children are also allowed on this car any time regardless of gender.
What if there isn't one?
So you couldn’t find the women only train car in time, or there simply wasn’t one for the train line you’re riding. It happens. Your next best option is to be on alert. Sitting down is the safest when on a crowded train, but you’re not likely to get a seat during early morning or late night rush hours. Trust your senses, and if you see someone you have a bad feeling about, try to distance yourself as much as possible.
Show that you’re alert by looking around.
Try to stand near other women
Avoid eye contact with potential predators. In other countries, eye contact can be taken as a sort of "back off" message. However, in Japan it sends them a message that you’re interested, so try to avoid it if you can.
In early spring I got on an early morning train to head to my first period class. The train was so crowded you barely had room to wriggle your arms or move your head. As passengers loaded off at a popular station, I noticed a man across from me staring at me. After a few accidental eye contact exchanges, he suddenly turned his whole body my direction. Very odd, being facing me was the incorrect direction. When a new wave of people began to board the train, I was pushed directly towards him, and I knew that in just one second I would be pressed up against this strange man twice my age--full force. As an act of defense, I pulled my shoulder bag to the other side and shoved it in between us, completely barring him from me.
Clubbing in Japan
Nightlife in Japan is amazing. Fun, inexpensive, and safe. But there are a few things to be noted about Japanese clubs that will help keep you out of trouble.
Watch your drink!
This is a given at most clubs and parties whether it be in Asia or in the Western world. Japan is also a country that treats drugs as a very very serious crime, so they’re not common, but its always best to keep your drink on you.
Leave your things in a locker!
Lockers in Japanese clubs can cost anywhere from 100 to 1000 yen, typically landing somewhere in the 500 region. But the good news is you can share the lockers with your friends, splitting the cost. Put your jacket, wallet, and cellphone away and just bring a few spare bills with you for drinks.
Know what kind of club you're going into
Not all clubs are the same. Some clubs are famously known as pick-up joints, and some are known just for the music. Know what kind of night you want to have in advance, and choose accordingly.
Make friends with the ushers
If you’re going to be in Japan for a long time, and you’re the type to head out every weekend, making friends with the ushers or DJs can get you discounts, free entry, and also a watchful eye to look over you when you’re less than sober.
Yuki, 20, says, “I always feel safe when I go to 1OAK (a club in Roppongi) because the workers know me. If someone tries to touch me and I don’t like it, the usher will come pull him off of me. They want to keep you safe.”
Know to say no
Japanese young men are not very aggressive. They’re not likely to force you into anything, but you have to be clear with what you do or do not want. If you insist and say no, Japanese men will let it go and not pursue you any further, but you have to be frank. In Japanese culture, girls will often play hard to get even if they want more, so some Japanese guys won’t get the message unless you're firm and persistent.
To avoid a whole wave of drunk people being dumped out onto the street at 4am, leave the club half an hour early. You’ll make it to the station in time for the first train, and won’t have to worry about being hit on and/or thrown up on on the street.
Walking Home Alone
In Japan, as long as it’s before 9pm, you’re almost guaranteed to have a safe walk home--even if it’s already dark. There’s nothing to be afraid of. Still, let’s be real, whether you’re technically in a safe country or not, it’s scary. Dark alleyways and thin, winding streets are never appealing at 1am when you’re by yourself. But if you’re careful, you will have nothing to worry about.
If you know you’ll be out late, ride a bike.
The faster you move, the faster you’ll get home. Bike parking lots are often brightly lit and beside stations or malls where there will still be people even late at night. You’re better off picking up your bike there and pedaling home than you are on foot.
Don’t wear earphones
If it’s before 9pm, you’ll be fine. But the later it gets at night, don’t walk home looking at your phone. Keep your head up, and be aware of your surroundings.
Even if its the long way, take the main roads
Walking along a busy street or a well lit road is far better than the sometimes dark and quiet Japanese neighborhood streets. Chances are the final block or so is going to be off the main road, but try to stick to large streets for as long as possible.
If you feel unsafe, ask a policeman to walk you home.
The Japanese police are incredibly reliable. They have one of the lowest corruption rates in the modern world, and are well-known and liked by their citizens. If you feel threatened or afraid, head to your nearest kouban(Police Box) and ask to be escorted home. They won’t hesitate to help you.
And finally, have fun!
Safety, of course, should always be your top priority, but Japan is definitely a place where you can feel more at ease. In the two years I’ve spent in Japan, though I’ve been in some risky situations, I’ve yet to ever be physically harassed, robbed, etc. Japan is widely known to be a very safe country, for a variety of reasons!--to the point that a lot of things Japanese people normally do would be considered extremely risky to those of other countries.
On a typical day in Japan I’ve seen students leaving their bags, computer, and wallets unattended at tables in popular busy restaurants, girls walking home past midnight with earphones in staring at their phone, and drunken men wobbling through the streets weaving by cars. Chances are, if you stay careful, you’ll enjoy a peaceful, safe, and truly unforgettable time in Japan.
So get out there, and enjoy the Tokyo nightlife!