It was an early weekday morning and I was on my way to a client meeting. Since I was completely out of cash again, I figured that I ought to fix things with the few spare minutes I had to kill. After all, it’s not a good idea to have an empty wallet in a cash-based society! Still, not having had my daily dose of caffeine, I was understandably not what one would consider “awake.” Despite my lack of consciousness though, I was able to stumble into the local convenience store and navigate my way over to the ATM. Here, all I had to do was go through the routine motions I had done countless times before. Input card. Enter PIN. Withdraw 50,000 yen. Even my half asleep brain could handle that, right?!?
Alas, it wasn’t until approximately twenty minutes later when trying to pay for my coffee addiction that I realized what a complete idiot I had been. In my stupor, I had left the equivalent of around USD 500 in the ATM. How I managed to do so is beyond me. Somehow, I had taken my card as well as the receipt while leaving the cash sitting in the distribution slot. Oooops! Fearing the worst, I sprinted out of the Starbucks and back towards the convenience store, hot coffee still in hand. As I was hoofing it back to the ATM, I started to think that this effort was pointless and that there’s simply no way the cash was still there.
Luckily, this tale of sheer stupidly has a happy ending. You see, I live in Japan and that means that customs are a wee bit different. Rather than return to a cohort of staff extolling “Hey man, that’s not my job.” the kind employees had not only found my 50,000 yen but they had put it in a nice envelope as well. Apparently, whomever used the ATM after me had found my cash just sitting there and had turned it over to the cashiers. Despite all parties having ample opportunity to make off with what would be a good chunk of their salaries, the thought never even crossed their minds. God bless Japan! I honestly don’t think that I could live anywhere else.
Now, as you might be able to gather from this personal anecdote, Japan is a very safe country. Unlike in some other locations around the world, here you’ll see people using personal valuables such as a wallet or cell phone to claim a cafe table. Elsewhere, this madness would simply be asking to be pilfered but not here in Japan. Still, despite the fact that we have one of the lowest crime rates in the world, it’s always best to be on your guard. Moreover, as inbound tourism continues to boom, many nefarious opportunists (usually non-Japanese citizens) have started targeting awestruck tourists as easy marks.
On that note, in the remainder of this article, I’d like to highlight some important safety tips to keep in mind while traveling in Japan. Hopefully, by heeding these precautions, nothing will go afoul with you trip…
You Have the Right of Way But…
One of the first things that many jaywalking prone tourists immediately notice upon arriving in Japan is that people here actually follow the rules and wait for the light to change before crossing the road. While you may technically have the right of way as far as the law is concerned, drivers here are not used of pedestrians brazenly leaping out in front of their vehicles. If you don’t want to have a sudden encounter with the front of an oncoming car, wait for the light to change!
Be EXTRA Vigilant in Party Areas
More so than any other time in Japan, you need to keep your wits about you when in districts like Roppongi or Kabukicho. As a former DJ and nightlife enthusiast, these areas are ones I know well and incidents of drink spiking have cropped up more and more lately. One minute, the victim is enjoying a good night out and the next he’s being presented a bill for half his net worth. In most cases, you’ll be relatively secure if you stay away from the many African touts but nonetheless, always keep an eye on your beverages.
Mind Your Surroundings at Night
People who follow my Instagram stories know that I’m always taking long evening strolls across Tokyo. In fact, one of the best things about living in Japan is that you have very little to worry about, even in the dead of night. That said, there are some areas of the country that you should probably avoid after sundown. For example, despite having upscale surroundings, Kamagasaki in Osaka is notorious for its many homeless wanderers who can often be seen sleeping in the streets.
Keep an Eye On Your Belongings
If you’re accustomed to taking public transportation in places like New York City, you might be shocked to see just how many Japanese residents sleep on the trains. This should highlight just how safe this country remains. Still, it would behoove you to follow general travel safety guidelines in regards to valuables such as your wallet and your smartphone and especially so when traveling on crowded rush-hour trains. After all, it’s rather difficult to decipher what’s going on when you are squished onboard like a can of sardines!
It’s NOT a Monk/Priest!
Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of scams where someone will masquerade as a Buddhist monk or Shinto priest to bamboozle their marks. Often times they will try to pass out religious paraphernalia then try guilt you into forking over a “donation” in exchange. Moreover, I’ve read online that these ploys can even be cover for attempts at pickpocketing so keep your wits about you. Note that there are also cases where plainclothes individuals will try to dupe you in similar manner.
Beware “Chikans” on the Train
Speaking of trains, I have an additional precaution for the ladies. Sadly, Japan still has a great deal of “issues” when it comes to respecting females. Even today, there are reported cases of gropings on the jam-packed trains. In Japanese, this practice is known as “chikan.” For most foreign women, there is little likelihood that you’ll be the victim due to a preference for more docile victims who are too ashamed to say anything. Still, it’s best to be on your guard when on a crowded train.
Boys, You Be Careful Too!
Male readers, don’t think you’re off the hook when it comes to being victimized by the opposite sex. I’ve heard accounts of the occasional lovestruck young lad going home with a smoking hot specimen only to wake up without a phone or wallet. Just remember, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is unless you’re drop dead gorgeous or something. Use your common sense here and you should be fine!
Don’t Skimp if it’s Raw
Japan is heaven on earth for foodies and no matter where you eat, you’re almost guaranteed to get something savory. That said, if you’re going to indulge in Japan’s raw food culture (which by the way extends further than just fish to delectables like slices of raw horse meat), be sure to be extra picky about where you feast. This is not the time to be cutting corners in order to pocket a few extra yen!
What’s an Allergy Again?
Gluten free? What the hell is that?!?! While Japan may do food better than just about anywhere else on the planet, all these delicacies come at a cost. You see, there is still a widespread misunderstanding of the fact that many people actually do have food intolerances. No doubt many older Japanese will view the inability to consume this or that as a character defect. Moreover, restaurant orders tend not to be very flexible (no hold the XYZ here!) so be sure to pick something that you can eat as-is.
Cash Money is King Here
OK, this isn’t exactly a safety tip per se but this is one way that you can easily find yourself in some hot water. While Japan is slowly creeping towards a paperless society, many venues still only accept cash payment and this is especially true throughout the countryside. If you’re going to venture off the beaten path as I often suggest, be sure to stock up on more bills than you might feel comfortable carrying. After all, it’s not like you really need to worry about thieves.
Carry Your F@$#ing Passport
Many tourists fail to realize this but all non-Japanese are required to have either their passport or their alien registration card on them at all times. Should the police stop you to conduct a *cough* “routine search,” you can actually be arrested and detained for not having these documents on your person. While such inspections are relatively rare outside of party areas like Roppongi, you’d do well to make a habit of always carrying your passport.
Just Say NO to Drugs!!!
Allow me to channel McGruff the Crime Dog for a moment and stress that under no circumstances should you ever do an illegal substance in Japan. While I really have no opinion on the matter moralistically, the risk here just isn’t worth it. Unless you want to spend the next few decades of your life enjoying the confines of a Japanese jail cell, wait to smoke that blunt until after you’ve returned home.
Either Way, You Just Lose
Since we are talking about the cops, allow me to offer up another helpful adage; don’t ever get into a fight. Did he hit you first? Well, I am sorry to say but you’re still in the wrong, at least as far as the police are concerned. As discriminatory as this may seem, the local law enforcement is always going to side with the Japanese party here. In fact, I tell many of my foreign friends that the best thing they can do following an altercation is to just run as far away from the scene as they can. You don’t win this one…
Beware Mother Nature’s Wrath
While Japan may likely be the safest place on planet earth when it comes to malicious crime, it is also a cacophony of potential risk when it comes to the environment. Though the chances of it occurring during your travels are quite slim, the next major earthquake, typhoon, tsunami, etc. is only a matter of time. Before traveling, take a quick look at this article so that you know what to do when faced with a worst case scenario. Here, it’s just better to be safe than sorry.
Don’t Be an Idiot When Outdoors
As mentioned, when it comes to Mother Nature, you don’t want to mess around. Outdoor enthusiasts should be wary of potential encounters with wildlife such as bears or wild boars. Likewise, you’ll also want to keep an eye out for Japan’s giant hornets which are quite possibly one of the scariest creatures on the planet. They carry venom that can often be fatal in high doses. If you get stung, please seek immediate medical attention.
Hopefully the above tips don’t scare you away from visiting Japan. In all my years living here, I don’t think I have ever once encountered a problem or ever felt unsafe while wandering about. If all the comatose drunk salarymen can wake up with their wallets, then chances are high that nothing malign will happen during your travels in what is often referred to as the safest country in the world. Happy travels!
Until next time travelers…