For a long time, Japan has been known as one of the safest countries in the world. The possession of guns is still illegal, except in very special cases, and drug control is relatively strict. Even so, various crimes do occur in Japan every day. To ensure that your experience here is as safe as possible, and to avoid problems, it is recommended that you learn some practical information.
Prepare yourself for possible accidents and problems
In Japan pedestrians are required to walk on the right and cars must keep to the left side of the road. The driver's seat is therefore located on the right side in cars for both Japanese cars and many imported cars.
Although you may be an experienced driver in other countries including your own, it is necessary to become familiar with national traffic regulations when driving in Japan.
If you are not used to driving on the left side of the road, take extra care when you try to make either right or left turns at an intersection with less traffic. Unlike busy streets, where the flow of traffic is easily observed, it is more likely for you to accidentally enter the wrong lane if there is no car ahead of you to follow.
You are required to obey traffic lights in Japan. Be advised also that cars must always yield to pedestrians. Unless there is a very specific reason, the driver of the car is likely the one to be held responsible in case of a traffic accident involving a pedestrian.
To hail a taxi on a street, stand on the left side of your traveling direction. Do not approach too close to the taxi you have stopped as its left rear door opens automatically. The door to the front passenger seat is operated manually.
In principle, bicycles are required to stay to the left side of the road. As an exception, however, it is allowed to ride a bicycle on sidewalks in an area where traffic signs approving bicycle traffic on the sidewalk are posted. Additionally, bicycle traffic is also allowed on the sidewalks in an area where it is considered dangerous to ride bicycles on the roads due to the conditions of the road and traffic. On the sidewalks, the bicycle riders are required to give right to pedestrians and should not speed nor warn pedestrians with bells so as to let themselves through the pedestrian traffic. It is also prohibited to ride bicycles while holding an open umbrella or talking on cell phones. It is illegal to ride a bicycle with two or more people and also to ride at night without a light on. Multiple violations of traffic laws such as running red lights will require offenders to attend a mandatory bicycle riding safety course. While no license is required to ride a bicycle, bicycle riders are subject to liabilities according to the traffic rules just as other vehicles in case of an accident in which they are involved. Please ride bicycles safely while respecting traffic rules and manners.
Burglaries often target unoccupied houses. Make sure to lock your doors even when you leave the house for a short period of time, for instance when taking trash to the pickup site. If you are away from the house for a long period of time, such as for a trip, it is a good idea to stop newspapers and mail so that your absence won't be noticeable.
- Stop the delivery of newspapers/mail if you are away from the house for a long time.
- Lock the door even when you leave the house for a short time.
- Don't forget to lock windows, too.
- Use door locking mechanisms resistant to lock-picking.
- Install a second lock for the windows.
Piled unread newspapers show that you are not at home.
Make sure to lock the door even when you go out for small errands such as to take out trash or go shopping.
Make it a habit to check if the windows in the bathroom and toilet are also locked.
“1 door, 2 locks” is recommended; install a second lock above the main lock on the door.
Don’t be lulled to think that window gratings offer security.
To avoid that your car, motorcycle or bicycle is stolen, observe the following advice.
- Always lock your vehicle.
- Register your vehicle.
- Park your vehicle at a designated parking space.
- Install a security alarm.
Make sure to lock your car, motorcycle or bicycle, even when left unattended for a short time.
A registration system for theft prevention purposes is available for motorcycles and bicycles.
Motorcycles and bicycles should be parked at designated parking spaces, not on streets. When you leave your car at a parking site, make sure any alluring items such as your purse won't be seen from outside.
To prevent car theft, install a security alarm which sounds when windows are broken or receive an impact, or when a car door is opened without authorization.
Pickpocketing is the taking of someone's wallet or other valuables without it being noticed. In addition to shopping/entertainment areas, seasonal event sites such as fireworks displays and festivals in summer, and temples and shrines during the New Year season are some of the most common places where pickpocketing is frequently reported. Be extra cautious if you choose to drink alcohol at these places, as you may have shorter attention spans than usual.
More heinous than pickpocketing, purse-snatchers grab a passerby's purse then run away. In many cases your purse may be targeted by a snatcher on a bicycle or motorcycle who approaches from behind. If you resist, you could be dragged and seriously injured. Avoid walking alone on empty streets and hold your purse on the side away from the traffic.
- If you are walking on an empty street, pay attention to your surroundings and see if anyone might be following you.
- Do not hold your purse on the side closer to traffic, which makes it easier for a purse-snatcher to do his/her job.
- Protect your bicycle basket with a net or a cover specially made to prevent thefts. Simply placing a magazine on top of your bag in the basket may also be effective.
Lock-picking is to open a door lock with a special tool without using a key, and is one way burglars employ to invade houses. A lock-picking burglar attempts a break-in even when you are at home. If you come across such a burglar, not just your belongings but your own safety could be at risk. Installing a second lock in addition to the main one for the door is one thing you can do to reduce the risk of such crime.
"Skimming" is a crime which involves the creation of fake credit cards and/or ATM cards imprinted with magnetic data stolen from legitimate sources. Furthermore, in that the original cards often remain in a cardholders' possession, victims can be slow to realize that a crime has occurred. They often only become aware of the seriousness of the situation upon checking their bank records or receiving credit card statements, and accordingly there have been more and more cases of significant financial losses occurring.
The two main methods by which skimming crimes are perpetrated are as follows:
・Crimes that involve the affixing of reading devices to ATMs or their placement in the vicinity of dedicated card readers within stores that are equipped to handle credit-card transactions.
・Crimes that involve the temporary removal of credit cards from passcode-protected lockers at public places such as gym facilities and golf courses, etc.
To avoid becoming a skimming victim yourself, the following is very important:
- When using ATMs, ensure that there are no suspicious devices in the vicinity.
- Never give your credit cards/ATM cards to other people.
- When entering card PIN numbers, make it difficult for others to see what you are doing.
- When using passcode-protected lockers to store valuables at public places, make sure to use a number other than the PIN numbers that you use for your credit cards/ATM cards.
- When first setting your PIN numbers, avoid using easily-guessed ones such as birth dates or parts of telephone numbers, etc.
Even when fake credit cards/ATM cards are created, it is often the case that they cannot be abused because the would-be perpetrators are unaware of their PIN number details. Thus, please make sure to thoroughly manage your card information at all times.
What is more, credit card information can be stolen when using the Internet. As such, when doing online transactions and entering or sending credit card numbers, etc., please confirm the website connection is protected with secure socket layer (SSL) encryption technology.
Although the number of illegal drug dealings has been rather small in Japan, the variety of drugs targeted for crackdowns has increased and many unapproved drugs are in circulation. “Dangerous drugs,” sold as incense, herbs, and aromas are equivalent in danger to drugs and narcotics. Not only have the users of dangerous drugs been sent to the emergency room or have deceased, but bystanders have also been involved in accidents caused by people using dangerous drugs. Please refrain from using such substances, and do not let words such as “legal” and “safe” fool you.
“Furikome-sagi” or bank transfer scams are a type of fraud that has become a major issue in Japan. In common cases, victims receive a phone call or an email, etc., from a party whose identity is disguised, and that person tells the victim to transfer funds to designated bank accounts, or to send cash through parcel delivery services or the post office system, etc.
Variations of the same scam are as follows:
・Perpetrators will contact potential victims while claiming to be a family member, a work superior, a member of the police, or a lawyer, etc., and they will then lie that he/she (the family member in question) has been involved in some form of trouble or crime whose resolution requires that money be sent.
・Perpetrators will contact potential victims while claiming to be local government officials or tax agency employees, and they will then lie that the victim needs to complete certain procedures in order to receive refunds on medical expenses or taxes that have been overpaid. The victims will then be induced to visit an ATM in order to complete the procedures, but instead they will be deceived into forwarding money to the perpetrators from their own account.
・Perpetrators will seek to defraud money from potential victims by sending to them documentation, etc., that demands the payment of fraudulent invoices.
・Perpetrators will send documentation, etc., to potential victims that claims to offer low-interest loans. They shall then seek to defraud the victims by having them pay fraudulent “deposits” and “handling charges, etc.”
What is more, it is often said that individuals who believe they “are alright” and that they “will definitely not fall prey” to such ruses are more at risk. As such, if you receive suspicious telephone calls or email correspondence, immediately seek the counsel of your family members, or consult with either the police or your local consumer affairs center.
The internet has become fully integrated into our daily lives, and as a result there are increasing criminal incidents. In addition to computers becoming infected from viruses through email or from viewing websites which leads to information theft, there are increasing incidents of phishing scams whereby users are directed to fake websites and their personal information is stolen, as well as clickbait scams whereby simply clicking on a link or button leads to users being blackmailed to pay a large sums of money. Please protect yourself by installing anti-virus software, avoiding suspicious emails and websites, regularly changing your passwords, and not using the same password for multiple websites.