Street crime in Japan

Discussion in 'Travel' started by Jeffrey L.T. von Glück, Apr 11, 2014.

  1. I have a colleague whose college-age daughter is intent on backbacking across Japan for several weeks this summer with a girlfriend. What is the crime situation like?
    The father is concerned about the girls getting either robbed or kidnapped, or worse. I remember reading that there is pretty much no crime on tourists in Japan.
  2. [[The father is concerned about the girls getting either robbed or kidnapped, or worse]]
    Something tells me it doesn't matter how low the crime stats in Japan are. This father is going to object no matter what.
  3. You may be right. He's terrified the girls will be kidnapped and sold as sex slaves in Thailand! Clearly off the wall.
  4. Well, I have a daughter (grown now) and spent two years in Japan (OK the 1960's). Like your friend's father, I wouldn't want my daughter backpacking across Japan either. There are differences between being a tourist in Tokyo and backpacking around rural areas. Two young girls, by themselves, are vulnerable, crime statistics or no crime statistics. It's easy for you to be nonchalant. They're not your daughters.
  5. Both girls are pretty tough and street smart, the one girl is in Army ROTC, but I hear you. I just feel that parents today tend to be over protective compared to when I grew up in the 50s and 60s.
  6. Many years ago when I was much younger, I backpacked all over Europe and the Middle East with a girlfriend. We were both very street wise and, in fact, we carried knives and knew how to use them to defend ourselves.
    But we never had any real problems, just some minor scrapes but nothing remotely life threatening. I should think Japan today is a million times safer than Europe and the Middle East 25 plus years ago. You have to be careful, have keen situational awareness and know some self-defence, even if you cannot handle a weapon confidently. If the girls are not very independent and self-assured, I think they would do better with an organised tour.
  7. My son and his girlfriend recently toured Japan although they were not backpacking. The impression I get talking to them is that Japan is very low on personal crime - homicide, robbery etc. It is a very orderly nation where being anti-social or criminal is a much bigger deal than in many other countries as it conflicts with their strong sense of community. Have a look at these stats from the OECD.
    and look under 'crime'

    Japan comes out consistently at the very bottom of the lists. That is not to say that crime is non-existent in Japan and that no sensible, normal precautions should be taken. Just that Japan seems safer than almost any other place you care to mention.
  8. Japan is about as safe as it gets. They don't want to go into the sex area but I can't imagine them being interested anyway. This isn't a youth hostel country. That's one of the ways they keep crime low.
    The problem is that unlike other countries, it is not set up for backpacking. You need some kind of hotel room wherever you are and no one wanders along roads on foot or, God forbid, hitchhikes.
    If they check with Japan Tourist, they will find out that what they want to do is all but prohibited.
  9. Conni,
    I think their idea of "backpacking" is staying in cheap hotels. I know they plan on using mass transit to get where they're going. Both girls are veteran NYC subway riders so mass transit will be more comfortable for them than renting a car and driving on the other side too.
  10. My memory of traveling in Japan with a friend (this was 14 years ago) is that it's a fantastic country for hostels and trains. Look up Japan Rail passes - not exactly cheap, but having unlimited rail travel in a country with such a good rail system is worth it. When I was there I stayed at one hostel near Kyoto, another in Tokyo, another in Hakodate and another in Niseko. We had a few extra days and a rail pass, and it was January, so we figured, what the heck, let's go skiing. The Niseko hostel was the best of the lot - it looked like a Swiss ski chalet, short walk to the lifts, and the owner gave rides in his van to hot springs in the evening.
    I remembered having to get the rail pass in the US because they were for foreign tourists only and weren't sold in Japan, and having to book rooms before entering the country because they required us to have a place to stay. We also needed repatriation of remains insurance, which seemed weird at the time. The worst part of it was that I was moving a lot at the time and I'd shot a lot but lost all my prints and negatives shortly after getting back.
    At the time there was almost no crime in Japan except for organized crime. Crimes against individuals were very rare. We knew Japanese people who didn't lock the doors to their houses.
  11. I was there in 2009 and my youngest daughter spent a summer in school in Kanazawa and later toured the country by herself for four months. It's may be the safest country in the world for young women. In the major cities, there are police and private security everywhere you look.
    The costs are high there. In large cities there are many English speakers, but language can be a problem in rural areas. My daughter is fluent in Japanese, so we had no problems and there are English subtitles in most of the major transportation hubs, but it can still be very confusing.
  12. Cheap and hotel don't go together!
    All the regulations Andy recalls are still in place.
    Owners always take you to the spa if they don't have their own. The rail pass purchase here saves a lot of money but you really can't buy it there.
    Hostels are almost all in either famous places (Kyoto, Tokyo) or kind of not at all. Walsking along highways is forbidden as well as some well-traveled by-roads.
    Traveling with a daughter who is fluent in Japanese and lived there for a year is very different thaan just dropping in to backpack.
    Safe? Unreally safe. Easy, not so much.
    My house is filed high and wall-to-wall with photos and ccarefully filed negatives. now we don't have to do that.
  13. Yeah, I think on a scale of 1 to 10 in worrying about street crime, on the whole, Japan is probably about a zero. Especially for a visitor or guest. OTOH, like many other places, girls on subways might get some gropes. That was practically unheard of when I was there but that was 30 plus years ago.
    However, now my daughter is going to school in another country and I won't be really happy until she gets home. Dads and daughters are like that.
  14. I was stationed in Japan for over 3 years. I absolutely love that country. The crime rate in Japan is extremely low.
    Unfortunately, a large majority of crime in Japan is committed by American military. It's about as worry free as any place I
    have ever been. I would go backpacking there without a second's hesitation.
  15. The idea that someone from the US (I'm assuming) would be concerned about someone's safety in Japan is rather amusing. In my personal experience it would be virtually impossible to find a safer place to backpack - especially in the rural areas. Of course, one should learn and follow the local etiquette norms to the extent that a westerner can. That usually means being polite and respectful of whoever you encounter and understanding that you are a guest in their country.
    Two other things to keep in mind: Americans, especially young ones are kid magnets in Japan. Grade school kids will want to practice their english. Engage with them. Carry some nominal value trinkets to exchange. Second, among the older generations, outside of major cities, english will not be readily spoken. A two way phrase dictionary is very helpful.
    One more thing - a Japan rail pass is one of the best values on the planet. Good for unlimited travel over a time period. They MUST be purchased out of the country, and then exchanged at a JR station once there. They are good on all but the top of the line Shinkansen (that means the latest and greatest are off limits, but all the rest are fine) and Japan's rail system is amazing. So, the backpacking thing may be great, but being able to augment it periodically with a couple of hundred miles of near instantaneous transport would be useful I would think. I say that because there are plenty of things to see in all parts of the country, and it would probably be best to not have to walk ALL of the way.
  16. They definitely need to check out Kamakura and Kyoto, two very historic and beautiful cities loaded with temples, shrines,
    sword shops, and gorgeous old buildings.
  17. One really odd thing about Japanese culture, particularly among "salarymen" in the big cities, it's okay to be atrocious in public, IF YOU ARE DRUNK and they get puking, stinking drunk with regularity. It's not unusual to see them throwing up in the street, in their suit and tie.
    At night, on trains, they will talk about foreign women and even grope if it's crowded enough. It's okay to push them away and threaten to bust their chops. My daughter is fluent in Japanese and she'd say, in Japanese, "Do you want me to tell your wives" and they'd all be bowing and saying sorry, sorry. It's a bit weird, because generally, people are so considerate and polite, which is the national standard. The salarymen are really odd by Western standards.
  18. Thanks so much for everyone's contributions. They answer a lot of questions and will hopefully quiet the parents' fears. The girls plan on travelling wherever they can by rail. I always assumed Japan is probably the safest country on earth, but then it's not my daughter who is going! Neither girl speaks any Japanese but one of them started taking some kind of lessons on campus in preparation for the trip. Obviously, they are keenly interested in Japanese culture and will do their best to be respectful and polite. Hopefully they will return home with plenty of jpegs to share.
  19. Many people in Japan speak enough English to get around, but it is definitely worthwhile to learn some essential
    Japanese. When I first arrived in Japan, a few friends and myself got lost in the train system and didn't know how to get
    back to base. An older Japanese gentleman saw us studying the train map and could tell we were lost. He asked us
    where we were trying to go, we tol him the base's closest station. He rode with us through all the train changes to our
    final stop. When we offered to reimburse him for the train tickets, he kindly refused. That's what kind of people live in
    that wonderful country.
  20. If anyone is still following, does anyone know what the film development situation looks like in Japan? The one girl is a retro freak and will taking pictures with a Leica M3. Will she be able to buy colour negative stock easily or should she travel with a large stash? How about C-41 processing? Get it done locally or bring everything home?
  21. She can get film. Not the broad variety available 15 years ago. She can carry some 'starter' film and then get film there rather than cart it over.
  22. Here's a list of labs. You might want to Google it on your own as there may be others.
  23. This has nothing to do with Japan, but as the relationship between “young girls backpacking” and “knives for self-defence” has been mentioned:
    - Several years ago, my daughter (now 40) decided to spend the time between her high school diploma and college with a 6-month backpacking tour through most of Asia with a girlfriend. As it would be easily imagined, my wife and myself were a little bit worried – the more so, in that said girlfriend was (and is) a busty blonde that would immediately attract male attention everywhere she goes even in the West, let alone Asia.
    - As correctly pointed out, knives can be very effective for self-defence – however provided that the user has some previous training, otherwise pulling a knife in a threatening situation would just make things worse. After some consideration, I bought my daughter a push dagger (illegal where I live, but I couldn't care less), to be carried with a band just above her knee. A push dagger can be used to serious effect without any formal training, and what’s more it is nearly impossible to disarm an opponent yielding one.
    - My daughter and her girlfriend returned unscathed, although she had to flash her dagger on at least two occasions she cares to talk about. Just showing she had the will and means to resist was enough, and I reckon I never made a better investment.
    - She kept carrying the dagger on subsequent trips, until finally losing it on the Annapurna Trek. However she brought back her current husband and father of two wonderful girls, and that’s a bargain.
    - All this said, I reckon carrying a knife (and a push dagger at that!) would be the safest and quickest way to land you in very serious trouble in Japan.
  24. Don't plan to carry a knife in Japan.
  25. Conni said:
    Don't plan to carry a knife in Japan.​
    Plus 1. It's a good way to get arrested in a country where carrying weapons is not the norm.
    Any weapon in a non-expert's will only add to the carrier's danger.
  26. David:
    It's not just not the norm, it's against the law. Japanese police are very courteous but they have no sense of humor and you won't get a pass for being a foreigner.
  27. I would agree that a knife will cause more problems than it's worth, especially in such a country as Japan where street crime is negligible. Even though one of the girls is in Army ROTC, has military training and no doubt has had hand-to-hand combat training, they never even gave carrying a weapon the slightest consideration.
    The girls are totally comfortable with their trip, but it's poor Daddy that needs the reassurance. The one girl is more concerned about buying film and getting it developed than personal safety. I only know one girl personally and not that well, but my impression is that they will both do fine. They have been riding the subways in NYC to attend school since they were about 10 or 11 years old, both are street wise and both accomplished in jujutsu and some other martial art, which escapes me.
    Nevertheless, fathers being fathers, it's only natural to be very concerned for the safety of one's daughter alone (albeit with a female companion) in a foreign land. Today's 24/7 news cycle of endless crimes, kidnappings, disappearances and general disaster doesn't help allay a parent's fears.
    I printed this thread out for the one girl's father and I think he 'gets it' that Japan is a safe, modern, ordered society. The girls are not travelling alone to Somalia, after all.
    With regard to the film situation, I will give them from my freezer stash, a brick of Fuji Superia 400 and of Superia 800. After they run through that, they will have to buy the film locally. I recommended that, if possible, have the negatives scanned by wherever they have the rolls developed over there, then mail the CDs back periodically in batches. They then have a back-up for the negatives, or vice versa, mail the negatives home and keep the CDs with them. Either way, if they lose what they have on them in Japan, the back-ups will be waiting for them stateside.
    Again, thanks to everyone who has responded and provided valuable insight and advice.
  28. I would peg Japan as one of the safest countries to travel in. All three of us, my wife, daughter and myself have travelled to and in Japan solo at various times. None of us felt that crime was ever an issue for us.
    If anything, the greatest hazard is... getting disoriented and temporarily lost when you find yourself in an out of the way spot and have no idea what the Japanese signs say and no English speakers are in sight.
    As to back packing, the Japanese are avid hikers and there are some interesting routes. Two years ago, on my way to visit my daughter in Korea, I hiked in the Kiso valley on the Nakasendo between the towns of Tsumago and Magome. This is a preserved section of the Edo era imperial highway (really a stone paved foot path) between Kyoto and Tokyo (Edo). I did not run into any highwaymen, just groups of friendly school kids wanting to practice their English on me as we collectively huffed and puffed our way up to the pass.
    I found people to be helpful and courteous if somewhat reserved, and was never accosted or hassled in any way. A shining example were the elderly inn keepers of a minshuku in Narai, who spoke no English!
    But for a young person's take, I should let my daughter speak:
  29. I have had only one ugly incident in 24 years of living in/visiting in Japan and that was at night in Nara. It was over fairly quickly.
    I have taken a load of top quality Nikkors and my F5 up into Ueno Park where one of the largest groups of homeless men live quietly and neatly and photographed down across Shinabazu to get a nightlighted shot I wanted of Benzaiten. No Problems and I didn't expect any. I'm never afraid in Japan. No reason to be.
    I have experienced the 'turned around' in areas with no English signs or speakers but I always seem to get where I'm going.
  30. Japan is incredibly safe compared to American standards. There are no yahoos with guns, there are no slums with poor desperate people, no scared people packing for self-protection, no gangs, no nutbar armed militias, no large numbers of crack addicts. I would feel safer for a month in Japan than I would for 3 hours in New York City. Japan is incredibly clean, well mannered and polite. Tokyo is an incredible megalopolis than just works great. It is INCREDIBLY clean and safe. Compared to LA or NYC it seems like Sesame Street clean and safe.
    I was there for 2 weeks a couple years ago and I was amazed.
  31. I have had only one ugly incident in 24 years of living in/visiting in Japan and that was at night in Nara. It was over fairly quickly.​
    Some deer come after you looking for snacks?
  32. No, it was a rather large man for a Japanese and he jumped on me from behind three times before he was persuaded to take a hike.
  33. I've lived in Japan for over 10 years and have never had an incident, other than being asked for sex. In all cases, telling the guy to f--- off or even just saying no usually works. Most guys don't want to attract attention to themselves. That's not to say that bad stuff can't happen, but the odds of it happening to these two girls is extremely unlikely. Japan is extremely safe. Using common sense and trusting your instincts is usually the best way to deal with most situations.
    As for travel, having some Japanese helps, but you absolutely don't need it. The girls may be "backpacking" but I imagine they'll hit mostly well-known tourist places in Japan, most of which will have English-language signage (and some English speakers). I've also found that (especially in off-the-beaten-track places) writing my request down in English seems to work better sometimes, as quite a number of people lack confidence in understanding spoken English. Either way, the girls will be fine here.
    As for film, it's still available (compared to the western world) -- almost any photo store will still carry some. That being said, the best places are Yodobashi Camera (in any major city, but Tokyo is the mecca and has the best selection -- please look at the link) or BIC Camera (Toyko and Osaka are good, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Fukuoka are not in my recent experiences). Colour neg, slide, black and white, everything from 135 to large format is available.
    PS. I just went through the photos for the Yodobashi Camera link that I listed above -- the photos at the top of the page are more representative of what's there now, that is, a long single cooler with all brands of film in it. The photos at the bottom are older (5 or more years) when that store had up to three massive coolers -- one mostly for Fuji, one mostly for other players (Kodak, Ilford), and one for "other" films including disposables, instant film, etc. Or maybe the difference was colour film versus black and white. Either way, those coolers are gone now and it's just the one. Another clue is the presence of now-discontinued films in those bottom pictures.

    Yodobashi camera stores in smaller cities will have much less selection than the Tokyo store, but they still cover all the basics.
  34. Yodobashi is my idea of heaven! The Yodobashi in Osaka is more than adequate but doesn't come near Tokyo. Film is still plentiful there and over in the shops in Koreatown is a good place to buy film and camera gear.
    The man I had the the problem with was very drunk and Japanese didn't phase him. Still, given where I've gone in the night with much of my gear and alone, one incident makes the point that Japan is all but crime free. Not bad for 24 years. I'm there less now but will return to living in Tokyo again off and on.
  35. If the original poster is still following the thread, did the girls go over yet, and if so, how did things go?
  36. Both girls are over there now but the one father has only received a few iPhone images as the girls are shooting with only film cameras. So far no problems. But they did comment that blonde western women received a lot of unwanted attention on the street since Japanese men are fascinated with blondes. Fortunately for both girls, they have straight black hair that looks like any other Japanese 20-something female.
    No incidents of any kind, but get this insanity: They thought it would be "way cool" to head up near Fukushima to photograph the "ghost towns"! They were wisely talked out of that by some locals -- too dangerous and foolish, plus civilian access is restricted anyway.
  37. The blonde attraction is seriously true. I'm 6' tall and naturally very light blonde. I just behaved as I do here. I've never acted as a stranger in any country I've been in. But in Japan you can't help but notice the attention.
    We've been terribly worried because one of my students worked for a company I won't name at the units at Fukushima and even with the help of my husband we haven't found any news of him.
    I understand their interest in the 'ghost town' because I had been to Chernobyl before the meltdown. At the time, I thought it looked wrong somehow. What was missing of course was the outer covering that I was used to seeing like at Three Mile Island. I still grieve about that because the people there were so kind to me and they were very proud of the reactor. It was during the Cold War and everyone wasn't as accepting (this is not blame) and the loss of their community and personal belongings must have been horrific. Of course I have no photos but the people and scene are etched in my memory.
    The girls may be doing a bit of what, in my opinion, they should. They are looking and absorbing instead of just looking through the viewfinder. Yes, get photos but see where you are, smell it and feel it. Between the two, they'll have the photos they want later but they'll have much more if photography is a part, not the whole. Blasphemy!
  38. Conni,
    I understand the fascination with ghost towns. In my younger days I extensively photographed the Southwest High Desert and there were then (back in the 1970s) many bona fide ghost towns to visit. In my last visit there in 1998 or '99, many were almost totally gone.
    The girls wanted to do some street photography and not attract attention. The one girl, whose father I am friendly with, is half Thai, and her girlfriend, who I saw only in pictures, is from South America (Peru or Colombia, not sure) but was raised in New York City. Travelling together most people would take them for Filipinos or Vietnamese or Malaysians -- anything but American -- so I'm sure they have "good cover" for blending in. Now when they open their mouths with heavy Noo Yawk accents, that will be the give away!
    Hopefully when they return I can see if the one girl's father would be willing to ask his daughter to post a few pictures. Even though it's film and they are developing on the fly, I assume the minilabs in Japan will scan their negs to CDs.
  39. Oh! I'd be very interested in what they found interesting.
    You're right about appearing to be Southeast Asian Visitors but also correct about that accent. Nothing like it. I couldn't blend in at all - duh.
    You can learn so much by what others post of their travels.
    And the minilabs will burn to disk and I've seen a few where they would put them on a thumb drive for you.
  40. Conni,
    In fact, I advised the father -- who is not in the least photo savvy (but otherwise a "techy") -- to tell his daughter to mail back the prints and negatives, or at least the negatives, periodically from the road. Keep the CDs or thumb drives with them as they occupy less space than lugging the prints and negatives around. Better yet, mail back the prints, negatives and CDs to the States and keep all the jpegs on the thumb drives with them. Very little chance everything would get lost or misplaced.
    Back in the day, thousands of my transparencies were lost in the move from the Southwest back to the Northeast. My entire œuvre of the High Desert photographed over several years while attending university there was completely lost by the movers, never to be seen again. All I have to show is a few prints made of selected shots, as well as an errant yellow box or two of Kodachromes that were in cartons that arrived safely.
    Both girls are what I would call "exotic" looking -- hard to pin down the ethnicity on first sight and either or both could pass for Asian, South American or even Pacific Islander, such as Hawaiian, Fijian, Tahitian. If they were actresses, they would be the 20-something female version of Anthony Quinn: easily cast in a host of diverse ethnic rôles.
    I'm sure they are having the time of their lives. The whole sojourn is supposed to last 8-12 weeks, hence they must do everything on a shoestring to make the yen stretch as far as possible. They are at a great age for what they are doing.
    Let's hope I can prevail on posting a few snaps of their experiences.

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