Is Japan Safe? Essential Travel Tips for Visitors

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Japan is one of the safest countries in the world, but you should never let your guard down. Nomad Ronan shares his top safety tips for travelers.


Travellers in Zen Garden Photo © iStock

Japan deserves its reputation as one of the world’s safest travel spots. But while tourists are less likely to get robbed, assaulted or scammed here than almost anywhere in the world, visitors still need to take precautions to ensure they don’t encounter trouble.

How safe is Japan?

Japan consistently ranks in the top 10 safest countries in the world, on various calculated indexes, despite many of those rankings factoring in natural disasters, which are a major issue in this country and reduce its overall standing.

Its capital, Tokyo, is gargantuan, with a metro area home to 38 million people – more than the combined populations of Australia, Singapore and New Zealand. Yet despite this extraordinary size, Tokyo still placed fifth in the world in The Economist’s 2021 Safe Cities Index, which ranks 60 major cities based on more than 70 safety categories, including infrastructure, and personal, digital and environmental security.

Meanwhile, Japan’s second-biggest city, Osaka, has consistently been in the top five of those rankings in recent years. A key reason Japan’s cities are so safe was explained in The Economist’s report by Kimihiro Hino, associate professor in urban engineering at The University of Tokyo.

He said Japanese city dwellers tend to stay in the same neighborhood long-term, and this fosters strong communities, which have their own crime-fighting strategies. This means that, in addition to Japan’s endless CCTV cameras, vigilant residents also monitor and report suspicious activities. So, committing petty crimes such as theft or street scams is a high-risk, low-reward business in a nation where cameras, cops and citizens all are watching.

Japan's incredibly high conviction rate explained

Japan’s criminal conviction rate is famously high, at more than 99 percent. That could suggest if you’re accused of a crime while holidaying in Japan you essentially have no hope of defending this charge. But that conviction rate is very misleading.

It is only so high because many people accused of a crime never end up before a judge, as explained by Muraoka Keiichi, a Professor of Law at Hakuoh University, in an interview with “Public prosecutors typically concentrate on suits where conviction is almost guaranteed, leading to the suspension of around 60 percent of criminal cases in Japan without an indictment,” he said.

Yakuza gangsters in Japan

The Yakuza, sometimes known as the Japanese Mafia, is a sprawling network of affiliated organized crime groups, with a total membership of more than 25,000 men. Enormously powerful and wealthy, the Yakuza control a large proportion of the prostitution, gambling, drug trafficking, extortion and loan sharking in Japan, and also have worldwide criminal influence.

But, realistically, there’s next to no chance of a tourist to Japan encountering a Yakuza, let alone getting into an altercation with one. Unless you’re in a red light district, or high-end nightclub or a hostess bar, and are acting in a disrespectful manner or engaging in illegal activities, you will not place yourself in a Yakuza’s orbit. Behave yourself and you need not worry about them.

Tattoo laws in Japan

What you may need to be concerned by, linked to the Yakuza, are Japan’s tattoo laws. Body ink has become increasingly common in Western countries, but it is a complicated subject in Japan, where tattoos have long carried a significant stigma.

From the late 1800s to the 1940s, tattoos were banned in Japan, and after that, they were made legal only if the ink was applied by a tattooist who held a medical license. Only in 2020 did tattooing become widely legal in Japan. Yet body art still isn’t fully accepted in Japan, due to its historical links to criminals, particularly the Yakuza, who are famous for flaunting elaborate tattoos.

Although tattoos have become more common among everyday Japanese people, for many generations they were largely the domain of gangsters. This means tattoos remain an intimidating sight in Japan. As a result, many public venues in Japan still have rules against displaying tattoos, with many pools, saunas, gyms and hot springs requiring guests cover them up. So if you’re heavily tattooed, and intend to visit such facilities on your holiday to Japan, bring long clothing or compression bandages you can wear over your ink.

Do I need to worry about food poisoning in Japan?

Food poisoning is far less of a concern for tourists to Japan than it is in many other parts of Asia. That is due to the strictness and robust enforcement of Japan’s Food Sanitation Act, which governs food quality and integrity, and the sanitary conditions required of restaurants and cafes.

Japan’s many food sanitation inspectors have the power to enter venues without notice to inspect the cleanliness of their kitchens, and to acquire food for testing. Restaurant or café diners can report instances of food poisoning to these inspectors, who will then investigate the venue. As someone with a sensitive digestive system, my stomach gets sick to some extent every time I visit Southeast Asia, yet never have I become ill across many visits to Japan.

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  • Jedis Anakin said

    Japan is absolutely NOT sate. See the truth.


  • Susie Lee said

    Jedis is right. Japanese government is successfully doing press control, lobbying foreign organizations and press to hide the truth, their citizens are treating talking about politics like a taboo and they rarely speak out about the problem. They are embellishing the reality in their mangas and animes. The government is spending enormous amount of money to produce propaganda movies and animes with misleading and wrong information to extend the longevity of their political power, but this does not change the fact that the problem is out of control.

    They are raising their official standard on "safe" radiation levels to pretend things are under control, wrapping Fukushima rice and groceries in bags labelled with names of other provinces and sell it everywhere in Japan, having campaigns to consume Fukushima groceries to support local communities at the cost of citizens' health and lives, storing highly contaminated Fukushima soils in kindergarten buildings, passing bills to criminalize Japanese people publishing radiation measures and sharing them, using Fukushima woods and building materials in Olympian apartments and other buildings, deceiving Vietnamese and other foreign workers in developing countries to make them "clean up" contamination in Fukushima(which is not resulting in any significant improvement), and relocating people back to highly contaminated areas to insist the problem is under control. All lies. Every single fact I mentioned here are based on what actually happened. You could google them and see news articles about them.

    The truth is they have no other option because Fukushima is their major source of food crops and their major source of daily protein is seafood, which are both seriously contaminated. Their soil, air and water is all polluted and you cannot guarantee whatever you are consuming is not from Fukushima in the entire territory of Japan. Their government has been brainwashing people for multiple decades and they successfully made people to think that talking about politics is causing useless trouble. They have no modern history of successful political revolution or demonstration against dictators. Instead, their government has always sacrificed their own citizens in case of national emergency. Do you think kamikaze pilots volunteered for their suicidal flights? They forced their top tier pilots into the cockpits and welded the cockpit doors. They confiscated personal savings of their own people in 1946 in economic crisis. Japanese "democracy" is not functioning as you would expect. Do you still believe Japanese government would ensure health of its own people and even foreigners from the danger of radiation poisoning? I am not being racist. This is national issue in Japan, rather than their ethnic or racial problem. Not all Asian countries are like this. They are all different and I know it because I am Asian. When you try to understand some situation in foreign country that is not familiar to you, you should first learn how things actually work out there. Sometimes merely avoiding everything that may offend someone and pretending every country may have same standards and thoughts is not the best way to understand what is actually going on.

    I personally would never travel in Japan (although I love japanese food and I have several travel destinations in Japan in my travel bucket list...It used to be a nice travel destination BEFORE 2011.), and would bring my own food and water even if I have to stay in Japan for any reason. Consuming their food may cause continuous radiation poisoning and this problem is even worse in the body of growing children who are actively growing up(meaning more active cell division and potentially more cell damage) and live longer than us. Many of my friends are Japanese or live in Japan, but I can hardly tell them the truth because many of them have no other option and the situation is too bad I would feel bad to remind them what they have to deal with. And I do not want to offend my Japanese friends as a foreigner.


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