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Overseas Security Advisory Council
Bureau of Diplomatic Security
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Japan 2019 Crime & Safety Report: Tokyo

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Japan at Level 1, indicating travelers should exercise normal precautions.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

 

The U.S. Embassy in Tokyo does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizen Services (ACS) unit cannot recommend a particular individual or establishment and assumes no responsibility for the quality of services provided.

 

Please review OSAC’s Japan for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

 

Crime Threats

 

There is minimal risk from crime in Tokyo. The crime rate in Japan is generally well below the U.S. national average. Recent statistics indicate that there is an average of three robberies per 100,000 individuals. Crime in Tokyo appears to be in relative decline – there were 104,928 crimes reported during an 11-month period in 2018, compared to 114,331 crimes reported during the same period in 2017, reflecting a decrease of roughly 9%.

 

Pickpocketing and other petty crimes occasionally take place in crowded shopping areas, bars and nightclubs, train stations, and airports. Third-country national pickpockets are known to target the Akasaka and Harajuku neighborhoods.

 

Within the city of Tokyo, Roppongi, Shinjuku, Shibuya, and Ikebukuro are the neighborhoods most frequented by tourists and present a moderate risk of crime to foreigners. Crime in these neighborhoods is commonly related to bars, clubs, and other establishments, such as massage parlors and “hostess” bars. Kabukicho in Shinjuku is generally known for prostitution, while Roppongi’s bars and clubs are well-known for being frequented by foreigners. Japanese crime syndicates (Yakuza) and other organized crime (African criminal groups) are prevalent in these areas, using nightlife establishments as fronts for their criminal operations and running various schemes to defraud their customers.

 

In Roppongi, many establishments use “hawks” or people who work the sidewalk near the bar, soliciting passersby to enter. Hawks are commonly the first step to filter foreigners into bars operating fraud or extortion schemes, including drink spiking. Drink spiking frequently involves a victim unknowingly ingesting a drug and becoming dazed, at which point bar employees escort the victim to a nearby ATM. The victim will then withdraw a large sum of money and turn it over to the individuals who escorted them. Some victims regain full consciousness at a bar or club, while others may awaken on the street or in their hotel room.

 

On occasion, drink spiking has resulted in sexual assaults. Therefore, travelers should order drinks in cans or bottles that can be opened in front of them, and maintain control of drinks at all times.

 

Another common scheme involves bars or clubs substantially overcharging customers’ credit cards, often by thousands of dollars. In other situations, a victim may legitimately use their credit card at a bar, but the credit card information is then stolen and later used fraudulently.

 

When these types of bar-related crimes are reported to local police, a subsequent investigation and review of surveillance video may show what appears to be the victim willingly withdrawing money from an ATM or signing a bar tab. As a result, the victim has little recourse in recouping the lost funds.

 

Crimes victimizing women (both Japanese and foreigners) on crowded subway trains are common. Men groping female passengers or taking lewd photos of women, specifically targeting those wearing skirts or dresses, are the most common types of such crime. Because of the prevalence of these female-focused crimes, Japanese authorities have designated certain cars as “women only” during crowded rush hours.

 

Women should be aware of their surroundings while riding the subway. In some instances, when a woman actually catches someone committing a lewd act against her, jostling or a physical fight may ensue. Should these actions result in injuries to either party, the police may view those injuries as a greater offense than woman’s victimization on the subway. Depending on the injuries, the police could arrest the female for assaulting the male, even though the assault was intended as self-defense.

 

Japan has strict laws regarding the use and possession of dangerous weapons. Carrying a pocketknife (including Swiss Army-style knives), craft knife, hunting knife, or box cutter in public is illegal. Authorities have detained U.S. citizens at international airport ports-of-entry when finding loose ammunition – including a single bullet – in their luggage.

 

Violent crime is relatively uncommon in Japan. However, a few high-profile crimes have occurred in Tokyo and surrounding regions in recent years. One of the most widely-reported crimes occurred during a New Year’s Eve celebration in the Harajuku neighborhood of Tokyo. During the early morning hours of January 1, 2019, a Japanese male drove a small van down a crowded pedestrian street injuring eight individuals before crashing into a building. Inside the van, police found a tank of kerosene and a high-pressure washer. A subsequent police investigation determined the attack had no nexus to international terrorism; the perpetrator viewed it as retaliation for Japan’s death penalty system.

 

In June 2018, a Japanese male, traveling on a bullet train (Shinkansen) in Kanagawa Prefecture, stabbed three other passengers multiple times, seriously injuring two and killing the third. Police concluded the attack was indiscriminate, but premeditated, as the perpetrator carried three knives, including a folding machete.

 

In October 2017, the “Zama Murderer” was apprehended in Tokyo after killing and dismembering nine individuals over a three-month period. Before the murders, the killer worked in the Kabukicho neighborhood of Tokyo as a “scout,” where he reportedly lured women into prostitution.

 

Cybersecurity Issues

 

Cybercrime is an increasing concern throughout Japan. Always take care in protecting sensitive or proprietary information (including personally identifiable information). Use discretion when connecting to networks in internet cafés, hotel business centers, or Wi-Fi “hotspots,” such as those found at coffee shops.

 

Other Areas of Concern

 

In March 2011, a 9.0-magnitude earthquake in Tohoku (north of Tokyo) resulted in a tsunami that caused widespread damage to coastal cities. The Fukushima Nuclear Reactor experienced a core meltdown, which caused it to release radioactive material. Since then, the government has maintained a 20-kilometer exclusion zone around the plant.

 

Transportation-Safety Situation

 

Road Safety and Road Conditions

 

Traffic moves on the left in Japan and vehicles are right-side drive. Visitors, especially those from countries where traffic moves on the right, should take care when walking or driving in Tokyo and throughout Japan. Road conditions and road safety standards generally meet or exceed U.S standards, except in the most remote areas or islands. Roads are well maintained, with extensive lighting. However, vehicle accidents may still occur, and accidents involving pedestrians or persons riding bicycles are common. Traffic enforcement includes the extensive use of cameras.

 

Japanese has a zero-tolerance policy regarding driving under the Influence (DUI), and penalties for violating that policy can be severe. Once arrested, a subject can expect to remain in police custody for up to 23 days while the police investigate. There may also be additional fines or jail time imposed during sentencing.

 

Public Transportation Conditions

 

Public transportation in Tokyo (and throughout Japan) is excellent both in terms of its efficiency and safety. The railway system is composed of a combination of subways, local trains, and high-speed inter-city trains.

 

Terrorism Threat

 

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

 

There is minimal risk from terrorism in Tokyo. There are no widely prevalent indigenous terrorist organizations in Japan, which is not a known base of support or sympathy for terrorists.

 

There have been a limited number of Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS)-related sympathizers among Japanese nationals. Reportedly, a small number of Japanese nationals have traveled or attempted to travel to Syria in order to join ISIS. With Tokyo hosting the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, information regarding transnational terrorist threats to Japan (real or aspirational) may increase.

 

In 1995, members of a cult movement (Aum Shinrikyo) released sarin gas in the Tokyo metro, killing 12 individuals and injuring up to 5,000 others. Although the group may have members in the north of Hokkaido, the majority of these group members reside in Russia. Since the 1995 incident, Japan has experienced little, if any, terrorist activity.

 

While Japan has not experienced any incidents related to international terrorism in the last decade, travelers should maintain a high level of vigilance and practice good situational awareness abroad.

 

Anti-U.S./Anti-Western Sentiment

 

The U.S. Embassy in Tokyo is routinely the site of peaceful demonstrations, the participants of which are often protesting the U.S. military presence on Japanese soil.

 

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

 

Civil Unrest

 

There is minimal risk from civil unrest in Tokyo. Violent demonstrations and acts of civil unrest are very rare in Japan. Most protests are peaceful and require a government application before an official permit can be granted. The police closely monitor demonstrations and inform the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy about planned protests and whether they are expected to be disruptive.

 

Post-specific Concerns

 

Environmental Hazards

 

Japan regularly experiences earthquakes and tremors due to its location in an active seismic region known as the “Ring of Fire.” Japan has made great advances in building, railway, and road construction that minimizes collateral damage in metropolitan areas. Nevertheless, coastal cities remain susceptible to tsunamis, which stem from earthquake epicenters in the ocean, and can arrive on shore within minutes. These tidal waves can cause widespread destruction of property and can lead to loss of life.

 

Typhoons and heavy rains are also prevalent in Japan. Such weather can cause violent winds and heavy flooding. In September 2018, Japan was hit by Typhoon Jebi, the strongest storm in 25 years. At least 11 people died and over 600 were injured. Additionally, utilities and infrastructure suffered damage, while air and land travel was disrupted.

 

Extreme heatwaves may take place during the summer months. According to Japan’s Meteorological Agency, 2018 was the hottest summer for eastern Japan since 1946. The unprecedented heat was declared a natural disaster. At least 138 people died and over 71,000 others were treated for heatstroke / heat exhaustion. Casualties included children and the elderly.

 

All visitors should have an emergency plan for natural disasters, to include contingencies for communication and evacuation.

 

Privacy Concerns

 

There are very strict privacy laws governing the release of personal information of Japanese citizens.

 

Personal Identity Concerns

 

Hate-related crimes rarely occur, though some U.S. citizens have reported being the target of comments or actions because of their race, nationality, or ethnicity. Although crimes based on sexual orientation are exceptionally rare, same-sex couples may draw unwanted attention for outward displays of physical affection. Tokyo is home to a relatively large LGBT population and hosts an annual Pride festival in May.

 

In December 2018, an emotionally disturbed Japanese male entered a Tokyo church and attacked a missionary. A subsequent investigation revealed the attacker saw people he believed to be American entering the church and his attack was an act of revenge for Japan and Germany.

 

Drug-related Crimes

 

Illegal drugs, including methamphetamines, marijuana, cocaine, synthetic drugs, are present in Japan. Marijuana-related arrests increased nearly 20% from 2017 to 2018. The increased popularity of marijuana is often attributed to Japan’s younger generation and foreign nationals.

 

Some medications available in the U.S. are illegal in Japan. Pseudoephedrine, an ingredient in over-the-counter medication in the U.S., is illegal in Japan. Similarly, prescription medications containing amphetamine or other stimulants, such as Adderall and Ritalin, are also illegal in Japan.

 

Up to one month’s supply of allowable prescription medicine (by Japanese law) can be brought into Japan. Travelers should bring a copy of their doctor’s prescription as well as a letter stating the purpose of the drug. Travelers who must carry more than one month’s supply (except prohibited drugs and controlled drugs), or who must carry syringes, pumps, or a CPAP machine, are required to obtain an import certificate (Yakkan Shoumei) in advance, and show the document with the prescription medicines to a Japanese Customs official.

 

When making an inquiry to the Kanto-Shinetsu Regional Bureau, do not forget to provide a fax number or email address. For more information about bringing medicines into Japan, consult the Importing or Bringing Medication into Japan for Personal Use page of the U.S. Embassy website. For information on how to obtain a Yakkan Shoumei certificate, visit Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare.

 

Police Response

 

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

 

Police are generally competent and can be counted on to provide travelers with assistance. Those in need of emergency services should be able to describe their address and location in Japanese or find someone who can do so, since few police officers speak English.

 

Crime Victim Assistance

 

Reach police by dialing 110. Reach fire and ambulance services by dialing 119. U.S. Embassy Tokyo’s American Citizen Services (ACS) can also provide assistance to U.S. citizens. The Embassy is located at 1-10-5 Akasaka, Minato-Ku Tokyo and can be reached at 03-3224-5000.

 

Some victims have reported that police procedures appear to be less sensitive and less responsive to victims’ concerns than similar procedures in the U.S., particularly in cases of domestic violence, sexual assault, and in instances when the victim and the perpetrator are foreigners. Investigations of sexual assault are often conducted without a female police officer present, and the police typically inquire about the victim’s sexual history and previous relationships.

 

Few victim assistance resources or battered women’s shelters exist in major urban areas, and such services are generally unavailable in rural areas.

 

Police/Security Agencies

 

Japan’s police system is comprised of the National Police Agency, Prefectural Police Department, City Police, and Police Kobans (substations).

 

The National Police Agency is responsible for the administration of police services. Prefectural Police Departments maintain a regional responsibility, conducting investigations and first response to emergencies. The City Police provide police services at a more local level.

 

The Koban (Police Boxes) are the most typical point of interaction for visitors with the Japanese police. The Kobans are located throughout Tokyo and are staffed by one or more police officers 24/7. Koban police officers are normally very approachable.

 

Medical Emergencies

 

While medical care in Japan is good, English-speaking physicians and medical facilities that cater to U.S. citizens’ expectations are expensive and not widespread. Japan has a national health insurance system available only to those foreigners with long-term visas for Japan. National health insurance does not pay for medical evacuation. Medical caregivers in Japan require payment in full at the time of treatment or concrete proof of ability to pay before they will treat a foreigner who is not a member of the national health insurance plan.

 

U.S.-style and standard psychiatric care can be difficult to locate in major urban centers in Japan, and generally is not available outside of Japan’s major cities. Extended psychiatric care for foreigners in Japan is difficult to obtain at any price.

 

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

 

For a non-exhaustive list of available medical facilities in Japan, please consult the Medical Assistance page of the U.S. Embassy’s website.

 

Insurance Guidance

 

Travelers should verify the validity of their medical insurance and confirm coverage in Japan before traveling. Japanese medical providers typically will not accept foreign medical insurance.

 

CDC Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

 

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Japan.

 

OSAC Country Council Information

 

The OSAC Tokyo Country Council is active and meets approximately once a month.  Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s East Asia-Pacific team.

 

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

 

U.S. Embassy Japan

1-10-5 Akasaka, Minato-Ku

Tokyo, Japan

 

Hours: 0830 – 1730, Monday through Friday (except U.S. and Japanese holidays)

 

Embassy Contact Numbers

 

Embassy switchboard: (03) 3224-5000

Regional Security Office: (03)3224-5000

Website: https://jp.usembassy.gov/

 

Nearby Posts

 

Consulate Osaka/Kobe: https://jp.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/osaka/

Consulate Sapporo: https://jp.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/sapporo/  

Consulate Fukuoka: https://jp.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/fukuoka/

Consulate Nagoya: https://jp.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/nagoya/

Consulate Naha/Okinawa: https://jp.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/naha/  

 

Embassy Guidance

 

Use common sense and take basic security precautions. Always strive to maintain a low profile and remain aware of your surroundings. Use caution in entertainment and nightlife districts throughout Japan.

 

Additional Resources

 

Japan Country Information Sheet


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