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Overseas Security Advisory Council
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Japan 2020 Crime & Safety Report

This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo. OSAC encourages travelers to use this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in Japan. For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s Japan country page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Travel Advisory

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Japan at Level 2, indicating travelers should exercise increased caution due to due to an outbreak of COVID-19. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Japan’s Travel Advisory was assessed as a Level 1. Review OSAC’s report, Understanding the Consular Travel Advisory System.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

Crime Threats

The U.S. Department of State has assessed all cities with U.S. diplomatic posts in Japan as being LOW-threat locations for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. The crime rate in Japan is generally well below the U.S. national average. Crimes targeting foreigners are seldom, especially as Tokyo has touted itself as “the world’s safest big city” in preparation for the now-postponed 2020 Olympic Games. The Economist Intelligence Unit ranked Tokyo and Osaka as the world’s number one and number three safest cities for 2019.

Pickpocketing and other petty crimes do sometimes take place in crowded shopping areas, bars and nightclubs, and public transportation hubs. However, reports of these crimes victimizing diplomats, tourists, and business travelers have declined considerably over the past year. Review OSAC’s report, All That You Should Leave Behind.

Illicit narcotics trade and prostitution occur throughout many of Japan’s after-hours bar districts, but these activities are largely discreet in nature. Japanese society considers these “victimless crimes.”  

In some bar districts popular with foreigners and tourists, bar touts may sometimes try to lure foreign customers into their establishments with unusually inexpensive drink prices. In many of these establishments, once the customer enters the bar, management charges exorbitant prices, especially when using credit cards. On occasion, drink spiking has incapacitated customers to run up large purchases on credit cards (especially in areas such as Roppongi and Kabuki-cho, near Shinjuku in Tokyo). Order drinks in cans or bottles that servers open in front of you, and maintain control of drinks at all times. Use caution in all entertainment and nightlife districts throughout Japan, especially Roppongi, Kabuki-cho, Shibuya, and Ikebukuro in Tokyo. Review OSAC’s report, Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad.

There have been reports of U.S. citizens being forcibly taken to ATMs and robbed, or made to withdraw funds after being unable to pay exorbitant bar tabs. When victims report bar-related crimes 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 lost funds. In instances involving credit card theft or fraud, Japanese police often provide a report number rather than a police report. You can provide this report number to your credit card company in order to confirm the incident with the police. Review OSAC’s reports, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud and Taking Credit.

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. Review OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity Basics, Best Practices for Maximizing Security on Public Wi-Fi, Traveling with Mobile Devices: Trends & Best Practices, and Satellite Phones: Critical or Contraband?

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Driving in Japan is complicated and expensive. Traffic moves on the left side of the road. Those who cannot read the language will have trouble understanding road signs. Highway tolls can be very high. City traffic is often very congested. A 20-mile trip in the Tokyo area may take two hours. There is virtually no legal roadside or curbside parking. Those parked illegally at curbside commonly block traffic. In mountainous areas, roads often close during the winter, and cars should have tire chains. Roads in Japan are much narrower in Japan than in the United States.

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 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. Vehicle accidents involving pedestrians and bicyclists are common. Traffic enforcement includes the extensive use of cameras. Turning on red lights is not legal. All passengers are required to fasten their seat belts.

Japanese has a zero-tolerance policy regarding driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs; penalties can be severe. Once under arest, 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.

Japanese law provides that all drivers in Japan are liable in the event of an accident, and assesses fault in an accident on all parties. Japanese compulsory insurance (JCI) is mandatory for all automobile owners and drivers in Japan. Most short-term visitors choose not to drive in Japan.

Review OSAC’s reports, Road Safety Abroad, Driving Overseas: Best Practices, and Evasive Driving Techniques; and read the State Department’s webpage on driving and road safety abroad.

Public Transportation Conditions

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

Crimes victimizing women (Japanese and foreigners alike) 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 the sexual assault. Depending on the injuries, the police could arrest the female for “assaulting” the male, even though a Westerner would view her actions as purely self-defense. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for female travelers.

Review OSAC’s report, Security In Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Terrorism Threat

The U.S. Department of State has assessed all cities with U.S. diplomatic posts in Japan as being LOW-threat locations for terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. 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 ISIS-related sympathizers among Japanese nationals. Reportedly, a small number of Japanese nationals have traveled or attempted to travel to Syria to join ISIS. There have been no indications that radicalized foreign and/or indigenous terrorist groups are seeking to target the now-postponed Olympic Games.

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.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

Civil Unrest

The U.S. Department of State has assessed all cities with U.S. diplomatic posts in Japan as being LOW-threat locations for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Violent demonstrations and acts of civil unrest are very rare in Japan. Most protests are peaceful and require a government application and an official permit. The police closely monitor demonstrations and inform the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy about planned protests and whether they expect disruptions.

Anti-U.S./Anti-Western Sentiment

The U.S Mission in Japan spanning the Embassy in Tokyo and five other constituent posts in Naha, Nagoya, Osaka-Kobe, Fukuoka, and Sapporo frequently experience small-scale demonstrations, usually in response to historical grievances and/or current U.S. policies. However, these demonstrations usually occur without incident and prompt close monitoring by Japan’s law enforcement and security services. Individuals seeking to demonstrate/protest in Japan must obtain a permit from the police to do so.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Japan frequently natural disasters and extreme weather events. However, its capabilities in the areas of disaster response are world-renowned. 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.

Japan’s typhoon season typically lasts from July to October. Such weather can cause violent winds and heavy flooding, and adversely affect commercial aviation, rail service, and other public transportation. In October 2019, Super Typhoon Hagibis hit Japan, interrupting the 2019 Rugby World Cup. At least 98 people died in the storm. Utilities and infrastructure suffered damage, and the storm disrupted air and land travel.

The Government of Japan continues to closely monitor the conditions at and around the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Comply with all travel restrictions and cautions for areas surrounding the plant. For more information, contact the Japan Nuclear Regulation Authority.

Economic 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.

Tokyo is home to a relatively large LGBTI+ population, and hosts an annual Pride festival in May. Although crimes based on sexual orientation are exceptionally rare, same-sex couples may draw unwanted attention for outward displays of physical affection. There are no legal restrictions on same-sex sexual relations or the organization of LGBTI+ events in Japan. While in recent years, open members of Japan's LGBTI+ community have made social strides including winning elections to public office, LGBTI+ activists warn that Japan remains an unwelcoming place for sexual minorities. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI+ travelers.

Review OSAC’s report, Freedom to Practice, and the State Department’s webpage on security for faith-based travelers.

Although Japan’s accessibility laws mandate that new construction projects for public use include provisions for persons with disabilities, older buildings are not likely to have been retrofitted for accessibility. At major train stations, airports, and hotels, travelers with disabilities should encounter few accessibility problems. Note that many smaller stations are inaccessible to those who cannot climb stairs. Information on travel in Japan for travelers with disabilities is available at Accessible Japan and the Japan National Tourism Organization. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for travelers with disabilities.

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. Authorities attribute the increased popularity of marijuana to Japan’s younger generation and foreign nationals.

The vast majority of arrests of U.S. citizens in Japan are for drug-related offenses, and arrestees often spend months or years in detention. Japanese authorities aggressively pursue drug smugglers and users, including recreational users with sophisticated detection equipment, "sniffing" dogs, blood tests, “stop-and-frisk” tactics, and other methods. Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking a drug that is illegal in Japan are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and fines. Some drugs which are legal in certain jurisdictions outside of Japan, including marijuana and synthetic drugs, remain illegal in Japan. This also applies to certain prescription drugs that doctors in the United States may prescribe. Having a prescription for medical marijuana does not exempt you from Japanese law, which makes no distinction between medical and recreational marijuana. Even possession of a small amount for personal use can result in a long jail sentence and fine. Japanese customs officials carefully screen incoming packages, and individuals who receive drugs through the mail can face arrest and prosecution as drug traffickers. 

Other Issues

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. Read the State Department’s webpage on customs and import restrictions for information on what you cannot take into or out of other countries.

Police Response

The emergency line in Japan is 110. Police are generally competent and 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.

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 often occur 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 shelters for victims of domestic abuse exist in major urban areas, and such services are generally unavailable in rural areas. Download the State Department’s Crime Victims Assistance brochure.

Japan’s police system is composed 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.

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

Medical Emergencies

The medical emergency line in Japan is 119. While medical care in Japan is good, English-speaking physicians and medical facilities that cater to U.S. expectations are expensive and not widespread. Find contact information for available medical services and available air ambulance services on the U.S. Embassy website.

Verify the validity of your medical insurance and confirm coverage in Japan before traveling. Japanese medical providers typically will not accept foreign medical insurance. 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 (medevac). 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. The U.S. Department of State strongly recommends purchasing international health insurance before traveling internationally. Review the State Department’s webpage on insurance overseas.

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.

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.

Travelers can bring up to one month’s supply of allowable prescription medicine 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, must obtain an import certificate (Yakkan Shoumei) in advance, and show the document with the prescription medicines to a Japanese Customs official. When inquiring 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.

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

Review OSAC’s reports, The Healthy Way, Traveling with Medication, I’m Drinking What in My Water?, Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad, Health 101: How to Prepare for Travel, and Fire Safety Abroad.

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 Asia-Pacific team for more information or to join.

U.S. Embassy Contact Information

1-10-5 Akasaka, Minato-Ku, Tokyo

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

Embassy Operator (24hrs): +81 (03) 3224-5000

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

Other U.S. Diplomatic Posts in Japan:

Helpful Information

Before you travel, consider the following resources:

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