Overall Crime and Safety Situation
U.S. Consulate Sapporo does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The ACS Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or establishment and assumes no responsibility for the quality of services provided.
THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED SAPPORO AS BEING A LOW-THREAT LOCATION FOR CRIME DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.
Please review OSAC’s Japan-specific webpage proprietary analytic reports, Consular Messages, and contact information.
There are few incidents of violent and non-violent crime in Hokkaido and northern Tohoku. Pickpocketing and other petty crimes occasionally take place in crowded shopping areas, bars/nightclubs, train stations, and airports. Although firearms are prohibited in Japan, licenses may be issued for hunting rifles. Rifles, knives, illegal pistols may be used sometimes in violent crimes.
Crime is commonly related to bars, clubs, and other establishments (massage parlors). Japanese crime syndicates (Yakuza) are prevalent in nightlife establishments and often use them as fronts for criminal operations, running schemes to defraud customers. A common scheme involves bars/clubs substantially overcharging customers’ credit cards, often by thousands of dollars. In other situations, a victim may legitimately use his/her credit card at a bar, but the credit card information is then stolen and later used fraudulently. When these types of crimes are reported to police, an investigation and review of surveillance video may show what appears to be the victim willingly withdrawing ATM monies or signing a bar bill. As a result, the victim has little recourse in recouping the lost funds. On occasion, drink spiking can result in sexual assaults. Therefore, it is best for patrons to maintain control of their drinks.
Cybercrime is an emerging concern in Japan. Advance-fee fraud scams perpetrated via email have been reported. Discretion is encouraged when connecting to wireless networks in internet cafés, hotel business centers, or Wi-Fi “hotspots” like those offered by coffee shops, as such networks may not be secure.
Other Areas of Concern
In the aftermath of the Fukushima earthquake in March 2011, the Fukushima Nuclear Reactor experienced a core meltdown, releasing radioactive material. Since then, the area around the Fukushima Nuclear Reactor has been restricted, and foreigners should not travel to this prohibited zone. The zone is divided into three color-coded areas, each with different travel restrictions. For more details, reference Fukushima Prefecture’s official website or the Japan National Tourism website, which provides information on radiation dosage throughout the country.
While roadways are generally well-maintained, visitors often find driving in Japan to be complicated and expensive. Traffic moves on the left side of the road. Vehicle accidents, including those involving pedestrians, are common. Visitors who cannot read Japanese may have trouble understanding road signs. Highway tolls can be costly. City traffic is often very congested. There is virtually no legal roadside or curbside parking; however, traffic is commonly blocked or partially blocked by illegal parking. Roads are much narrower than those in the U.S.
Consulate General Sapporo’s area is often covered with ice and snow during the winter. Drivers should follow local regulations and consult the U.S. Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Winter Driving Tips.
Traffic enforcement includes extensive use of cameras. Turning on red lights is generally not permitted. All passengers are required to use seat belts. Japan has a zero percent blood alcohol content (BAC) standard for driving. Drivers stopped for driving under the influence of intoxicants will have their licenses confiscated; if found guilty of "drunken, speeding, or blatantly careless driving resulting in injury," individuals are subject to up to 15 years in prison.
Japanese law provides that all drivers are held liable in the event of an accident and assesses fault on all parties. Japanese Compulsory Insurance (JCI) is mandatory for all automobile owners and drivers. An International Driving Permit (IDP) issued in the U.S. by the American Automobile Association (AAA) or the American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA) is required of short-term visitors who drive. Travelers must obtain an IDP issued in their country of residence prior to arrival. U.S. diplomatic facilities do not issue IDPs. IDPs issued via the Internet and/or by other organizations are not valid. Residents in Japan are required to obtain a valid Japanese license. Residents who do not use an IDP may be fined or arrested. Most short-term visitors choose not to drive.
Public Transportation Conditions
Overall, Japan’s public transportation system is safe and efficient.
The country’s railway system is extensive and is considered among the best in the world. It is a major means of public transit, especially mass and high-speed travel, between cities and commuter transport within metropolitan areas. Trains are noteworthy for their safety, cleanliness, and punctuality. Although generally safe, incidents of sexual assault (groping) on crowded trains have received considerable public attention of late. The exact extent of this problem is hard to assess, as many incidents are believed to go unreported. In response, a number of railway companies offer female-only cars, especially during rush hours.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the government of Japan’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation standards for oversight of Japan’s air carrier operations. New Chitose Airport (CTS) in Sapporo offers international and domestic flights.
THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED SAPPORO AS BEING A LOW-THREAT LOCATION FOR TERRORIST ACTIVITY DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.
Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns
There are no known indigenous terrorist organizations, and Japan is not a known base of support/sympathy for terrorists. In recent years, there has been a modest but rising number of ISIS-related sympathizers among Japanese nationals. Media has reported on Japanese nationals who travelled or attempted to travel to Syria to join ISIS.
Japanese law enforcement is concerned about and engaged in monitoring the potential threat of lone-wolf actors.
All visitors should be familiar with the Department of State’s Worldwide Caution, which expresses the Department’s concern about continued threat of attacks, demonstrations, and other violent actions against U.S. citizens and American interests abroad.
The U.S. Embassy is routinely the site of peaceful demonstrations, often protesting the U.S. military presence on Japanese soil.
Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED SAPPORO AS BEING A LOW-THREAT LOCATION FOR POLITICAL VIOLENCE DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.
Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
Violent demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience are very rare throughout Japan. Most protests are peaceful and require a government application so that an official permit can be granted.
Japan is in an active seismic region, known as the “Ring of Fire,” making it prone to earthquakes and, potentially, tsunamis. Japan frequently experiences earthquakes of varying intensities and has made great advances in building, railway, and road construction that minimizes collateral damage in metropolitan areas. Coastal cities remain susceptible to tsunamis, which stem from earthquake epicenters in the ocean and can arrive on shore in minutes. These tidal waves cause destruction of property and can lead to loss of life.
- In 2011, a 9.0 earthquake off the northeast coast caused a tsunami that is estimated to have killed over 15,000 people.
Typhoons are another threat, most commonly occurring in August-September. For more information, see the Japan Meteorological Service’s Typhoon tracker and the Joint Typhoon Warning Center.
All U.S. personnel should have a personal emergency plan for natural disasters. These plans should include contingencies for communications and evacuations.
The government of Japan continues to closely monitor the conditions at/around the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.
Economic espionage/intellectual property theft is a concern. U.S. personnel are advised to take prudent steps to safeguard computer systems, networks, and personal electronics.
Japan has very strict privacy laws that govern the release of personal information.
Personal Identity Concerns
Hate-related crimes rarely occur, though some U.S. citizens have reported being the target of discrimination based on their nationality or race.
Crimes based on sexual orientation are exceptionally rare although same-sex couples may experience harassment for outward displays of intense physical affection.
Illegal drugs (methamphetamines, marijuana, cocaine, synthetic drugs) are present, but drug-related violence is rare. The possession and/or use of illegal drugs, including marijuana and some medications that are legal in the U.S., are serious crimes and result in lengthy prison sentences.
Japanese police officers are well trained and can be counted on to provide assistance. Kobans (Police Boxes), which are located throughout Japan and are generally staffed by one or more police officers 24/7, are the most typical point of interaction for visitors with the Japanese police. The majority of police officers have a very limited English ability, and there may be a delay before an English-speaking officer can be dispatched. The quality of interpreting from Japanese to English can vary, and for some U.S. citizen victims, this has caused problems.
How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment
U.S. Embassy Tokyo’s American Citizen Services (tel: 03-3224-5000) provides assistance to American citizens throughout Japan. Consular officers can be reached 24/7. In the event of an arrest, death, or other emergency involving an American citizen in the Hokkaido, Akita, Iwate, Aomori, and Miyagi prefectures, please contact Consulate Sapporo at 011-641-4501 during normal business hours.
Crime Victim Assistance
Countrywide, the police emergency number is 110.
Some U.S. citizens have reported that police procedures can appear to be less sensitive and responsive to victims’ concerns when compared to those of the U.S., particularly in cases of domestic violence and sexual assault. Investigations of sexual assault are sometimes conducted without the presence of female officers, and officers typically ask about the victim’s sexual history and previous relationships. Few victim’s assistance resource centers/battered women’s shelters exist in major urban centers; they are generally unavailable in rural areas.
The National Police Agency, Prefectural Police Department, City Police, and Police kobans (substations) comprise Japan’s police system. The National Police Agency is responsible for the administration of police services. Prefectural Police Departments maintain a regional responsibility. The City Police provide police services at a more local level.
The countrywide emergency number for fire and ambulance service is 119. This number may not work from cell phones, and English-speaking dispatchers may not always be available.
Some medications that are available in the U.S. are illegal in Japan. Pseudoephedrine is illegal in Japan. Prescription medications containing amphetamine or other stimulants (Adderall, Ritalin) are also illegal. For more information, please refer to OSAC’s Report, “Traveling with Medications.”
Contact Information for Available Medical Services
Consult the U.S. Embassy Tokyo’s American Citizen Services webpage for information on English-speaking medical facilities.
Available Air Ambulance Services
Air ambulance services are limited. Hospitals in four cities of Hokkaido – Asahikawa, Hakodate, Kushiro, and Sapporo -- operate helicopter aeromedical services. Similarly, air ambulance services are restricted only to the largest prefectural cities in Tohoku. Services are dispatched on a case-by-case basis depending on the local emergency medical technicians assessment, weather, time (generally 0800-1700), and resource availability.
Travelers should verify that their health insurance provides coverage overseas. Medical caregivers often require full payment at the time of treatment or proof of the ability to pay before treating a foreigner who is not a member of the Japanese National Health Insurance system.
Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance
The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Japan.
OSAC Country Council Information
There is not an active OSAC Country Council in Sapporo; however, the OSAC Tokyo Country Council is active and generally meets on a monthly basis. Please contact OSAC’s East Asia Pacific team if you are interested in private-sector engagement in Tokyo or have questions about OSAC’s Country Council programs. The Regional Security Officer in Tokyo can be reached at 03-3224-5000 (within Japan) and at +81-3-3224-5000 (outside Japan), or at DSRSOTKY@state.gov.
U.S. Consulate Location and Contact Information
Consulate Address and Hours of Operation
U.S. Consulate Sapporo
3-1 Kita 1-jo Nishi 28-chome, Chuo-ku,
Sapporo, Japan 064-0821
Hours: Mon-Fri, 0830-1730 (except U.S. and Japanese holidays)
Consulate Contact Numbers
Regional Security Officer (Tokyo): (03) 3224-5000
Embassy Tokyo: http://japan.usembassy.gov
Consulate Osaka-Kobe: http://osaka.usconsulate.gov/
Consulate Naha/Okinawa: http://naha.usconsulate.gov/
Consulate Fukuoka: http://fukuoka.usconsulate.gov/
Consulate Nagoya: http://nagoya.usconsulate.gov/
The Regional Security Officer for Sapporo is resident in Tokyo. The U.S. Consulate in Sapporo provides emergency assistance to U.S. citizens in Hokkaido, as well as the Aomori, Akita, Iwate, and Miyagi prefectures in the Tohoku Region of Japan.
Japan Country Information Sheet