An American teacher who came to work here in Tsukuba had a interesting (slight understatement) first weekend in Japan. He visited Akihabara on Sunday, June 8, 2008, the first weekend after his initial training. Do you know the significance of that weekend? Well, it was the same day that 25-year-old, Tomohiro Kato went on a killing rampage. I ran down several people in his car and stabbed several others. After chaos in Akihabara, seven were dead and others were wounded. What makes this so strange is the this teacher actually saw some of these deaths…HIS FIRST WEEKEND IN JAPAN!! I don’t know about anyone else, but if that was my introduction to Japan, I might be a little more than apprehensive about living here.
This story about the Akihabara killings in 2008 isn’t meant to scare you. The only thing this event proves is that even the safest of countries can have isolated incidents. Truthfully, one of the factors that made my decision to come to Japan such an easy one was how safe the country is (and still is today). As with any country there will be exceptions to how secure an area truly is, but there are a significantly higher number of safe areas to dangerous ones in Japan. As far as danger goes, the seediest place I’ve been thus far was probably Kabukicho, and compared to downtown Atlanta, Georgia it just doesn’t seem all that dangerous to me.
I currently live in Tsukuba, Japan, where safety just seems to be a given. I live in a town full of researchers, two-parent households and nuclear families, a town full of hard-working, peace-loving people. I can walk down the street in peace, I can go for a run in the middle of the night with no fear, visit a park alone and not have to worry about being mugged or worse (it’s happened to me in my hometown…trust me it’s not pleasant). Although every area in Japan may not be as safe as Tsukuba, there are aspects about the culture in general that make the country much safe place to live.
In America, the right to bear arms is built into the Constitution so people having guns is common; with a proper gun license, anyone can legally own a gun. In Japan, there is no such law. People aren’t allowed to carry guns here. Even toting other types of weapons may be dangerous. A good Japanese friend said if I was to carry a real, live, sharp samurai sword around, I would be arrested. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen any real swords in plain sight. I have seen the bamboo swords for practicing kendo, but other than that…nothing. The people who have the weapons in Japan are either police officers or members of the Japanese mafia (I know that doesn’t help my case much for how safe Japan really is). It’s funny, there are many places in Japan, where I see police officers patrolling with no guns or weapons whatsoever. Fewer guns means a lot more safety.
When I came to teach in Japan, all teachers were told not to even mention the word drugs when talking with students (even jokingly). Apparently, Japan has a very strict policy on drug usage. If you’re caught…big trouble! I know in the U.S. drug use (depending on the type of course) can sometime result in only misdemeanor charges. I don’t know exactly what happens to people who get caught, but I think Japan lays the jail time on pretty thick. I remember hearing about a famous Japanese actress named Noriko Sakai who I think is STILL serving time for possession of illegal stimulants back in August. In the U.S., illegal stimulants/drugs and celebrities just seem to go together…so it’s not so shocking to see. But people were so shocked to hear about Sakai’s arrest (possibly because of her super-wholesome image). I don’t know if celebrities get the same special treatment here in Japan, but rest assured if you’re an average Joe and you do drugs, you do time. Japan being so strict about it’s drug laws makes it an even safer place to live.
In the larger cities, Tokyo for instance, where there are more people, there are probably more instances of crime. Tokyo has many clubs, bars, etc. There are also many other nationalities living in Tokyo. Areas that consist of mostly Japanese people are generally a lot safer. I hate to say it, but some foreigners who come here don’t know how to act. If you’re in a club, for example, I won’t say all bets are off, but the likelihood for arguments, drunkenness, fighting, etc. increases dramatically.
Aside from worrying about the occasional earthquake Japan has been an extremely safe place to be. In many respects, Japan is even safer than my home country. So if you’re visiting Japan for the first time and you’re concerned about safety, I am telling you from personal experience…”Don’t worry, you’ll be fine”