Japan is widely known to be one of the safest countries in the world, however, that doesn't necessarily mean it has top safety in everything. There may be some situations normal to the Japanese that can easily be avoided, yet may not be so obvious to others. The following are troubles encountered by foreigners visiting Japan. Because these are things you can only avoid if you are aware of them, be sure to keep them in mind.
Left your Umbrella? Consider it Gone...
It is pretty common to see umbrella stands installed at the entrance of many Japanese shops, such as convenience stores. However, it is also common to find that, should you put your umbrella there on a rainy day, when you finish your shopping, it will be gone. Another place where this is commonplace is at bars and pubs. You should be especially careful if you carry the common 100-500 yen transparent or white umbrellas typically sold at convenience stores, drug stores, and mass retailers. First of all, because these are the most common, it is not unusual for someone to grab the wrong one by mistake on their way out. And for others, some people may not feel much guilt just snatching one under the perception that it is generally inexpensive and not worth much. So make sure to bring yours with you even when you shop and try not put it to the stands.
Bicycle Theft has Increased in Recent Years
Another frequent occurrence in Japan is bicycle theft. According to a data sample taken from Saitama, the prefecture adjacent to the Tokyo Metropolitan Area in 2017, there were a reported 18,148 cases of stolen bikes, averaging about 50 bikes per day. More than 50% of these cases are of unlocked bikes, but about 40% of reports were on bikes that had been locked in bike lots. This is despite the messages of caution by each local government of Japan to "Always lock your bike," even if you will only be gone a short time. So whether you lock it or not, you are still a potential bike theft victim. Because of this, people have called for "double locking." Additionally, in the case of theft, people are advised to take at least three photos at multiple angles of the bicycle, as it is useful when filing a report with the police. Finally, in some cases (especially residential areas), there are even cases of the front basket of the bike being snatched, so you should take proper precautions to keep that safe as well.
Guard Your Wallet and Smartphone, Especially in Crowds
Tokyo generally holds a safe image. The probability of being pickpocketed compared to other countries is pretty low. However, places that gather particularly large crowds, such as summer festivals and department store bargain sales, are the exception. Downtown areas such as Shinjuku's Kabukicho, Shibuya's Center-gai, Harajuku's Takeshita Street, and Ueno's Ameyoko, as well as morning and evening rush hour on the train, are other times and places to practice extra caution. Valuables such as your wallet are best placed in less easily accessible places such as in your bag as opposed to keeping it in your pocket, and take extra measures before hand and hold your bag in front of you.
Beware of Purse-Snatching at Hot Spring and Public Bath Dressing Rooms
Hot springs and public baths are unique to Japan, and there are many places in these facilities where you can place your belongings into little baskets while you bathe. However, there is the possibility of loss and damage when cash is removed right from your wallet. Of course, the safest bet is to lock up valuables in a locker, but there have still been cases reported in various locations where lockers have been vandalized. Please take extra precaution and leave valuables at reception, and never leave them in open baskets.
Beware of Barkers in the Downtown Area
In downtown areas such as Shinjuku, Shibuya, Ikebukuro, and Roppongi, you are likely to encounter barkers and swindlers. Be careful not to be fooled by them unwittingly and charged an outrageous fee for something. In areas where this is forbidden, you will see police actively alerting attention. Be careful not to fall for their smooth-talking and tricked out of a hefty sum.
Beware of Cars that Don't Stop at Crosswalks
At pedestrian crossings with no stoplight, it is natural in most countries for cars to pause and give pedestrians the right of way. However, though this may vary by district, in larger cities such as Tokyo and Osaka, there is a greater tendency for cars and taxis to pass through, giving no priority to pedestrians. Because of this, there is a possibility of landing in an accident if you do not practice common precautions of looking right and left when crossing. Please be careful and confirm all traffic has completely stopped before attempting the cross the street.
No Cellphone Use Inside Bus and Train Cars
A common announcement on Japanese transportation systems is "Please shut off mobile devices near priority seats" and in other areas, "Please set all mobile devices to silent mode." It is custom to refrain from talking on phones on trains and buses in Japan. This is because it has been noticed that people tend to speak louder than necessary in closed spaces, which could cause inconveniences for other passengers. Even in the case of emergencies, it is recommended to cover your mouth and speak in a low voice, paying close attention to your surroundings. Of course, you will not encounter anything such as fees or tickets for using the phone, but to avoid unnecessary troubles, it is customary to refrain as much as possible.
Refrain from Smoking on the Street
On the streets of Japan, especially in large cities like Tokyo, there is a ban on smoking on the streets, including smoking while walking. In the early 2000s, penalties were enacted concerning garbage and littering, and a little later, on smoking while walking. Soon enough, the ban spread all over the country. Even electronic cigarettes, which are increasing in demand, are subject to this ban, and some districts will fine you with penalties from as low as 2,000 yen to as much as 20,000 yen for violating. The following are locations where this ban has been established, smokers, please be aware: the 23 wards of Tokyo, Saitama, Kanagawa, Chiba, Shizuoka City (Shizuoka), Utsunomiya City (Tochigi), Nagoya City (Aichi), Osaka, Kyoto, Hiroshima City (Hiroshima), Fukuoka, Sapporo City (Hokkaido), and Naha City (Okinawa).
Of course in most cases it is not the entire prefecture, but in the prohibited areas you will usually see signs indicating "smoking prohibited" drawn on the roads and sidewalks. In these areas there are designated smoking places, as well as in cafes and restaurants, where you can safely light up.
Beware of Car Vandalism at Parking Lots!
In 2017, the number of Japanese automobile thefts were as much as 10,213. It is calculated that less than 3 incidents occur each day, however more than 70% of these cases are "keyless thefts," involving vehicles that lock without a key, and the majority of these incidents take place on the road and in parking lots. It is a necessary safety measure to make sure to use an anti-theft device as well as parking in a lot equipped with security functions. Even in toll parking lots, you should be careful where there are few people as there is a high risk of damage, especially in lots of recreational areas and event venues. Always remove valuables and keep them with you, and in the case that you must keep them in the car, keep them hidden as much as possible.
Tourist Trap! Beware of Fake Monks!
In recent years there have been more appearances of people pretending to be monks in areas where tourists frequent. They will wear similar attire as a Buddhist priest might wear, and hand out a golden badge or a rosary, then request a donation to help a noble cause such as "to help build (or repair) a temple." Be careful not to accept any gifts from them, and even if one is bestowed upon you by chance, you should stand your ground and strictly refuse the payment. Some of the most common tourist areas where these fake monks are sighted are Shibuya, Asakusa, Ikebukuro, Akihabara, and Ueno. Naturally, they target foreigners, so please pay attention should you be approached by a "monk" in any of these areas.
So how to distinguish fake monks from real ones? The reality is that it can be difficult. In our experience, however, fake monks will tend to be much more aggressive in asking for money (genuine ones tend to be quite silent), and even sometimes become somewhat hostile when turned down. Anyone who tries to sell amulets, beads, or other charms on the street is certainly not a real monk.
Ultimately, it can depend on the vibes of the situation. If you feel you're being hustled (or hassled) in any way, or if there's an aggressive "sell" involved, odds are it's better just to move on.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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