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Safety and Emergencies for Expats in Japan

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: July 2014

Safety – Natural Hazards

Japan is a country highly prone to natural disasters as it sits on a tectonic plate. Earthquakes are particularly frequent on the Pacific coasts of Honshu and Hokkaido, though they can occur anywhere in the country. Quakes, and the resultant tsunamis (a Japanese word meaning ‘harbour wave’), have had devastating consequences over the years.

The most recent major seismic event was the ‘Great East Japan Earthquake’ of March 2011. With an epicentre off eastern Honshu, this earthquake caused a tsunami that led to a nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant. There is still an exclusion zone in place in the surrounding area, and you should not travel within this zone under any circumstances.

Japan has many volcanoes, which are another natural phenomenon associated with tectonic plates. Volcanoes are more localised in their impact as they usually only affect the nearby area. For more information and official warnings about all these hazards, visit the Japan Meteorological Agency’s site:


Typhoons, the local name for tropical cyclones, threaten the Pacific coast from the Ryukyu Islands in the southwest up to central Honshu. The typhoon season runs from June to December, with the high season running from July to September. In addition to directly causing damage, typhoons lead to flooding, which is another serious hazard. For typhoon warnings, visit the Japan Meteorological Agency website above. Further tips on safety can be found on this website:


Safety – Human Hazards

Rates of crime in Japan are low, especially for violent crimes; the homicide rate is one of the lowest in the world. You are highly unlikely to experience any trouble in most parts of the country. Walking the streets and travelling on public transport is mostly safe day and night. Nevertheless, you should still take standard precautions and use your common sense.

Roppongi, the main nightlife area of central Tokyo, unsurprisingly has somewhat higher crime levels than anywhere else in Japan. You should be more on your guard in this area.

Petty crimes such as pick-pocketing and bag-snatching are rare but do occur, especially in the busier cities. These and other forms of theft are most likely to occur in crowded tourist areas and on public transport.To prevent such crimes, it is important to stay aware of what is going on around you and keeping valuables such as money, jewellery, mobile phones and laptops out of sight as much as possible.

In general, the threat of sexual assault is low, but women, especially young women, should be aware of chikans (‘gropers’), whose indecent assaults on women on commuter trains and crowded metros have become a serious problem. More than half of young Japanese women have fallen victim to groping or other forms of indecent assault on a train. Some trains now have women-only carriages to help combat the menace.

Some non-nationals have fallen victim to drink spiking and subsequent robbery or assault. Make sure at all times that your drinks are supervised, and do not accept unattended drinks from strangers.

The risk from terrorism is low. Nevertheless, attacks have occurred in the past and it is prudent to be vigilant and report any suspicious activity. Protests and demonstrations are infrequent, but some are directed towards foreigners; these should be avoided. You can use the local media to help stay aware of any demonstrations in your area.


The emergency numbers that should be used in Japan are given in the table below.  

Emergency Service No. Areas
Police 110 Everywhere in Japan
Ambulance 119
Fire Brigade 119

The emergency operator will answer in Japanese. Since it is unlikely there will be anyone who speaks any other language available, you may want to learn some basic emergency phrases such as these:


Alternatively, in Tokyo, there is an English-speaking police service available on 03 3501 0110 (office hours only.) There is also the Japan Help Line, which has anglophone operators and can assist with any emergency, which you can reach on 05 7000 0911.



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