When we were first considering moving to Tokyo I reached through my network to speak with people who had lived in Japan, I researched and spent a lot of time reading. Safety kept coming up as one of the positives about Japan, although I worried that it was too good to be true.
In fact, as 1 year approaches for us, I have begun to notice “rose colour glasses” from many foreigners as they talk about Japan. Many people who travel in and out of the country are enamoured with the country; the culture, the history, the great food (all true) but do not have a balanced view as they do not get past the county’s external face, the veneer of Japan.
To truly understand Japan, you have to live in the country. All countries have pros and cons.
When we first arrived a fellow expat said Japan is a tough place for a foreigner (not a tourist). The first year you will really struggle (It is true: Japan is like living on Mars), the second year you will enjoy it a lot more as you begin to understand how the country works … and he was right.
As an aside, a funny view of “Japan like/dislike” can be found at the blog 1,000 Things About Japan.
But is Japan really that safe? Or is it a case of rose coloured glasses?
The answer is yes, it is that safe.
Sure, if you head out to Roppongi at 1am and head into a seedy bar, you can find trouble and yes, there are lots of people in Japan who can be rude (road-rage is unsurprisingly prevalent). But for the general citizen, there are police everywhere, people are very helpful and incredibly polite to foreigners. Case in point, we were lost in the mountains on the weekend and a truck that was following us pulled over when I did. Even though he spoke no English, he took the time to guide us to our destination just because he figured we were confused. Very nice people.
Back to the safety front, I think the best way to illustrate the point is through the children and the subway. You get on the subway in the evening with tens of millions of other commuters and you will see unaccompanied children .. 5, 6, 7 years of age in their coloured hats, coloured backpack (which designates which school they go to) and uniform.
You would never see a child that young alone, on the subway in Toronto, because it isn’t as safe.
And as (another) aside, their coloured hats and backpacks, are a great idea and very practical on a school trip. When we were at the Hakone Open Air Museum, there were hundreds of children on school trips .. grouped by their hats.
A fascinating country.