Safety First

We’ve all heard about how safe Japan is. But unless you live here, you may not understand why Japan is considered so safe. The uninitiated may presume that safety is enforced through a rigid society that doesn’t allow freedom of expression, that Japanese people are too worried about losing face to commit a crime, or that the government comes down unnecessarily hard on people who step out of line. In reality, none of these rings true.

But we can’t deny that there’s one thing that Japan does better than anyone else. Join us after the jump for some insights and our own observations.

The one thing Japan does better than anyone else is that it puts a strong focus on crime prevention. In addition, safety of its citizens is paramount. Here is a list of some factors that we believe help Japan be free from danger.

1. ATMs

While this drive-up ATM in the U.S. may be convenient, it’s also a crime magnet, especially after dark.


ATMs in Japan are located inside buildings or banks, which provide secure environments to withdraw cash. They may be slightly less convenient than ‘hole-in-the-wall’ style ATMs you’ll find outside banks in other countries, but Japan’s cash machines are much more secure and offer a greater degree of privacy.

2. Convenience Stores

conbiniFlickr (DSCO1489)

In Japan, you’ll never find one person working alone at any convenience store, gasoline station or anywhere that could be easily robbed—even if there’s only one person at the counter, you can pretty much guarantee that there’s another member of staff in the adjoining office or somewhere in the store. On one hand, it costs more to employ that extra person, but on the other, it puts the safety of employees first and makes the store safer for customers too.

3. Parking Lot Attendants

attendantFlickr (Andy Atzert)

You’ll see parking lot attendants in Japan where you wouldn’t expect to see, or especially need, one. Drivers don’t give them much notice either. But the mere presence of an attendant deters criminals from breaking into cars or mugging people in the parking lot.

4. Security Guards

bankFlickr (Yo &)

Banks employ part-time, often retired, people to help out in the lobby of banks. This person may greet customers and help vet their needs as they come in or they may also help customers use the myriad functions of bank ATMs. They’re also alert to potential suspicious activity and provide one more barrier to the stash of cash behind the teller window.

5. Firearms are not readily available

bananaGratisography (Ryan McGuire)

In Japan, they don’t feel it is an individual’s right to carry a firearm, and everyone is okay with that.

6. Low Tolerance for Drugs

pillFlickr (Carlos 90)

Paris Hilton, the Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney have all been famously been denied entry into Japan due to previous drug convictions (and no one here has a problem with this either). Japanese entertainers, expected to be role models, apologize to their fans on national television if they are caught using drugs. These ramifications reinforce that, while people are free to make their own lifestyle choices, the country does not support poor decision-making, and even drugs like marijuana—now decriminalized in a number of countries—are still considered taboo by most in Japan.

7. Zero tolerance for drinking and driving

▼ Taxis are a thriving trade in Japan.

taxiFlickr (Toshihiro Oimatsu)

In Japan, it’s not left to the individual to decide whether they can drive safely while under the influence of alcohol. Zero tolerance means no alcohol when driving, period. Want to go for a drink after work but came by car? Then call for a daikou, a specialized taxi service that brings an extra driver to drive your car home while you hop in their taxi.

8. Koban

buildingFlickr (Cyril Bele)

Small police stations, often no more than a single room with a desk and a couple of chairs, called koban are strategically placed throughout cities and neighborhoods so you can always find a safe haven, report something suspicious or just ask for directions if you’re lost. Their ubiquitous presence also encourages people to turn in lost property, including cash.

9. Zoning

477038814_8ad0d20e0c_bFlickr (Masato OHTA)

Because Japan’s zoning laws are more inclusive than exclusive, one zone can have multiple uses. Convenience stores may be allowed to exist next to single-family homes in a neighborhood, for example. While the presence of businesses in a neighborhood may produce a certain degree of noise, the presence of so many observers around discourages criminal activity around both the houses and businesses.

10. Limited Immigration Policy


Flickr (Paul Hudson)

While we can criticize Japan for not being more open to immigration, we can’t deny that it is one measure used to ensure the country maintains a common belief system and shared sense of values. Basically, by not being open to other cultures and value systems, they’re able to preserve their own.

Top image: “Safety First” Flickr (Toshihiro Ohimatsu)