Five things our reporter noticed after moving from Tokyo’s safest area to its least safe one.

In March of this year, our Japanese-language reporter Mariko Ohanabatake moved from the area in Tokyo where she’d lived for 20 years. For one reason or another, she’d lived in the same area since she was a student, and it was easy to stay there because it was Meguro, which is said to be the safest of Tokyo’s 23 wards. It was a nice place to live, but this year, after taking stock of her finances and deciding to cut down on her cost of rent and length of commute, she decided to make the move to a different area, which just so happened to have a reputation of being “not very safe” according to numerous surveys.

Initially, Mariko wasn’t too concerned about safety as she likes her new ‘hood, but now, just a little over a month after she moved in, she’s been able to notice a few things out of the ordinary that might’ve contributed to her new area’s less-than-desirable reputation.

Surveys into safe areas of Tokyo often cite public order as one of the main yardsticks by which safety levels can be assessed. This includes incidents of burglaries, bag snatching, assaults, indecent exposure and general “yankees” (the Japanese word for young delinquents) hanging about the area.

▼ Mariko’s own colleagues have sullied the reputation around our Shinjuku office on multiple occasions.

Thankfully, Mariko hasn’t encountered any panty-faced thugs in her own ‘hood yet, but she has come across a few new “huh” moments she’s never experienced in Japan before.

It has to be said that, compared to a number of other cities around the world, Tokyo has a reputation for being generally safe by comparison, so Mariko’s “huh” moments are simply that. They’re nothing that will send anyone running for the hills, but they’re certainly unusual by Japan standards, and may be useful for anyone thinking about moving to a place in Tokyo that has a reputation for being unsafe.

So let’s take a look at the moments that made her go “huh”, starting with…

1. Dog Poop

This was the first thing that Mariko noticed about the area after moving in. Unlike her old neighbourhood, where she’d seen dogs out on walks with their owners but never saw any dog poop on the streets, now she sees droppings pretty much every day on the walk from her home to the station.

▼ And they’re not cute poops like this one.

There aren’t many stray dogs around, so Mariko figures it must be the fault of pet owners failing to clean up after their dogs. In fact, there are loads of posters in the area reminding people to “Please pick up your dog’s droppings”, making the failure to do so even more disconcerting. If locals have no qualms ignoring signs from the municipality and don’t care about other residents, what else will they get up to?

2. Noisy Families

Sometimes Mariko likes to head out to a family restaurant to grab a bite to eat while doing some work on her laptop, but in her new neighbourhood, every family restaurant she’s been to has been buzzing with noise. Mariko is no killjoy, and doesn’t mind extra background noise — in fact, she sometimes prefers it to the quietness at home — but from noon onwards at her new local family restaurant, you’ll find groups of people drinking and guffawing, and children running around the store screaming.

On one occasion, a group of about four married couples were drinking and talking loudly together at the family restaurant from noon. One of the younger couples left in the middle of the meal, leaving money on the table to cover their share, but after they’d left, the others piped up, abusing them loudly with statements like, “They have no manners!” and “How dare they leave before their senpai? (seniors)“. Their angry tone and drunk demeanour made Mariko feel unsafe, and it was still only lunchtime.

A lot of diners in Mariko’s new ‘hood don’t seem to show any consideration for anyone around them, talking loudly, dropping serviettes and food on the floor and leaving their tables in a mess. Sure, it might not sound like a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but in Japan, where good etiquette and consideration for others is a key part of society, this type of behaviour stands out as shocking at worst and unusual at best.

3. Mysterious troubles at the family restaurant

There was another incident that Mariko encountered at the family restaurant that deserved its own special mention. One day, when she was waiting to pay, she found herself in line behind an irate older man, who was waiting at the register and saying things like, “Stop screwing around! How long are you gonna make me wait? You sonofabitch!

He caused a commotion for around ten minutes, and the reason why he was so furious was because the family next to him had eaten the food he’d ordered.

The food at this store had been served by a robot waiter, so staff would’ve assumed the food had been delivered correctly. However, as it turns out, the robot had taken the food to the wrong table. Usually, when you receive food that isn’t yours, you might pipe up and let the staff know to correct the situation, but at this family restaurant, the family simply ate the food as if it were theirs.

It’s easy to know when you’re getting something you didn’t order, but this family didn’t have a care in the world, continuing to eat everything on the table while the old man yelled about them.

In the end, despite the chaos, staff were able to placate the old man, and he eventually left with a smile on his face, likely because he’d gotten a free meal or credit due to the inconvenience. However, the incident left Mariko feeling shaky and she was disappointed to see people in her neighbourhood acting like this.

4. Neighbours calling the police followed by a car horn late at night 

One day, there seemed to be some kind of trouble in the area, so Mariko’s neighbours called the police and asked for advice. She wasn’t able to catch the details, but she overheard the disturbing exchange in which the police replied, “Well, we can’t set up a stakeout all day here like we’re in a detective drama…”

That was enough to set Mariko on edge, but things became even more tense when, soon after the police visit, a strange car cruised through the neighbourhood, honking its horn many times in the middle of the night. She wasn’t sure whether the two incidents were related, but one thing was certain — this was something Mariko had never experienced before in Tokyo.

5. Street Arguments

On another occasion, Mariko was walking along the road in front of the station when a young man suddenly stomped in front of her, pointed his finger at her, and shouted, “F**k!” 

Apparently, a serious-looking lady nearby had cautioned the man about where he was standing or something, and they’d gotten into an argument. Then, as Mariko happened to pass by, she got caught up in the crosshairs.

After he swore at Mariko, the young man immediately went back to fighting with the other woman. Though Mariko was physically unscarred after the incident, she was mentally scarred, and hasn’t been able to shake off the bad feeling it left her with to this day.

So there you have it — the top five things that Mariko has noticed since she moved from Tokyo’s supposedly safest ward — Meguro — to its supposedly worst one…Adachi (as reported in the survey linked after this article).

Surprisingly, though, despite all the strife she’s encountered, Mariko says she doesn’t want to move from the area. She’s lived in Tokyo long enough to know that it takes a while to get used to new experiences, so she’s happy to grow an extra layer of armour to adapt to her new circumstances.

Sure, she might not be hanging out in her neighbourhood late at night anymore, but there are perks like cheap supermarkets and an unpretentious atmosphere for her to enjoy, so it’s not all bad. Plus, she’s a reporter after all, so in a way she finds all these new people and their lives intriguing. Who knows — maybe one day in future she’ll be able to get to know them better and feature some of them in her stories. Watch this space!

Related: Mynavi
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