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Is it safe to travel to Japan?

crowded night street in Japan

A question many people thinking of traveling to Japan ask themselves is how safe Japan really is? Here we try to answer that question.

Crime

Japanese police officer patrolling the street

Compared to other countries the number of violent crimes committed in Japan is said to be some of the lowest in the world. And people usually have no fear of walking home alone in the middle of the night. That said there is no need to take unnecessary risks so remember to travel with common sense, like you would in your home country. And if you for any reason would need to get in contact with the local police you can usually find small police houses, called koban, spread out in the cities. If you can't find a koban close by or if it's unmanned you can call the police by dialing 110. This emergency phone number works nationwide.

Natural disasters

Although Japan is considered a very safe place, due to its location there are some natural disaster risks that travelers should know and be prepared for.

Earthquakes

road splitting in two after earthquake

Being located right over an continental platform, Japan is one of the most seismic active countries in the world. On a average there are around 400 earthquakes everyday, although most are too small to even notice. The most recent large earthquake to hit Japan was the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011. The earthquake and the following tsunami resulted in close to 20,000 dead, 230,000 people loosing their homes as well as a nuclear accident at a power plant in Fukushima.

In Japan earthquakes are measured and reported in the shindo scale, literally meaning degree of shaking. Unlike the Richter scale it refers to the actually felt intensity at a given location. So for example the same earthquake with a shindo 3 rating in Tokyo may register as shindo 2 in Yokohama and shindo 1 at locations even further away from the epicenter.

tv broadcast after recent earthquake in Japan

The Shindo Scale

Shindo numberEffects on peopleIndoor situations
0Not felt at all by most people.Objects will not shake or move.
1Felt only by some people indoors.Hanging objects may swing very slightly.
2Felt by most people indoors. Can wake sleeping people.Lamps and other hanging objects swing slightly.
3Felt by most to all people indoors. Some people are frightened.Objects inside rattle noticeably and can fall off tables.
4Many people are frightened. Some people try to escape from danger. Most sleeping people awake.Hanging objects swing considerably and dishes in a cupboard rattle. Unstable ornaments fall occasionally. Very loud noises.
5-lowerMost people try to escape from danger by running outside. Some people find it difficult to move.Hanging objects swing violently. Most unstable items fall. Dishes in a cupboard and books fall and furniture moves.
5-upperMany people are considerably frightened and find it difficult to move.Most dishes in a cupboard and most books on a bookshelf fall. Occasionally, a TV set on a rack falls, heavy furniture such as a chest of drawers fall, sliding doors slip out of their groove and the deformation of door frames makes it impossible to open doors.
6-lowerDifficult to keep standing.A lot of heavy and unfixed furniture moves and falls. It is impossible to open the door in many cases. All objects will shake violently.
6-upperImpossible to keep standing and to move without crawling.Most heavy and unfixed furniture moves and becomes displaced.
7Thrown by the shaking and impossible to move at will.Most furniture moves to a large extent and some jumps up.

Volcanoes

Sakurajima volcano in the Kagoshima prefecture

As well as frequent earthquakes Japan is also home to over 100 active volcanoes. In fact Mount Fuji, Japan's highest and most famous mountain is a active volcano with its last eruption some 300 years ago. And researchers are predicting the next eruption is getting close. Currently Japan's most active volcano is Sakurajima located in Kagoshima prefecture in the south most part of Kyushu.

LevelKeywordExpected volcanic activity
1Be mindful that the volcano is potentially active.Calm: Possibility of volcanic ash emissions or other related phenomena in the crater (possible threat to life in the crater).
2Do no approach the craterEruption or possibility of eruption that may affect areas near the crater (possible threat to life in such areas).
3Do not approach the volcanoEruption or possibility of eruption that may severely affect places near residential areas (possible threat to life in such areas).
4Prepare to evacuatePossibility or increased possibility of eruption that may cause serious damage in residential areas and non-residential areas nearer the crater.
5EvacuateEruption or imminent eruption that may cause serious damage in residential areas and non-residential areas nearer the crater.

For up-to-date information on currently issued warnings please visit Japan Meteorological Agency's Volcano warnings page.

Tsunami

city reduced to rumble after a devastating tsunami

Tsunamis are created by earthquakes occurring near or in the sea, creating large waves that can cause great destruction when hitting coastal areas. Not all earthquakes create tsunamis and the size of a tsunami is not strictly related to the strength of the earthquake that proceeded it.

If you are near the sea it's best to move to higher ground following an earthquake. Coastal areas prone to tsunami damage often have designated evacuation routes and safety zones, so try to be aware of your surroundings.

Typhoons

city reduced to rumble after a devastating tsunami

Yearly about thirty typhoons are formed in the Pacific Ocean area close to Japan. Out of those about a dozen hit Japan straight on, with the southern Okinawa islands being the most vulnerable. The typhoon season typically start from May to October, with more powerful ones usually at the end of the season. During a typhoon it's advised to stay inside and clear of beaches and rivers. Taking normal caution typhoons are usually no bigger danger, rather due to canceled flight and train traffic travel plans may need to be reconsidered.

Precautions

Japan has a well developed early warning system that alert people of occurring and soon to occur earthquakes and tsunamis. Foreign visitors and residents can now also get real time alarms sent to their smartphones thanks to "Safety tips", a push-enabled app developed in collaboration with Japan Tourism Agency.
Visit the official Japan Tourist Agency's Safety tips page for more information and download links for Iphone and Android.

Wildlife

With large mountainous areas with dense woods Japan is home to a large variety of different animals. Most wild animals are not considered dangerous but there are some that you better watch out for.

Snakes

Snake warning sign in Japan

Mamushi, is the most common and dangerous of venomous snakes in Japan. It can be found at rural areas all around Japan. And out of the three thousand people bitten yearly, approximately 10 victims die.

Habu, are only found in the southern Okinawa islands. It's said to be Japan's most venomous snake, but fatalities are nowadays very rare.

Monkeys

Japanese monkey

Japanese macaque or Nihonzaru as it's called in Japanese is a wild monkey native to Japan and can be found most everywhere in Japan except Okinawa and Hokkaido regions. Due to human expansion the macaque have lost their fear of humans. Resulting in monkeys living closer to human residences, both in rural and urban areas. Mischievous monkeys are known to aggressively attack people carrying food or drinks, and feeding is strongly discouraged.

Bears

Japanese blackbear

There are two species of bears in Japan. The Asiatic black bear and the Ezo brown bear. With the later only found in Hokkaido, the north-most island of Japan. Recently more bears have been appearing closer to residential areas in search for food. And hikers are advised to carry bear bells while hiking in mountain trails.