Safety in Japan for Foreign Girls

January 31st, 2013By Category: Culture

Moving to Japan as a single foreign girl is quite safe, but there are some things you should be aware of if you’re considering living here. Foreign girls attract a lot of attention in Japan, mostly because there aren’t too many of us, and we stand out. We are extremely conspicuous, and this can turn into a problem.

women Japan

Over my three years living all over Japan, I can recall numerous (!!) incidents involving a stalker, or a chikan (groper) on crowded trains or empty streets. Those Japanese men are usually curious or obsessed with foreign women, they’re mentally unstable, and the experience is terrifying and unsettling. It also happens to Japanese girls on a regular basis, especially in crowded trains. Many foreign girls leave Japan after a few months or a year due to those kinds of incidents. The vast majority of my foreign friends in Japan are boys, so they’re not exposed to the same kinds of dangers.

I never talked much about it, at least not publicly, but after exchanging with fellow foreign women here in Japan, I found out that ALL of them had been victims of a form of harassment or stalking. Instances of flashing and other public sexual acts seemed like a common thread, sadly. It’s important to file police reports if it happens, even if in most cases, the police won’t do much about it, but at least they have it on file.

It’s also fundamental to not put yourself in situations that could potentially be dangerous: walking alone at night in sketchy areas, taking dark roads/streets, not locking the door, or going inside the house of someone you barely know. NEVER, EVER do that. If you give private English lessons, NEVER go to their house, only meet in a crowded cafe. It’s a given, but sometimes people forget and think they feel safe, but they may not be and it can end tragically.

Japan trains

If you’re being stalked or harassed, it’s best to tell the police, your employer, and your friends. Have many emergency numbers on hand and let people know you don’t feel safe. Avoid any situation or place where he might try to approach you. Take the women-only car in the train at rush hour, even though lurkers sometimes find their way in. Most importantly, live in a safe neighbourhood and building, know your neighbours, and always be aware of your surroundings.

women only

This post sounds quite dramatic compared to my usual lighthearted tone, but I think it’s major to shed light onto this issue. Even knowing this, I’d still move to Japan, and I’m not trying to discourage anyone who’s considering a move here. It really is a SAFE country, but this is a significant hazard and you must be aware.

women in train

Feel free to share any other tips or stories in the comments.

Photos by mrhayata, xmacex, cogdogblog and Klardrommar via Flickr Creative Commons

Author of this article

Vivian Morelli

Vivian Morelli hails from Canada and is a journalist based in Tokyo, where she writes about culture, fashion, food and music. You can read her Japan musings at www.vivianlostinseoul.blogspot.com

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  • Some goo advice, but it’s really not as dramatic as you say here.
    You said ALL your foreign female friends had issues? Really, ALL of them? That’s really weird!
    I’ve been in Japan for over 5 years and have never had such an experience!

    You blog post sounds like: If you’re a foreign woman in Japan you WILL be harrassed!
    And that is just not true.

    It might have to do with where you live as well. I’ve been living in the Japanese countryside here and there with almost no foreigners around.

  • ChocoAme

    Yeah, I think it’s really where you live. Most people I know in the Tokyo area have been harassed at some point. When I lived in Gunma, the most I got were people hollering from inside vehicles when I walked around. That wasn’t comparable to being flashed, but it wasn’t fun either.

    I think some people completely let their guard down with how incredibly safe the country is and had forgotten common sense rules like “don’t walk down dark alleys alone at night.” I certainly have…

  • I’ve travelled to all 47 prefectures in Japan (most of the time alone) and I’ve lived in two different prefectures – and I never ran into any problems anywhere – LUCKILY!

    The only incident I remember is that there was a young guy following me and my friend around in Tokyo for an hour or so, but it could have been our imagination. That was over 5 years ago, though.

    I heard a lot of female English teachers complain that they were sexually harassed by their students to some degree. It must be quite horrible and I don’t want to even imagine it.

    I think it’s good that you mention that we tend to forget to be careful as it’s so safe in Japan – and it really IS! But that doesn’t mean we should let our guard down. Thank you! 🙂

  • Hi,

    Yes indeed the countryside is different. I lived in Shikoku for a year and never had issues or knew anyone who had. Yet, Tokyo is different and all my female friends have had at least one or two incidents. Trains are always so crowded here, and it’s easy for gropers to well, grope. And there are more people, therefore more chances of incidents. You’re lucky it never happened to you and I hope it never does! That being said, Japan is VERY safe, I am aware of that- probably safer than most of our home countries. Unfortunately, foreign girls are conspicuous in Japan and it can attract some weird characters. It’s just best to be aware- to be honest I was oblivious to all that because I thought Japan was so safe and I felt I could trust most people, but I learned and I wanted to share, mostly for newcomers.

  • Anonymous

    “waaaah im such a female”

    “waaaaaah everyone is out to get me because I’m foreign”

    “You BETTER be prepared, girls.”

    You’re not as important as you think. This has to be the worst article I’ve ever read.

  • Hm. I see your troll and raise you a billy goat gruff.

  • I see your troll and raise you a billy goat gruff

  • Kate

    Women need to be alert no matter where they are. I haven’t been to Japan yet but I lived in Korea and it happens there too. I was walking home one night, I had earphones in listening to music and was tipsy from having left a dinner party, I was walking back to my apartment (an upper middle class apartment complex with security) and I had a young korean man grab me from behind as I was walking in a dark part of the parking lot (no choice). Apparently the guy had been following me and I didn’t realize I was being followed, anyway he grabbed me and said in broken english “I like your look, I want you, come with me” I started screaming at him loudly in English and threatened to beat him with my heel, which shocked him long enough for me to run to a well lit place by the security office. My first day in Korea, I had two men follow me in a grocery store, whenever I went out to a bar guys would walk past and grope me (this included foreign men, I had a german man grab me by my dress and wouldn’t let go until his friend intervened). I’ve had a lot of that happen to me but not just in Korea (although groping is bad there). Anyway women need to be on guard all the time sadly.

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  • Mike Hugz

    All of the above sounds like a bunch of boo-hoo to me. Before bashing Japan, think about the crime in your own country. Now, hurry up and take your asses back to your own country. I’ve been here 20+ years, and have never encountered anything that you people are ranting about. If you can’t deal, did I mention that you should hurry up and go back home to your own country…? Oh, and let me know if you need some cheese with that whine!

  • Tommaso Santojanni

    Very helpful post, thank you for sharing your experiences. But mine are radically opposite and I feel that all concerns, of any nature, should always be presented within context and not sensationalized.

    If you want to be safe from stalkers/gropers, then you better go to live in… Tokyo!

    My wife and I have been living in Japan for 6 and 15 years, respectively and we’re both foreigners. My wife takes trains every day and enjoys walks, alone, every day. We live in Shibuya but have lived elsewhere too. My wife (and my friends before her) have never been stalked or groped. My wife used to model until recently and many jobs and castings ended past 11pm, and she had to ride the last train to Shibuya alone, yet she never experienced a single incident.

    This does not mean that groping/stalking does not occur! But it also means that not ALL foreign girls get stalked/groped.

    So, how do you evaluate the risk? Look at statistics and compare them to figures in similar locations elsewhere: Tokyo and Japan are amongst the safest places on the planet. Period.

    If you compare cities, then Tokyo is way (way, way, way, way…) safer than NY, Naples, Rome, Milan, NY, London, Nottingham, Paris, Brussels only to mention cities in which I lived. If you compare countryside and smaller towns the statistic still holds true.

    To be afraid of incidents in Tokyo is a fair and correct concern, especially if you’re a mother and you care about your girl/child. But… you have to weigh your concerns and put them into context comparing them against the rest of the world.

    A mother/girl who is concerned in Tokyo should be about 23 times more concerned in NY, 12 times more concerned in London, about 3 to 6 times more concerned in Milan, Rome and Naples… and so one. And I didn’t mention Mexico City or Sao Paulo…

    The groping/stalking “problem” in Tokyo is like the radiations & earthquake syndrome after the Tsunami:

    Tokyo is way safer than LA, Manila or Naples as far as earthquakes are concerned and way safer than Europe or Rio de Janeiro as far as radiations are concerned.

    The inherent risk of the “big one” hitting Tokyo is considered by seismologists 3 and 7 times lesser than the big one hitting Naples and LA.

    Not only. Tokyo’s buildings are so much ahead of LA’s in terms of earthquake proofing and an earthquake of similar magnitude would cause less damage in Tokyo than LA or Naples. A recent Dsicovery Cahnnel documentary calculated that an eruption of the Fuji would kill many! But compared to an eruption of the Vesuvius it would be a joke. In Naples 2.5 million would die. Does any one talk about Naples? No. Why? It’s not as sensational as talking about Tokyo.

    To end my post I would like to remember the absurdity of retarded foreigners who left Tokyo after 3/11 because of radiations/earthquake risks, and flew back to LA!! Not only the flight itself gave a higher dose of radiations than living for 6 months in Tokyo (or 4 months in NY) but…
    A)
    Earthquake: if you were to rate Tokyo’s danger level of another big shock at 100, LA would have scored 300!
    B)
    B-i) Radiation: if you were to rate Tokyo’s radiation danger level at 100, Vienna and most of Europe would have scored 1000! Consider all the ex-soviet power stations in Czech, Poland, Ukraine… these are of the Chernobyl type. Fukushima is of the “3 miles island” type.
    B-ii) Radiation:
    Radiations levels detected in Tokyo after the earthquake had grown by hundreds of times and had become much greater than the norm.
    YES. This is true. But, in context:
    1) they were still under any concern to human health;
    2) they were still under the levels registered – at the same time – in NY, Rome or Rio de Janeiro (just to mention three cities).

    In short, the truth (you got groped/stalked) means nothing out of context and sensationalized.

    YES: Tokyo is at risk of radiation and earthquake. But if you’re worried about earthquakes and radiation then you better go to live in… Tokyo!

    So, I reiterate my opening statement: If you want to be safe from stalkers/gropers then you better go to live in… Tokyo!

  • Gaijin-chan

    It would be shocking if YOU encountered it… Can’t imagine old salary guys wanting to grab your junk on the train :s Not enough of a feminine body, but what do I know? you might actually have boobs. Hard to tell from your avatar. Either way, it doesn’t matter where it happens. Touching people without their consent is really f*cked up. (No, no, I don’t mean tapping someone shoulder.) I sure hope you don’t have any children overe there in Japan, because they WILL be molested with that additude. “Daddy, that guy touched me down there!” “Oh boo-hoo go back to your own country!” Nr.1 Dad.

  • bluebondage101

    Leaving for Tokyo soon, never been there, this really helped me. Thanks

  • Zac

    Personally, I believe the article over-exaggerates the whole groping thing a bit. That being said, I’ve heard some pretty shocking tales about Japan and rapists pretty much getting away with sexual molestation and full blown rape. Some rapists have went to jail simply for assault, not rape.

    Don’t be fooled, it’s a patriarchal country and bad stuff definitely happens. Japan is not a country of angels. But it’s crime rate is far lower than ours. So think about that for a bit.

    It’s more likely in certain areas. Some places are sensitive to it, others aren’t.

  • Zac

    Someone seems butthurt as hell. Sorry dude, but you sound like a fanatic, and if all you can say is ‘go back to your own country’ and not have a hint of any kinda counter argument, then you should just shut up. Why? Because it makes you look like a fool.

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