Crime in Japan

You never know what the day will bring—that’s the exciting thing about waking up. So this morning, just as I was heading out for a fresh can of coffee at the corner 7-Eleven, I noticed somebody’d pasted a scary Japanese note to the windshield of my car.

“Contract parking place!!” it said in large, crimson kanji, written with what appeared to be a stubbly red crayon. “Never park here!!” Heh, and they say Japanese people are subtle. Sure they are, until you do something wrong. Anyway, I had to admit I felt a bit of pride in that I could read the terrible note, and also that I finally owned a car in Japan. Yet all things considered, somehow I felt bad. Emotions sure are confusing. I really wished it was night, so I could buy beer, which solves that problem.

Instead, I decided I better get two cans of coffee, since it looked like it was gonna be one of those days. Then I called up my real estate agent, who’s like the Japanese grandmother I never had.

“I, uh, was originally was in space 5,” I said in my softest Japanese. “But I thought you said to use parking space 31 from now on.”

“Oh yes that, that was fine,” she said in her sweet Japanese old lady voice. Then she mumbled a bunch of stuff I didn’t really catch and said, “But we can transfer you to space 29. I just need to get them to move their car to space 8, but I’ll bring over a contract tomorrow.”

Well, five, eight, thirty-one, twenty-nine, who the hell cares. Makes no difference to me. Anything so long as it’s not that dreaded space eleven. I mean, you gotta draw the line somewhere. Just kidding—eleven’s very nice too. But still, the whole thing was on my mind, so I mentioned it to Ako-chan.

“She sure is shuffling people around,” she said. “You have been paying for a space, right?”

“Oh, I’ve definitely been paying. Only maybe I didn’t have a contract? I’m not really sure. But who cares, whatever.”

“I wonder where that money’s been going?” Ako-chan said. “You should ask her.”

“Ah, jeez,” I stammered, “I really don’t like anything confrontational in Japanese. Gotta preserve the wa you know.”

Wa? What the hell’s wa?” she demanded.

“It means ‘group harmony.’ I thought you were Japanese.”

“I thought you had some balls.”

“Ouch. Okay, when you’re right, you’re right.”

Sorry, that should’ve been “white.” I really gotta work on my wh- pronunciation. Anyway, over the years, I’ve noticed myself putting up with a lot of stuff that I’d never stand for in the U.S. There, Ken Seeroi could actually ask questions, negotiate, and occasionally get stuff done. But in Japan, I always found myself acquiescing. They must know better. It’s their country. I don’t want to offend anybody. After a while, I convinced myself that group harmony, saving face, and avoiding confrontation were “Japanese values.” Why, I’ve no idea. Probably something I read on the net. Damn Wikipedia.

Theft in Japan

This made me reflect on my first eikaiwa job, where my boss, a terrifying Japanese lady from Sapporo, chose the middle of my goodbye party to hand me an envelope full of cash, which was my contract-completion bonus.

My first thought was, I thought Japanese people were supposed to be good at reading situations? And here she was passing me cash just when everybody’s surrounding me, chatting and shaking my hand. And my second thought was, I don’t want to stop the party to count the money, because that’d be rude. Plus, you know, Japanese people, they’re trustworthy and all.

But I did. I excused myself, went into a corner, and counted out 140,000 yen. Only the counting stopped at 120,000.

“It’s 200 dollars short,” I said with some amazement.

“Oh!” said my terrifying boss, “I’ll be right back!” And in an instant, she returned with the missing cash.

“Sorry about that,” she said with a smile.

“No problem,” I said. Don’t want to disturb the group harmony or anything. It’s just a couple hundred bucks, after all.

Japan is a Safety Nation

So one thing I’ve heard over and over, and even said myself, is that Japan’s a very safe country. I mean, not counting my neighbor who killed herself or the guy beaten almost to death by the yakuza. Hey, you can’t account for every fluke.

Anyway, it’s pretty clear you’d be better off walking down a dark street in Japan than you would in, say, the U.S. Although I do know three women here who had their purses snatched by men riding by on scooters. But they were holding their bags rather than strapping them across their bodies like bandoleers, so that’s really their own fault.

All right, maybe it’s more accurate to say that crime in Japan is just different. You’re certainly more likely to get a lost wallet back in Japan. Although actually not my wallet that I lost in Kita-Kyushu. God knows where that thing went. And now that I think about it, I did return two wallets to people in the U.S., although for some reason it failed to make international news. But at least statistically, Japan’s safer. Well, I mean, so the Osaka police department did under-report crimes by, uh, eighty-one thousand incidents, so that might skew things just a bit in Japan’s favor. But still, everyone knows Japan’s a safe country. That’s just common knowledge.

Common Japanese Crimes

Now to be fair, I feel pretty confident in saying that Japan wins in three particular types of crime:

1. Bicycle theft. You don’t have to look too hard to find somebody who’s had a bicycle stolen. Even the lock on my scooter was broken, in an apparently failed attempt. “It’s a hobby,” one Japanese guy told me. “It’s just part of our culture.”  So I can respect that. I mean, you gotta preserve the ancient traditions and all.

2. Home break-ins. I dated a lady for several months named, well, I forget what her name was, but anyway she was real nice. She lived with her mother and a five year-old son in a house near the school I taught at. One day while we were out, she asked if we could stop by the hardware store.

“Sure,” I said. “What d‘you need?”

“Lights,” she replied. “For outside our place. Somebody’s been breaking in at night.”

“What the hell!? Did he take anything? Lights? How’d he get in? You’re gonna buy lights? How ‘bout a gun? Did you call the police?” Sometimes I get a bit excited when I hear unexpected information. I probably should get some group counseling or something.

“The police said there’s nothing they can do,” she said.

“Lights?” I repeated. “Lights are your solution?”

“It’s dark at night,” she said.

Well, okay yes, yes it is. And in fact, many people I know, possibly all of them, have similar stories of somebody crawling in through a bathroom window or climbing over a balcony to steal money, jewelry, panties. Which brings us to

3. Sex crimes. Okay, hey, is it really a crime? I mean, what’s a friendly squeeze among friends? Who doesn’t like a little affection? Apparently nobody in Japan, because every single woman I’ve ever met has not one, but countless stories about some guy flashing her, ejaculating on her, groping her breasts, groping her ass…hell, I’ve even had guys standing in front of me rubbing themselves on the train, not to mention what I’ve seen in the men’s room, jeez. For a nation of sexless people, there’s sure a lot of perverts. Eh, probably just a coincidence. So if you were to call those things crime, then Japan’s gonna have to revise its statistics. But let’s not do that, because that’d make Japan stratospherically crime-ridden. It’s better just to say that people are, you know, super friendly. Japanese style.

Research on Crime in Japan

So I decided to do a bit of “research,” which sounds way better than “hanging out in bars talking to random Japanese folks.” Anyway, several weeks ago I found myself having drinks at an izakaya table, so I ventured a simple question:

“Is there crime in Japan?”

And everyone had the same answer: Nope. No way. No crime here.

So that put that question to rest. Whew, problem solved. But then I had a couple more beers, as is my custom, and thought of a slightly different query.

“Ever heard of someone having their car broken into?”

“Oh yeah,” said one girl, “My family went to the beach, and when we came back, our car window was smashed, and my mother’s purse was gone.”

“Ever seen anyone steal anything?”

“Just shoplifting in stores,” said a guy.

“And I was in an elevator when I felt someone lifting my wallet out of my bag,” added another girl.

“Did you see the person’s face?” I asked.

“Yeah, it was an old lady,” she said. “I started yelling, but the elevator door opened and she ran away.

“Those old broads can move pretty fast,” I noted. “What about violent crime?”

“A couple of salarymen were slugging it out on the train platform last week,” ventured another guy.

And suddenly there was a tsunami of stories, with each person chaining off the other, until a picture started to emerge of a nation awash with crimes that nobody’s talking about. It sounded more like Detroit than Japan. Although I’ve never been to Detroit, so I don’t really know what it’s like. Probably very nice, like Japan.

Keep Your Eye on the Ball

So the next morning I went down to the 7-11 and bought two cans of coffee, drank them, then met with my sweet granny real estate agent.

“So I’ve been paying for a spot…” I began.

“Yes, we just need to finish the paperwork…” she said.

“But if I didn’t have a contract, then where was the money…”

“Oh, the funds contract bank frequently routed parking deposit money moving customers transfer everything’s fine,” she said, and stood there smiling.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “Sometimes my Japanese isn’t so good. It sounded like you just said random words that don’t actually add up to a sentence.”

So she said it slower. “Banks sometimes parking lot customers utilize temporary monthly fee until companies but it’s no problem.”

“Temporary monthly fee until companies but it’s no problem?” I said.

“No problem at all,” she said, nodding.

“Okay, I think I’m starting to understand,” I said, nodding in unison.

“Good, then I just need your stamp on this document. Then we can put you into space 15.”

“15?” I said. “What about 29?”

“Oh 15 divorced usually tenant 29 boyfriend parking lucky number sign night cats. Or you can have space 11.”

“Fifteen’s fine.”

After that, I drove to 7-11, got a third can of coffee, four tall beers, and some scallop-flavored potato chips that were far too salty, and proceeded to come back and mistakenly park in space 11. Then I rode the elevator back to my apartment, drank all five cans, scattered teeny pieces of chips all over my apartment, and remembered what I’d known all along. There’s no crime in Japan, actually no problems at all. The only problems come from asking questions. I really gotta do less of that.

73 Replies to “Crime in Japan”

  1. Hi Ken, thanks for another great post! I refresh your blog every day to see if there’s an update yet, it’s some of the best comedic writing ever, online or off. And with astute observations to boot.

    So on the topic of bicycle theft, wouldn’t there have to be a support system for all those stolen bikes as well? They don’t just sell ’em back to you at 7-11. You once wrote about having bought a stolen bike from a legit store, have you heard many stories about that happening?

    Now, I’m a native from Amsterdam so it’s interesting to compare the situation here with another (relatively) bike-dense country. Most Amsterdammers will tell you that bike crime is rampant here, and it’s true that a lot of bikes get stolen – about 20,000 a year. Another 15,000 end up in canals for some reason or another. But considering that in a city of 850,000, there are at least 900,000 bikes, it’s actually less than an 3% theft rate. And that 900k estimate is on the low side, they go up all the way to a two-bikes-to-one-person ratio.
    Thing is, those bikes get sold back to you in a pretty straightforward way: for a few dozen euros by some heroin junkie walking around the university district, for instance. But I’ve never seen a Japanese junkie, much less one hauling around a bike. Is it just a seamless transfer from stealing to the backdoor of a legit store?

    On a side-note, the article about crime underreporting was pretty hilarious in how it exposes the Japanese way of doing things, but even the 800,000 total crimes the underreported ones were a part of is still an incredibly low number for a city of 7 million in an urban area with triple the population. Just sayin’.

    Anyway, it would be interesting to get more details about stolen bike trafficking in Japan. So many things take place in a shady grey area anyway, I wouldn’t be surprised if half the bikes sold in shops were actually stolen. Maybe you can ask a drunk bicycle salesman in an izakaya sometimes.

    1. Thanks much for the kind words. It’s very cool of you to say that.

      My impression is most of the bike theft here isn’t for the purpose of re-selling. What I’ve heard is that it’s mostly kids screwing around for joy rides, and occasionally adults looking for a way to get home after the last train. Although, yes, I did actually buy a stolen bike, so there must be some trade in hot goods. There’s also a fair number that end up in rivers and lakes. Every time they drain a lake somewhere, they pull out heaps of bikes.

      Scooters, on the other hand—I’ve heard that they’re often stolen and shipped off to China. Of course, I have to say, that this is all just what I’ve heard from Japanese folks, so it’s hard to know to what extent it’s actually true. But I think there’s no doubt that plenty of bikes and scooters are being taken. Where they end up is the mystery.

      Also, not to be nit-picky, but I think that article was referring to Osaka, where the population’s 2.66 million. Thanks, Wikipedia.

      1. Dear Seeroi San,

        I feel the need to revisit Japan.
        I have been to Tokyo several times, Osaka, Hiroshima, Himeji, Hakone, Kure, Nagano and visited Amami Oshima 3 times.
        Where should I go next time?
        Thank you for your stories.

        Paul Trautman

        1. Kyoto seems an obvious choice. It’s one of the most visually-rich and tourist-accessible cities, although somewhat dented by commercialization. Fukuoka would also be worth a look, probably in combination with a couple of other cities in Kyushu. You could put together a Fukuoka-Beppu-Kagoshima circuit that would be pretty enjoyable. Also, as day trips from Tokyo, Kamakura and Mount Takao are both excellent.

          Thank you for reading and commenting. I really appreciate it.

      2. The transport means youth use is likely to get stolen. In The Netherlands it is the bicycle, in Spain it is the scooter and in England it is the car ( joyriding ).

  2. Great as always Ken! Have you ever had a strong discussion with somebody in japanese or you usually just back away so things wont get too heated in japenese? ( something like the homeless guy in the park, but more face to face 😛 )

    1. About a thousand times, and my conclusion is: don’t.

      What I gathered from teaching in the universities is that students really aren’t brought up in a culture of discussion and debate. Classes are mostly the teachers filling the empty vessels of student minds with wisdom, and then testing them on it.

      Japanese people who’ve lived abroad are quite different, because they’ve learned that challenging information is a discussion technique. But in Japan, it comes across as a slap in the face.

      In the U.S., even heavy topics—religion, abortion, gay rights—are up for some discussion. In fact, it’s often expected. But here, if somebody handed you a sembe and you said, “Mmm, it’s a little dry,” they might cut you out of their life.

  3. Nice post.

    Saving face… harmony… avoiding confrontation… that sounds very familiar to me despite I have never been in Japan; the chinese have lots of that as well, until money shows up and everybody becomes Gordon Geko. Perhaps there is not so many differences between japanese and chinese people after all…

    Bikes stolen, here in China is a common problem, just a piece of advice from my own experience: if you park your bike close to your place, never repeat the same spot two nights in a row, or better just put it inside your apartment, less chances to get robbed and an extra piece of decoration for the living room.

    1. Yeah, the “saving face” is the one I really like. I’ve never even heard a Japanese person talk about it.

      But when Westerners describe Japanese folks, they often mention it. Which makes me wonder, Where is this mythical country where people don’t care how others view them? Well, maybe Jamaica.

      When it comes to protecting self-pride and reputation, at least between the U.S. and Japan, I’d say Americans are far more worried about it.

      And yeah, probably a good idea to bring your bike indoors. Less rust that way too.

      1. Hey Ken, long time lurker. Love your writing style and humorous take on culture shock. Gave me the confidence to write my own! Please keep up the regular posts.

        Started reading your blog just before heading to Japan to teach english, and it helped me avoid falling for the standard cliches that get thrown about. Whenever I mention teaching in Japan, people back home say “At least they are well behaved, right?”… Well… There are good and bad kids everywhere. They just misbehave in different ways. In Japan kids sleep on their desks in class all the time, which would never be allowed back home.

        The “saving face” cliche reminded me of a conversation with a Japanese coworker the other day. Turns out there is a stereotype that western people take pictures all the time, even of everyday things. Just like the UK’s stereotype of the Japanese. Its probably just that the more foreign the culture a tourist finds himself in, the more pictures he takes.

        1. Yeah, it’s weird, but now whenever I go back to the States, I find myself taking pictures of all kinds of stuff. Mostly how big everything is. While here in Japan, I can’t even be bothered to take out my iPhone for a thousand year-old temple or someone dressed up as a giant stuffed sea otter walking down the street. Guess you get used to everything after a while.

          Thanks for un-lurking. I really appreciate that.

  4. Personally I feel quite safe in Japan as a single woman, especially compared to my home country, Germany.
    Never had an issue walking around at night alone at all.
    Also, luckily, never ever experienced any of those “sex crimes”. But I’ve seen my share of weirdoes like that junior high brat who was staring at his cellphone like crazy and then even started licking it. T___T …..

    My bicycle was stolen as well. Not from a public spot, but right behind my apartment and it was locked and “chained” properly. 🙁

    We had to deal with some stalker-ish calls at work, but that’s about it.

    1. I also feel safe in Japan. And I feel much less safe in the U.S. Although I’m starting to wonder why.

      I spent most of my life in large, dangerous U.S. cities, often in the rougher, seedier parts (all right, so I just seek them out). And in my whole life I’ve heard of only one unsuccessful mugging. And despite stumbling down many a dark alley, no one’s ever mugged me, or even tried. One knife fight, but that was my own fault. Okay, lucky, I’ll grant you.

      But here in Japan, I’ve spent years walking by large black and yellow signs saying “Watch out for purse snatchers!” So somebody’s aware of something here that I’ve overlooked. And apparently the three women I met who had their purses snatched also overlooked it. But why?

      Since crime in Japan has been on my mind lately, I spent an afternoon discussing this with a lady friend at my apartment, who told me story after story, each more hair-raising than the last. I think we finally stopped with the anecdote of her childhood friend being stuffed into a car by a stranger at the age of seven.

      Then as we got up to leave, I remembered, Oh I left the balcony door wide open. “Don’t worry,” she said, “it’s Japan.” Completely without irony. And we laughed because we both knew what she meant. You really feel safe in Japan.

      So I’m starting to realize that there’s this thing that we do. When it’s America, we repeat the mantra, “It’s a dangerous country.” And in Japan, we say, “It’s a safe country.” And we say those things over and over, with very little evidence, other than that feeling.

      I’m starting to think that the perceived safety of a country has more to do with group-think and propaganda than with anything tangible.

      It pays to ask questions, even if you don’t like the answers, is what I’ve found.

      1. I think this also has to do with the fact though that when people talk about being safe, they are usually referring to things like not being physically injured or killed, in which case Japan feeling safe to everyone certainly makes sense (to me anyway, in all my time in Japan).

        Anecdotal evidence from myself backs that up too.
        I got into a lot more unwanted fights in the UK (7) than Japan (0), and I’m not really doing anything different between the countries.

        The other crimes that are rampant in Japan like bike theft, purse snatching etc, are obviously bad things to have happen to you, but much easier to ignore and *usually* are just thought of as a minor inconvenience rather than something that must be reported as a crime to the police (despite the fact it is a crime).

        1. I think that’s right. When it comes to violent crime, there’s probably less in Japan.

          Although in the U.S., you don’t hear much about teachers slapping students, bosses slapping employees, and parents hitting their kids. Because somehow those things became unacceptable years ago. They might even be considered crimes in the U.S. But I’ve come across that type of violence a disturbing number of times in Japan. Everybody agrees it’s bad, but it’s still happening.

          But yeah, when it comes to severe violence, like somebody being murdered, then absolutely I’d go with the U.S.

          For “petty” crimes like burglary, swindling, and sex offenses, I think the two nations might well be on par. There’s a lot that’s not being reported here.

          1. In Soviet Russia… I mean, even in the non-Russian slav country I live in, people say that beating your kids is a bad thing and you shouldn’t do it. Yet, everyone ends up beating their kids, some less, some more, simple because kids can easily become monsters poisoning your everyday life. It goes back to your blog post – people just like to say things, because they feel “right.” And though most people would think of slav countries as countries of mass violence, while there is a lot of edging between people, it is just that. It is like kids fighting mostly. You start arguing, someone pushes the other one, he contras with a push, suddenly there a more shouting and people holding you down. And it ends. It is as things get heated up, because people want to show you that they are not someone to be fucked with and it ends just with that – barking dogs. The closest I have ever come to a real crime even in my Eastern Europe slav country is my mother getting her wallet stolen and we can’t even really be sure about that one. Did it just fell somewhere and the one that found it (if anyone) didn’t bother to give it back, or someone really stole it. Even if it was a real active crime, no one was caught in the doing, so we will never know.

            P.S. I have personally returned something once, though. It was just a USB drive with not that important things on. Bit this actually means I went through the personal information in it to find the owner. Though I am surprised there was any and it wasn’t just the USB drive of some kid with some video game or movie on it.

            1. You know, when I hear people say they feel safe—and I say it too—I can’t help but think we’re exactly one incident away from never feeling that way again. I mean, you leave your iPhone on the table at Starbucks and go to the bathroom fifty times and develop this idea that the country’s safe. Then the fifty-first time, you come back and it’s gone, and there goes that feeling. Then you have a different story to tell.

              I’m not sure how representative a sample we’re actually taking in, either. Many Westerners move here as adults, and live fairly safe adult lives, not to mention that the average stay isn’t that long. I mean, how many times do we even put ourselves into unsafe situations? Not like someone’s gonna steal money from you at an eikaiwa. That’d never happen. But maybe if you worked on a construction site or a loading dock you wouldn’t leave your wallet laying around on the break-room table.

              So there’s this bar I go to sometimes, right? It’s pretty rough, with a lot of guys who do manual labor, a real shot-and-a-beer joint. And they’ve told me, sometimes guys get into fights, so just back the hell out when that happens. I haven’t seen it yet, but it seems reasonable. The vibe’s certainly different in Japan, but given the opportunity, I’m pretty sure you can get into a bad situation. I’m always ready to dive out the window at the first sign of trouble.

      2. Hi Ken and (Jasmine),

        Nice post as always. I think there might be a perception difference in Japan and the US on violent crimes because the news media in the US plays up violent crimes to raise ratings and spin an agenda. Come to find out that Warren Buffet (one of the Billionaire supporters of the progressive socialist agenda here in the US) owns our local TV and newspaper (along with hundreds of TV stations and newspapers across the country) and is setting the agenda for our local news to align with national news media. Its been speculated that part of the Progressive agenda in the US is to divide the people of this country. To do this, they actively promote stories of violent crimes and hate to agitate racist attitudes and create mistrust (on national and local news) between the different races and people in this country. This often creates more conflict (like in the “Ferguson” shooting death of a black teen by cops – that led to riots), violence and escalates FEAR: that way the people’s eyes aren’t on failing economic policies… OH, AND it also reduces the chance for a popular uprising against those policies when the masses can’t work together.

        The main reason for the underplaying of violent crimes in Japan might be because they need to promote safety to increase tourism, which is becoming a huge part of the nation’s economy. Its possible that the Japanese government has exerted control over the news media there and that they deliberately underplay violent crimes as part of a government effort to keep such things quiet. Conversely, in the US – the Media are largely controlled by corporate/banking/financial institutions that are largely under the influence of a few billionaires who have turned news into an entertainment industry that sensationalizes everything for profit and then to promote their agenda (thru SPINNING the most shocking story possible).

        Plus being an island nation like Japan, its much harder to get guns smuggled into their country, so its more practical to minimize access to weapons because they are already isolated; whereas here in the US its just too easy to obtain guns… even our own Justice department sells thousands of guns on the streets illegally – just to see who’s buying guns and OOPS… they then suddenly realize that these weapons might be used to kill people (like in the “Fast and Furious” scandal).

        Jasmine and Ken: I’m really glad that you feel safe!! BUT, I feel safe here too. I’ve never been robbed, mugged, knifed or shot [(excluding what happened while I was in the Marine Corps and like Ken said, I initiated those events and I went to all the worst parts of big cities, both here and abroad looking for trouble)]. I also keep a weapon around me that makes me feel a lot safer AND I know how to use it.

        Wait, there was one time…. way back in the early ’70s, where my black friend and I were chased by a gang of blacks when we visited Chicago for a National High School chess tournament (Stuuupid us), but we were both on the track team and left ’em in the dust. Those were the days…

        1. I completely agree that the media bolsters the public’s perception, and creates a certain buzz. In the U.S., the buzz says that the country is dangerous, and in Japan, that it’s not. I suppose the government does play a role, although that’s more your department than mine.

          What’s also of interest to me is the gap between how Japanese people view their country, and how the West views it. There’s plenty of crime being reported daily in the Japanese media, and I’ve heard many women speak about feeling unsafe here. But this isn’t exactly being promoted by the Tourist Bureau. Probably “Come to Japan, Watch your Wallet” isn’t much of a slogan.

        2. In the US the corporate owned media wants to divide the people so they will vote either Republican or Democrat which are different wings of the corporate insider-trading party that concentrates wealth into their own hands via military & oil stocks. In Japan the media wants to unite the people and especially against foreigners perhaps so that Japanese won’t try to leave Japan for better work hours.

      3. Totally get where you’re coming from. But to me the “feeling” of being safe is very important as well.
        In Germany I don’t doubt to go out at night without a pepper spray although to me never ever anything happened.
        For me personally, it’s just very important to feel safe enough – no matter if it’s actually really safer.
        I’m still careful either way. I think one should never let their guard down. I always locked my door and never let my balcony door open in Japan. 😉

  5. Hiya Ken!

    Love your posts. 🙂 Just finished reading through all of them at work (my job isn’t very eventful…but it pays), and I must say that I absolutely love your adventures, misadventures, and daily toils of life (like setting your futon on fire, losing the only thing that keeps you in that country…and reminding me to try the beer whenever I get there). (And I heard something about a book…can you write a book? Because I’d buy that book, give it away, and buy it again).

    Just out of curiosity though…as an American (dunn dunn duuunnnnn)…I may have a decent chance at a job working Network IT for Amazon (you know you guys get Same-Day Delivery? That’s awesome.) Now, the pay is on par of about ¥5.5M, with an apartment in the Tokyo prefecture. I’ve been in need of a good job for a while…and what I do now…well…it’s less than exciting to say the least. I really want to go for it for the sake of saying “hey, I did it” and because this Florida peninsula has lost it’s shine. Got any advice for a gaijin such as myself who’s read a good portion of your stuff?

    (Full disclosure, my Japanese is about as good as my gym membership…I have no gym membership), albeit, I’ve already started learning the basics, and it’s scary as hell to be honest, but I’ll keep on keeping on. Already purchased the Pimsleur Audio, and that’s pretty nifty.

    1. Sure, I’m a fountain of careless advice. First of all, I’d say go for it. Pack your resume full of every qualification, publication, and award you can think of, including any Japanese class or certification you can muster. You’ll almost certainly face a cursory interview in Japanese, so I’d recommend working with a tutor specifically to prepare for it. Don’t worry though, they’ll cut the Japanese part short once they realize your Japanese is shit, and it probably won’t matter.

      What will matter, however, is your ability to do the IT job. Convince them of that, and that you’re a good team-player, and then you can start living the dream. Such as it is.

      1. So, a Japanese Interview Tutor, and a bolstered resume…good thing I won a few national level awards back in grade school (all of 1.5 years ago) that sound all pretty on paper, and more than a few certs to go around.


        Now I just need to discover the strange concept of “not using a dryer,” not setting my futon on fire, and finding the nearest 7/11 which you make seem like a a dream compared to the ones we have here. I always get a kick out of telling 7/11 employees here their company is Japanese; throws them off every time.

        Thanks again, Ken! Keep up the awesome posts. 😀

  6. Crime is indeed in the eye of the beholder! I remember reading about what “crime rate” meant in various times in US and Europe, and it was always way too close to reporting rate. Japanese tend to report crime more reluctantly, it seems.

    One thing that creates the (what I think is mostly true) low crime image of Japan is the different consciousness level. I have met Japanese people who don’t like me but would not let me know. I have met drunk people who excuse themselves out of izakaya, and go home. Homeless people who get out of your way as you leave the station. High-school punks who drop the tough talk and explain how to get somewhere to an old man. A lot of it pretense, but it’s a beautiful pretense. Like beer makes you see things lighter, so can music, theater. Living in Japan is like one big theater play.

    Judging from Ken’s stories, Ken is very good “life actor”, and I think this is what makes him decide to live in Japan one year after another. Well, and beer. And girls. And food too, probably. 🙂

    1. Yeah, I see something here along the lines of what’s known in the U.S. as black-on-black crime, which is Japanese-on-Japanese crime. It’s mostly contained within the community. For some reason, people have a weird tendency to treat strangers better than those they feel closer to. Pretty sure there’s a psychological term for that.

  7. Good Ole U.S. of A has its own schism similar to Japan’s “No Crime” feeling – feeling of “Freedom”.
    While I do prefer American freedoms and love this country dearly, in conversations with others I find that people have very high and unrealistic views on how free they really are.
    Just like in your story, everyone can come up with dozens crazy anecdotes about how they were helpless against The System, be that DMV, TSA, credit bureau, medical insurer, official in the city office, or some crazy Starbucks manager of a Starbucks that claims that you stole a tumbler when you really didn’t. (I’m not even touching the NSA controversies…)
    And then right after telling you all these stories, everyone, liberal and conservative alike, would trump it with the optimistic smile and say “Well, but still, this is America, where at least I know I’m free!”

    And damn me if I don’t believe it too! 🙂

  8. Do you find there is less of a police presence in Japan than in the States? I’m curious if this “Japan is safe” idea makes it easier to commit crimes. Personally, I walk around here like anyone could knife me at any second lol Better be safe than sorry in Buffalo!

    1. That’s a strangely hard question to answer. I feel like there’s a far greater police presence in the U.S., and that yes, if you wanted to commit a crime, Japan would be the place. Most Japanese police look woefully unprepared to deal with anything more than a jaywalking.

      But I’m not sure what the reality is. Certainly, Japan seems to have much more neighborhood-style policing, with many a koban at important intersections. And they do occasionally ride around on their bikes, scooters, and in little Keystone Cop cars. I’m also pretty sure they’re all trained in kendo and karate, and most do carry guns.

      Where Japan really puts its energy, however, is in surveillance cameras. There must be tens of thousands throughout the nation, on utility poles, building walls, and vending machines. Your every move is recorded. Something about this seems very Japanese—non-confrontational but always watching, ready to punish you whenever you get too far out of line. At least that’s how it feels.

      1. Great topic to hear your thoughts on Ken. When I think of other big cities, the police presence in Tokyo seems limited and they don’t really inspire feelings of safety. However I don’t feel like I need them to be safe. I haven’t lived in other cities of comparable size (10M+ people) but I do feel safer in Tokyo than I have in many less populated locations. I’ve also had incredible luck getting my passport returned a few times after leaving it on public transport. Although I have lost omiyage. Well, leaving a bunch of chocolate is probably much more enticing than a foreign passport.

        I don’t know how you do the canned coffee. I think I’ve tried them all and they are terrible, almost a crime in itself! A female coworker challenged me to find a Japanese woman that drinks canned coffee and I’m still looking for one.

        1. I’m sure there are lots of Japanese women who drink canned coffee. Let me think back…okay, there was one time…no, that was a Red Bull…or maybe…no, that was one of those nicotine-infused health drinks. Okay, you’re right, no woman in the history of the world’s ever drank that coffee. Point, Timo.

          Sure, I mean, it tastes horribly acidic and if it didn’t come labeled as coffee you’d probably think it was soured chocolate milk, but still, where else you gonna get your minimum RDA of aluminum? That’s an essential mineral. Keeps the joints supple. Gotta watch one’s health, after all.

          1. Ken, they should hire you for marketing. Not only could your face replace Tommy Lee Jones/Arnold S/Bruce Willis but the whole “get your daily allowance of minerals” could help with exports! Its a big export market for Japan now so the timing is great!

            Drinking the canned coffee seems more like a right of passage. And the irony is the number of micro hand roasting places in the Tokyo area is astounding.

            How is driving a car vs the cub? Opening whole new worlds (beyond parking)? Don’t tell me the cub was stolen.

            1. Yeah, I was talking to a friend of mine here about driving a car.

              I was like, “Dude, it’s awesome. You don’t have to walk to the station. You just get in, and then the car takes you where you want to go, like magic. And you don’t need train fare and nobody’s gonna cough on you or care if you eat an onigiri, and you can listen to music or talk on the phone or carry luggage. And you can take other people, and if you want to go somewhere else, you just go, you don’t have to transfer at a station.”

              And he was like, “You do know, I’ve been in a car before.”

              So yeah, the car is pretty much awesome, for reasons that are apparently obvious.

              Sadly to say, I sold the Super Cub. It wasn’t easy to part with the little guy, but having a car, scooter, and bicycle goes against Ken Seeroi’s Rule of Simplicity, which involves, uh, lots of simplicity. It’s a pretty aptly-named rule, I guess. Anyway, yeah, parking sucks, but having a car rocks. It’s almost like being a real person in Japan, except for the fact that I’m white.

  9. I find Japan to have less crime than the last 4 countries I have worked in (USA, Russia, Germany and Thailand)

    Though I find the police here to be useless/incompetent

  10. Okay, I’ve been saving up and planning to take a trip to japan. Im a little nervous and not sure what to expect. Like how will I order a cab in japan? If I can’t get a cab, how will i get to my hotel. What if I get lost and can’t read the signs?

    Anyway, just wanted to know if you have any advice for where to go or what to do when I get there. Thanks Ken.

    1. You’ll be fine. But skip the taxi. The airport limo bus is better way from airport to major hotels if you have luggage. Without luggage, you can easily take train which is faster than taxi or bus anyways. Google maps has all the schedules loaded so use to make plan.
      Timeout Tokyo website has some good suggestions for activities and restaurants.
      Japan loves tourist dollars, so the people in Airport, Taxi, and Hotel are well trained to receive your money in your language of choice.

    2. Okay, first of all, print out your hotel information and carry it with you at all times. I’m serious about that.

      But I know how you feel. The first few times I went to Japan, I actually carried a map and compass with me. It was like orienteering, only without all the trees and topography, and with really good food. Okay, it was nothing like orienteering. But anyway, what you (i.e. previous me) really need to wrap your head around is the concept of trains. I don’t know if you’re American or not, but if you are then they’re like a very long Hummer, only with steel wheels instead of tires. Otherwise pretty much exactly the same.

      All right, check this out. Your hotel will be near a train station. That’s a fact, and all Japanese people use that information to navigate.

      The airport is basically a train station too, only planes also land there. So now we can make a plan:

      You land at the airport, get your luggage, and then go to the nearest information booth and tell them you want to take a train to the station near your hotel. Show them the printout.

      They’ll tell you to take the train to station Fudge, transfer to Nutsville, and then ride the next train to Vanilla Surprise, which is where your hotel is. That’s gonna seem really complicated. But all you need to remember is Fudge. You just take the train to Fudge, then go up to the station attendant and say “Vanilla Surprise.” He’ll point and say something like “Track 5.” You go up to track 5, confirm with a couple of pretty girls that you’re really on your way to Nutsville, and then once you reach Nutsville, go up to the next station attendant and again say “Vanilla Surprise.”

      I navigated for years like this in Japan, and it works. Most of the time. The rest of the time you end up in Saitama, but whatever, it’s nice there too. No, seriously, this is a super easy way to get around in Japan. You just gotta know what train station you’re aiming for, and then ask folks.

      1. 🙂 What about getting out of the station? Or maybe not as there’s plenty to do inside.

        First time visiting, I thought I was the bomb because I made it to Shinjuku with no problem. Now my friend had kept telling me, you gotta take the new south exit, new south exit, the new south exit. I couldn’t find that one but I figured the south exit was close enough. It wasn’t. I think I ended up walking underground to the next station before I found a cab.

        I’ve also noticed that on most maps in stations or public places, up is not north. Growing up in the US where up on a map is 99% of the time due north, this has always confused me. It’s worse than kanji.

        1. You know, you don’t really hear a lot about the importance of being in top physical condition before visiting Japan. Everybody’s always worried about the language. But really, at a minimum you should be able to walk five miles with a beer in one hand in a suitcase in the other, because once you take the wrong exit out of Shinjuku station (and who hasn’t), that’s what you’re in for. Start training now.

          And the public maps in Japan? You might as well just cut the treasure map off the back of a box of Captain Crunch, since that’d be more useful. You know, I joke about carrying a compass, but it was super useful. I guess the iPhone now has that capability, although these days I don’t know anybody who doesn’t live by Google Maps.

  11. One thing that flummoxed me when I first arrived were those shops that have their wares encroaching the side-walk and no one seemingly pinching anything. So many years ago in my complacency I decided to leave my food shopping in my bicycle basket and nip into a shop – low and behold arriving back at the bike a few minutes later it was gone! Obviously these days I know better however even now when I leave something fairly innocuous in my basket, say an old towel wrapped in a plastic bag a lot of the time I’ve found someone who has rummaged through it – what’s with that!?

    1. That’s something I’ve noticed in various places, that crime follows certain unwritten rules. There’s a tendency to think of crime as being beyond rules, but it’s really not. It still adheres to culturally-defined values for what’s acceptable. Kind of like how tossing away a paper napkin on the sidewalk would have people up in arms about littering, but flicking a cigarette butt onto the same sidewalk could pass without comment.

      What I’ve started to see in Japan isn’t that there’s necessarily less crime, it’s just that I didn’t even recognize it as crime because, you know, it’s “Japan.” I mean, being drunk in public? Prostitution? Urinating in the street? Stealing umbrellas? Please tell me there’s no country where those would be illegal.

      It really helps your crime rate if you redefine “crime.”

      By the way, props for using the word “flummoxed” in a sentence. Not sure what it means, but I’m pretty sure it has something to do with livestock. Anyway, nice job.

  12. I’ve been away for while, Loved that article, Just burst out laughing in the office at
    “So she said it slower. “Banks sometimes parking lot customers….”
    Glad to be back!

    1. Ah, you make me feel really good. I’m just happy you’re reading this at work. That’s pretty much a win-win.

  13. What an odd country Japan, where for every person smart enough to pay money without a contract -or a clear idea of where that money is going, for that matter- there’s another person smart enough to take it. Never seen that anywhere else, indeed.

    1. Ah, wittily put. You know, not too long ago, the dentist said I needed a crown. My teeth felt fine, but he was intent on selling me a new ceramic tooth, so what’re you gonna do? Reminds me of when I take in my car and the auto shop says I need some part I’ve never even heard of. Timing belt? Pretty sure that’s not even a real thing. Now the real estate agent says I need to pay for fire insurance too. How necessary is that in a concrete building? But at a certain point, you just gotta believe that people are doing what’s right. Even if sometimes they don’t.

      1. Actually, maybe I’ll try that the next time I meet a young lady. “Want to come up and see my bog?” would probably get better results than I get with “blog.”

        “You’ve got a blog? Oh my God, yes!” It’s surprising how few times I hear that. Probably just me. But from now on, bog it is. Pretty sure my kitchen sink could qualify.

          1. I was thinking more like “astronaut,” or “rodeo cowboy,” but I guess “author” could work too. Seems about as exciting as “computer programmer,” but I guess it’s worth a shot if the whole bog thing doesn’t pan out.

  14. Hey Ken, been lurking on the site for a while.. However, the whole crime in Japan thing made me feel like lurking was a crime, thus I have decided to stop lurking.

    I just came to say that I find your posts brilliant and helpful, or at least one of the two, if it’s not helpful.

    I’m currently teaching myself Japanese, and I was starting off with (grammar rules?) learning things such as question words and stuff. Sorry, not sure if ‘grammar rules’ was appropriate to put there. I was wonderring if you had any advice, and if I was going about it in the wrong way.

    Thanks! 🙂

    1. Thanks a lot for reading my stuff. I’m glad if it can be moderately useful, moderately entertaining, or at least a brief break from surfing porn. I strive to be helpful. Anyway, when you start out with Japanese, I think pretty much anything is good. But the question you’re going to want to address pretty quickly is: how far do you want to go with this? I don’t think that’s an easy question to answer.

      For me, when I started out, I just wanted to be able to have some basic conversations with folks. But once I got to Japan I realized how a) unsatisfying that was to all parties involved and b) that most of the people interested in speaking with a white guy were far more excited about speaking English. Note that b) may not apply depending upon your physical appearance.

      So the upshot of that was that I had to learn far more Japanese than I ever imagined, which basically means learning how to read and write, in addition to just speaking. So if that’s where you envision ending up, then you’re going to need to start working on it pretty soon, because it takes a hella long time. On the other hand, if you can be happy with just a reasonable level of daily conversation, then there’s a lot less pressure, and most things you do will get you there.

      1. That reminded me of the internet is for porn from avenue Q…

        Yeah, I wanted to read+write and talk in Japanese.
        It’s part of the uni course I’m planning on taking next year, so I wanted to get a headstart this year!
        (The course is a 5 year one and it pays to go to Japan for a year (year 3 or 4, i think) , from what they told me)

        1. Sounds like the makings of a life-altering decision. Not that I’d know or anything.

          Anyway, reading and writing are definitely the way to go. Along with listening and speaking, of course. Okay, so you need everything. But what I really mean is that you should put all of your effort into learning kanji; it’s the shortcut to learning Japanese. Bit of a long shortcut, but still.

          1. Life-altering decision… How could you know a thing about that, Ken? [/close joking sarcasm]

            Learn Kanji ;_;
            Well this will be fun.

    1. I love lists like that. It’s interesting that the U.S. occupies five spots out of the top 20. So of all the cities in the entire world, 25% of the safest are in the U.S.

      Meanwhile, Osaka seems clearly at the top of dangerous cities in Japan, with over 10% of the population reporting crime (

      New York here I come.

  15. Once I came across a man lying on the sidewalk in Japan being savagely beaten in the head with his own shoe by another man. A number of patrons of Mister Donut were witnessing this scene as well (without expression) while drinking coffee and enjoying an Old Fashioned but I was the only one naive enough to walk around the corner to the Police Box to get help. The police officer took one look at both men and without a word walked back to the Police Box without doing a thing. I could read his face though, “Chinpilla not worth my time.”

  16. Seeroi-san,

    Ever thought of just changing your name to, “Sugoii-san”? 😉

    LOVING your chronicles.

    I too have spent some weird, wild and wonderful times in Japan, though sadly, not since the mid-90’s.

    On the subject of crime, I’ve had a couple encounters with (potential), crime over there; one downright beautiful actually, after forgetting my jet-lagged wallet in a phone booth for half a day. When I returned hours later, it was not only still there with all contents present, but two tickets for Sumo added!

    I kiiiiiid. 😉

    But the wallet was indeed still there and my gob was impressivly smacked. (This was in Kyshu, near Fukuoka.)

    Then about a year later, something far less beautiful happened. This was on the main island in a wee city called Kiryu where one very late night/early morning, I elected to go for a dumb-ass power walk down main street, (it was well lit, “what could happen?”, my naive brain thought). So I got my hoof on, in true invincible youth fashion, enjoying the hell outta some P-Funk cranked in headphones–until some big and determined hands came outta nowhere and yarded me sideways into a darkened side street. I somehow broke from his grasp and ran like Forest on fire all the way home, being sure to pass the police station on the way. I believe the guy gave up the chase right around there but I really have no idea when he aborted.

    Aside from that hell and lung blow-out, my time in Kiryu-shi made for the very best of my 3 Japanese tours.

    One day, I will come back to Kiryu.

    Not you, but the city. 😉

    And again, soooo enjoying your delicious blog. Your tales have triggered so many quirky little fabulous memories that surely would have stayed faded without it, so right on!

    And write ON,

    : J

    1. And again, domo for the memory triggering.

      I realize only now, that I actually saw the guy before the attack, as while I was walking, some tallish and pretty well-built Nohonjin fell in stride with me and started speaking–which I couldn’t hear due to the Funk.

      I pulled off the phones and said “potato”, (something I would often say to space invaders, just for laughs), and he disappeared.

      Minutes later, I was yanked off my feet by surely, that same guy.

      What ELSE will I recall as I continue to sponge up your omoshiroii blog?

      thanks again,

      : J

    2. Thanks for the interesting and wittily-written comment, Juanita.

      I’ve come to understand there’s a lot more crime in Japan than most people realize. Most of it’s Japanese on Japanese, and a lot goes unreported. Especially creepy sex crimes on women—you’d be hard pressed to find a Japanese woman who doesn’t have a story to tell. Glad you made it through okay.

  17. Thanks Ken. Even after so many years of living in ‘The Land of the Rising Mold’, I thought all those seemingly random words were actually sentences, and my shit Japanese was once again letting me down. Now I can be ready to assume that maybe the suit in kyomuka is really just stringing me a row of lexiconic beads. Of course he is just kindly saving me from sixty minutes of tortuous explanation — like my ellipses of “blah-blah-blah” in mid sentence English.

    Bicycles: I had three bicycles stolen in my first 14 months in-country, and foiled another attempt. During long walks home from bars and izakayas, I had time to ponder why this crime was so popular. I accepted that it was a well-known forensic phenomenon because an episode of a popular TV police drama of the time had featured it. For 60 minutes a nattily dressed police inspector devoted his entire daily efforts to tracking down the culprit. I guess the yaks were having a slow week. The thief turned out to be a pretty tawdry character. In contrast, I came to the conclusion that a lot of bikes were being lifted by piss-hammered salary men who had missed the last train. Well, I can’t take all the credit for what is perhaps this dubious conclusion; a Japanese friend suggested it — or was it my wife.

    My suspicions were buttressed by a recollection of a friend who was stopped in a bicycle road-block. Serial numbers revealed that the bicycle had been stolen in Chiba. And my friend was in Kanagawa. So, on his bike one minute, and the next he is in a panda-car on his way to the local constabulary. Mr friend had bought the bike from another gaijin who presumably had bought the bike … blah-blah-blah. Anyway, friend described an interrogation that resembled a B-movie or an episode of Dragnet — all in monochrome black and white. He was released after truthfully revealing that his dad was a retired police sergeant. I’ve been stopped too. Advice to noobs: that tattered bike that has been on its side by the park for eight weeks — leave it there!

  18. Aaahhh. This reminds me of the time during my study abroad I came home from a day out with a friend (both of us American women), and my host mom asked me if everything was okay. Strange question, for the amount of concern she put into it. Normally she’d just ask what I’d done that day and we’d have a little chat. I answered “yes” and that was the end of it.

    Went to school Monday and found out from that same friend that our host moms had been all kinds of worried about us (our host moms were friends and got together often, but hers was much more vocal in her opinions. She fell into that sort of obasan category, ran a house full of girls, her own daughters and cousins and such all by herself, whereas my host mom was small and cute and well-done-up and just worked her ass off to take care of her boys and fell into the caring-but-quiet type.) Anyway, they’d been worried because they’d forgotten to warn us beforehand not to go out that day. Because it was rape day. Like, it was this well-known day that women didn’t go out alone or in groups because men would go out looking for girls to grab. We’d been fine in the city (Nagoya), but when we got to our local train station (as much of a downtown as Toyota has), we’d actually had what could possibly be called a “run-in” with a group of guys. IN the train station. In front of everyone else.

    Anyway, it wasn’t much. All they did was holler at us, ask if we wanted to come home with them and the like, but they were definitely more forward than any other Japanese men I’d encountered. I think they were surprised we were able to understand and answer them, but then they also seemed amused that they were able to then explain more of what they wanted. Luckily, all they did was stand there and and jeer and we walked through the ticket-gate and that was the end of it.

    But the fact of the matter was someone was worried about us because it was rape day.

    Rape Day.

    1. Rape day? Must be a Nagoya thing.

      You know, I’ve often heard Western women describe how safe they feel walking alone at night in Japan. By the same token, I know plenty of Japanese women who are terrified of walking alone, except in downtown areas. Seems to be a disconnect there somewhere.

  19. Excellent work, Ken

    26 years here and it is hell of lot safer than London. Problem is weirdo crime is high here….people attacking people for no reason. In London,it’s mostly economic, which you can preempt to some extent. Here, who’s that weirdo mumbling to herself in the corner of the supermarket with a massive knife poking out of her bag ? Fucked up loony bin crime here does concern me, much more than someone trying to lift my bicycle. Alcohol fueled violence is low here….. In a nightclub the worse thing that could happen to you is someone might vomit on your brand new nike vapor flys… England…it’s like ‘ what you looking at? ‘
    ‘ nothing’
    Biff bang pow…….
    Safety Japan…Where obasans scrambling for bargains in the local depato summer sale are more dangerous than motorbike gangs…..

    1. I’ve only been to London once, but if YouTube videos are any indication, I was lucky to have made it out alive. You’re right, Japan can’t hold a candle to that, especially when it’s alcohol-related violence. Here, your biggest worry is the aforementioned vomit, or tripping over drunk salarymen.

      I will say though that I’ve seen a lot of economic-related crime in Japan, mostly petty theft and home break-ins. Like any country, I think it really depends where you are. In big cities, there are usually some impoverished parts of town that crime tends to emanate out of. Tourists are always like, “I lost my wallet in Omotesando and got it back.” Yeah, don’t try that in Kamagasaki.

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