Living Infomation

Comprehensive Living Guide for Foreign Residents in Japan

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Prepare yourself for possible accidents and problems

For a long time, Japan has been known as one of the safest countries in the world. The possession of guns is still illegal, except in very special cases, and drug control is relatively strict. Even so, various crimes do occur in Japan every day. As such, in order to avoid trouble and to make your life here as safe and secure as possible, it is best to take time to learn about your surroundings.

(1) Traffic information

Unlike most countries of the world, with some exceptions such as the UK, pedestrian traffic is required to stay to the right in Japan. Likewise, cars must keep to the left side of the road. The driver's seat is therefore located on the right side in cars for both Japanese cars and many imported cars.

Although you may be an experienced driver in other countries including your own, you should still drive with caution in Japan. You are allowed to drive in Japan if you have an international driver's license, but it is necessary to become familiar with local traffic rules.

If you are not used to driving on the left side of the road, take extra care when you try to make either right or left turns at an intersection where you are restricted to a very limited view of the traffic. Unlike busy streets, it is more likely for you to accidentally enter a wrong lane if there is no car ahead of you to follow.

Needless to say, you are required to obey traffic lights in Japan. Be advised also that cars must always yield to pedestrians. Unless there is a very specific reason, the driver is likely the one to be blamed in case of a traffic accident involving a pedestrian.

To hail a taxi on a street, stand on the left side of your traveling direction. Do not approach too close to the taxi you have stopped as its left rear door opens automatically. The door to the front passenger seat is operated manually.

In principle, bicycles are required to stay to the left side of the road. As an exception, however, it is allowed to ride a bicycle on sidewalks in an area where traffic signs approving bicycle traffic on the sidewalk are posted. Additionally, bicycle traffic is also allowed on the sidewalks in an area where it is considered dangerous to ride bicycles on the roads due to the conditions of the road and traffic. On the sidewalks, the bicycle riders are required to give right to pedestrians and should not speed nor warn pedestrians with bells so as to let themselves through the pedestrian traffic. It is also prohibited to ride bicycles while holding an open umbrella or talking on cell phones. It is illegal to ride the bicycle with two or more people and also to ride at night without a light on. Since June 2015, multiple violations of traffic laws such as running red lights will require offenders to attend a mandatory bicycle riding safety course. While no license is required to ride a bicycle, bicycle riders are subject to liabilities according to the traffic rules just as other vehicles in case of an accident in which they are involved. Please ride bicycles safely while respecting traffic rules and manners.

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(2) Burglaries

The number of burglaries that occur while people are away from home is increasing. Make sure to lock your doors even when you leave the house for a short period of time, for instance when taking trash to the pickup site. If you are away from the house for a long period of time, such as for a trip, it is a good idea to stop newspapers and mail so that your absence won't be noticeable.

  • Stop the delivery of newspapers/mail if you are away from the house for a long time.
  • Piled unread newspapers show that you are not at home.

  • Lock the door even when you leave the house for a short time.
  • Make sure to lock the door even when you go out for small errands such as to take out trash or go shopping.

  • Don't forget to lock windows, too.
  • Make it a habit to check if the windows in the bathroom and toilet are also locked.

  • Use cylinder lock for the door to protect against lock-picking.
  • "1 door, 2 locks" is recommended; install the second lock above the main lock on the door.

  • Install a second lock for the windows.
  • Grating may not be perfect to prevent an intruder from entering through the window.

(3) Car/motorcycle/bicycle theft

To avoid becoming a target for a vehicle theft, follow the following advice.

  • Always lock your vehicle.
  • Make sure to lock your car, motorcycle and/or bicycle even when you leave it for a short time. It is recommended to use multiple locks for bicycles.

  • Register your vehicle.
  • A registration system for theft prevention purposes is available for motorcycles and bicycles.

  • Park your vehicle at a designated parking space.
  • Motorcycles and bicycles should be parked at designated parking spaces, not on streets. When you leave your car at a parking site, make sure any alluring items such as your purse won't be seen from outside.

  • Install a security alarm.
  • To prevent car theft, it is effective to install a security alarm that reacts when windows are broken/damaged or doors are opened without authorization.

(4) Purse-snatching and pickpocketing

Pickpocketing that targets someone's wallet, valuables and other belongings is often seen at busy places. In addition to shopping/entertainment areas, seasonal event sites such as fireworks displays and festivals in summer and temples and shrines during the New Year season are some of the most common places where pickpocketing is frequently reported. Be extra cautious if you choose to drink alcohol at these places, as you may have shorter attention spans than usual.

Purse-snatching can be more heinous than pickpocketing. Your purse may be targeted by a snatcher on a bicycle or motorcycle who approaches from behind your back. You could be dragged by the attacker and seriously injured if you resist. Avoid walking alone on empty streets and hold your purse on the side away from the traffic. Furthermore, do not place your smartphone or mobile phone in your bag when walking, rather keep it somewhere on your person from where it can be immediately taken and used if necessary.

When you are walking:
  • If you are walking on an empty street, pay attention to your surroundings and see if anyone might be following you.
  • Do not hold your purse on the side closer to the traffic, which makes it easier for a purse-snatcher to do his/her job.
It is also helpful to avoid becoming a target for purse-snatching if you hold your purse in your arms in front of you or sling the purse across your body.
When you are on a bicycle:
  • Protect your bicycle basket with a net or a cover specially made to prevent thefts. Simply placing a magazine on top of your bag in the basket may also be effective.
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(5) Lock-picking

Using a specific technique to open a door lock, a lock-picking burglar attempts a break-in even when you are at home. If you come across such a burglar, not just your belongings but your own safety could be at risk. Installing a second lock in addition to the main one for the door is one thing you can do to reduce the risk of such crime.

(6) Skimming

Skimming involves the creation of fake credit cards/ATM cards which make use of magnetic data that has been stolen from legitimate sources. Furthermore, in that the original cards often remain in a cardholders' possession, victims can be slow to realize that a crime has occurred. They often only become aware of the seriousness of the situation upon checking their bank records or receiving credit card statements, and accordingly there have been more and more cases of significant financial losses occurring.

The two main methods by which skimming crimes are perpetrated are as follows:
・Crimes that involve the affixing of reading devices to ATMs or their placement in the vicinity of dedicated card readers within stores that are equipped to handle credit-card transactions.
・Crimes that involve the temporary removal of credit cards from passcode-protected lockers at public places such as gym facilities and golf courses, etc.

To avoid becoming a skimming victim yourself, the following is very important:

  • When using ATMs, make sure to ensure that there are no suspicious devices in the vicinity.
  • Never give your credit cards/ATM cards to other people.
  • When entering card PIN numbers, make it difficult for others to see what you are doing.
  • When using passcode-protected lockers to store valuables at public places, make sure to use a number other than the PIN numbers that you use for your credit cards/ATM cards.
  • When first setting your PIN numbers, avoid using easily-guessed ones such as birth dates or parts of telephone numbers, etc.

Even when fake credit cards/ATM cards are created, it is often the case that they cannot be abused because the would-be perpetrators are unaware of their PIN number details. Thus, please make sure to thoroughly manage your card information at all times.
What is more, credit card information can be stolen when using the Internet. As such, when doing online transactions and entering or sending credit card numbers, etc., please be very careful if doing so over website connections that are not equipped with secure socket layer (SSL) encryption technologies.

(7) Drugs

Although the number of illegal drug dealings has been rather small in Japan, a variety of unapproved drugs can be obtained today, including those sold by successfully getting around the law. "Dangerous drugs," sold as incense, herbs, and aromas are equivalent in danger to drugs and narcotics. Users of dangerous drugs not only have been sent to the emergency room or have deceased, but bystanders have also been involved in traffic accidents. Please refrain from using such substances, and do not let words such as "legal" and "safe" fool you.

(8) Furikome-sagi (bank transfer scams)

"Furikome-sagi" or bank transfer scams are a type of fraud that has become a major issue in Japan. In common cases, victims receive a phone call or an email, etc., from a party whose identity is disguised, and that person tells the victim to transfer funds to designated bank accounts, or to send cash through parcel delivery services or the post office system, etc.

Variations of the same scam are as follows:
・Perpetrators will contact potential victims while claiming to be a family member, a work superior, a member of the police, or a lawyer, etc., and they will then lie that he/she (the family member in question) has been involved in some form of trouble or crime whose resolution requires that money be sent.
・Perpetrators will contact potential victims while claiming to be local government officials or tax agency employees, and they will then lie that the victim needs to complete certain procedures in order to receive refunds on medical expenses or taxes that have been overpaid. The victims will then be induced to visit an ATM in order to complete the procedures, but instead they will be deceived into forwarding money to the perpetrators from their own account.
・Perpetrators will seek to defraud money from potential victims by sending to them documentation, etc., that demands the payment of fraudulent invoices.
・Perpetrators will send documentation, etc., to potential victims that claims to offer low-interest loans. They shall then seek to defraud the victims by having them pay fraudulent "deposits" and "handling charges, etc."

What is more, it is often said that individuals who believe they "are alright" and that they "will definitely not fall prey" to such ruses are more at risk. As such, if you receive suspicious telephone calls or email correspondence, immediately seek the counsel of your family members, or consult with either the police or your local consumer affairs center.

(9) Internet Trouble

The internet has become so integrated into our daily lives. With that, there are increasing incidents as well. In addition to computers getting infected from viruses through email or viewing websites, leading to information leakage, there have been increased incidents of phishing scams with users being directed to fake websites and having their personal information stolen, as well as one-click scams where just clicking on a link or button leads to users being demanded expensive bills. Please protect yourself by installing anti-virus software, being aware of suspicious emails and websites, and by regularly changing your passwords.

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