Tokyo Safety

Tokyo is about the safest urban area imaginable. My wife grew up near Tokyo and between the two of use we have lived in and visited Japan maybe 50 times. Never at any point were we the victims of any crime and no one we know personally has ever been the victim of a crime, unless you count paying US$5 for coffee once.

That said, there are a few things to watch out for with your kids.

  • Folks drive on the “wrong” side of the road for us North Americans. Even older kids used to crossing a street need to slow down and remember to look the, um, “wrong” way first.
  • Many Japanese street are narrow and without sidewalks. Keep a close watch on little ones.
  • Trains and subways have automatic doors that can whack a small kid, or catch an arm or shoe.
  • Taxis have back doors that swing open automatically. If your child is too short such that the cabbie can't see her, he might pop that door open and hit her smack in the face curbside (another “safety” tip is to be careful when you use a taxi—the flag drop cost is about US$6 and a ride that sees you stuck in traffic can run up a mighty bill in a hurry).
  • Many train and subways stations have no escalators or elevators, so be prepared to carry a small child, a baby stroller or a tired spouse.
  • While it is very easy to avoid eating meat while in Japan, it is very, very hard to avoid all seafood. A friend whose child is allergic to peanuts complains that few products have full ingredient descriptions on them, even if you can read Japanese. Be careful with allergies.
  • Trains, buses and subways can get very crowded. Be careful if your child stands at about the right height to get whacked by a briefcase or shopping bag carried by a fellow passenger. Weekday mornings, from 07:00-09:00 are the most crowded times.

Pornography

Sort of a safety issue are the advertisements for adult/sexual services around town. You'll see these playing card sized ads stuck all over some phone booths at night. The ads can be quite graphic and may not be something you'll want the kids to see (or pick up).

On the same subject, magazines and comic books with sexual/violent content are sold fairly openly in Japan. You'll want to make sure the magazines on the rack in front of your child are appropriate. Some after midnight TV shows feature mild sexual content but unless your kids have really bad jet lag they won't likely see any of this.

Some of the most offensive pornography comes in the form of comic books on sadomasochistic themes. We've had experiences where someone was reading such a comic on the train in front of our kids, who we felt should not have to be exposed to such things (not that adults shouldn't also have to have such content displayed publicly to them either). This thing can jump at you in odd places: a stop into a plastic and model railroad kinda toy shop took a weird turn when we faced a display with painted anime-style figures tied up in nasty sexual poses.

Be aware that areas around certain train stations (the “bad” sides of Shinjuku and Ikebukuro Stations come to mind) after dark have lots of night clubs and massage parlors, many of which have photos of the performers on display out front. Exercise good judgement based on what is most appropriate for your kids.

User Feedback

i found one of the most scary experiences (and there were really very few) with my 3 year old and 6 year old in tokyo to be the “gap” between train and platform as well as crowded platforms themselves. not enough to dissuade us from using the subways constantly, but i was very careful and i think my son has a permanent hand mark around his wrist where i was clutching him.

eileen

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