Saturday, January 19, 2013

Safety in Japan- Foreign Girls

I rarely tackle negative aspects of Japan on my blog- mostly because I like to keep a positive tone, and also because I am so happy with my experience here. I love my life in Japan and I feel lucky I'm able to enjoy this quality of life.

Japan is one of the safest countries in the world. 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.

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.

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.

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.

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


Judith L said...

This is an important issue to talk about. It's very easy to be lulled into carelessness by how safe you feel here. Thankfully I've had nothing happen, but I've certainly had friends groped here. I think the biggest piece of advice is if you get strange vibes from a person/situation/place, you need to leave. I felt very very strongly to avoid a man who lived in my apartment building. I never rode an elevator with him alone. He ended up shoving my friend against an elevator and groping her when she rode an elevator with him.

Emelie said...

I have experienced it, but it was on an almost empty train. Quite weird. I sat down in the train, and on the opposite "bench" a japanese man sat down. I was looking at my iPhone at the moment, but I felt someone staring at me. I looked up, and I could see him trying to look up my dress from his side. I had black stockings, and a normal length dress. He didn't stop looking. I was going off after two stops so I was trying not to care. A really weird experience.

kathrynoh said...

I've never had any groping or chikan incidents but definitely got a bad vibe at times. Often had salarymen standing over me when I was sitting on the train, doing dry humping movements. There are gross guys everywhere but Japan seems to bring out the worst, men that are too scared to talk to Western women sober then get drunk and act like creeps.

Not walking alone at night though - that's a bit extreme. It'd pretty much mean you don't go anywhere! I guess you could bike but some of the bike spots at stations are pretty dark and creepy. Learn to fight and wear sensible shoes.

Melanie said...

Thank you for sharing :) I think it's important to remember as it perhaps is something that is easy to forget especially when staying here for such a short time like I am... I will pass it on to the other girls in my group.

philly said...

Thank you, Vivian for drawing attention to an important issue. There is this general consensus that non-Japanese in Japan dare not say anything negative about Japan. If they do, they are told to go home. There is no need for non-Japanese to fall into the trap of avoiding discussion of difficult issues, even if that's how Japanese people generally choose do it.

Walking alone at night is mostly safe, but one shouldn't be stupid about it. I stay in well-lit areas with other people about. I make sure that when I am going out alone I do not have more than one drink. I keep my wits about me. Also, I do not make eye contact and make sure that my body language is assertive.

Perhaps because I am older, I have not had to do this, but if someone attempts to accost me on a train or elsewhere I plan to use my voice. I will emphatically state or shout if need be, "Back off!" That is close enough to eff off to be effective and can be delivered with equal force.

Culturally, Japanese people tend to cringe at a little public noise. They do not draw attention to problems. As non-Japanese women we are under no obligation or social constraint to be politely silent. It is the perpetrator who is in the wrong. We accept victim status as soon as we are silent. And yes, make a report to the police if something happens. Good advice. Even if they do nothing, there is a file.

Vivian said...

Judith: Yes, I fully agree, so easy to get lulled into carelessness because Japan feels so safe. Good call on not riding the elevator with that man, and I hope your friend reported the incident.

Emelie: Sadly that's typical... especially in trains. It's good to move around if that happens.

Kathryn: Oh, I meant walking alone at night in sketchy areas- I edited it, oops. I definitely walk at night alone, I used to walk from Shibuya to Shimokita after partying last year, almost every weekend and nothing ever happened. I just think some areas of Tokyo are more sketchy, like some back streets of Shinjuku or Ikebukuro...

Melanie: I'm sure you'll be fine but it's good to be aware! See you soon I hope!!

Philly: Thanks for your comment, you said it all so well. It's good to be vocal, and completely agree that we accept the victim status if we remain silent.

Anonymous said...

I'm late to the game on this, but thank you for posting on this topic! My first month in Japan was good in most ways but pretty awful in this particular one. It's only though blogs by other foreign women that I got some good tips on staying safe, and that I felt less that I was "dramatic," "paranoid," or "misinterpreting the situation," as per what my coworkers (none of who were foreign women) told me.

If I may, a few more ideas:
*If you walk home from work, especially at night, vary your routine as often as you can. My work ended at 9, sometimes later, and my home was a well-lit 20-minute walk away. Still, I noticed that if I left work at the same time and used the same path too many nights in a row, I usually had a weirdo following me.
* If you want to find private students online, don't post your picture. My boss used my face in the school's advertisements, and the number of calls from creepy guys skyrocketed thereafter. It was fine since my boss could take care of them, but it would have been weird on my own.
* If you are being stalked, look the person in the eye and then ignore them. Pretend to listen to music. Someone advised me that many of those men usually want your attention and will leave you alone if you don't give it (easier said than done as I always wanted to throw something at the guy!).

Thanks again for posting this. It's an issue that is rarely addressed, as it does seem to disproportionately affect foreign women. I still miss Japan, though! Your awesome blog gives me a fun window back there :).

Muzuhashi said...

I don't like to post negative stuff on my blog either, but good on you for having the courage to do so - because most foreigners living in Japan are male (like me) we tend to be completely oblivious to this kind of thing.

Vivian said...

pigeononthego- thank you SO MUCH for all those amazing tips!! I totally agree with the photo bit- I had my picture up before for lessons and I had so many creepy men contacting me. And great advice about varying the routine. Thank you!!

Mizuhashi- Thanks!! Can I have a link to your blog?

Vivian said...

pigeononthego--- pigonthego!! i can't spell, sorry!

Jen said...

Hey Vivian! I think it's important that you shared this post too, but in defense of Japan, and to keep women from feeling discouraged about visiting or living there, it's important to also remember that this advice applies to any city -- nearly around the world.

It's important to always be aware of your surroundings and make sure to keep yourself in safe situations. Anywhere.

Michi Munster said...

As safe as any place may be, it's always necessary to take those basic precautions (anywhere we go!). Thank you for posting this and putting it out there.