For a lot of people, most of the time, Japan being a safe country is a cliche that’s hard to argue with. Japan, in general, is considered a safe country because of low crime rates. And with regards to serious offenses such as rape and murder, there isn’t a lot of such crimes here, unlike the country I grew up in. However, there are less serious incidents that foreign people experience in this country that aren’t very much talked about because they are always concealed with the stereotype that you will never be harmed by anyone in Japan.
I am a foreign woman living in Tokyo for more than half a year now. As time passes, I feel more and more unsafe, in little ways. This is weird to say for me since I grew up in a third-world country where, as we all know, is most probably less safe than Japan. The issue about women’s safety in Japan is not much talked about. But what safeguards are in place for women when it isn’t?
We can’t deny that foreign women 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.
For the short time that I have been living here, I cannot recall the number of incidents I have dealt with involving a stalker, or a “chikan” (groper) on crowded trains or empty streets.
The worst encounter I had inside the train was when an old Japanese man put his head on my chest pretending to be asleep when I knew for a fact that he was 100% awake. I was on the brink of slapping the old man but I stayed calm and just moved away from him. Since I was in Japan, I felt like I would just get negative reactions from some people if I confronted the man because I’d be making a scandal. Also, most of the time, whenever I show skin, wearing maybe short shorts or a tank top (to not die from heat on a 35+++ degree celsius day), I feel like it’s always my fault when I get an eyeful from a lot of men. Summer clothes have never been this abnormal in the eyes of many people. Japanese girls’ high school uniforms are short skirts. I don’t understand. I feel like I don’t have freedom to wear whatever I want in a very modern country.
Another personal experience is being flagged down by men blatantly asking me to go to a hotel with them or asking me for sex, even if I was wearing completely decent clothing and obviously showing no intention of going to a hotel with a random Japanese man. One time while I was out partying with my friends, I had to call the bouncer to kick out a tipsy Japanese man who was pulling me out of the club to go to a hotel with him. I had never talked to him beforehand. He just randomly pulled my hand after I got out of the woman’s restroom and insisted that I go to hotel with him
During the last summer, me and my fellow foreign friend were subject to an indecent assault as we were enjoying the beach and having a great time. While sitting by the beach, drinking beer and chatting just like the rest of the people there, a group of Japanese men offered us to go with them in exchange for money.
The worst experience that I had was when 3 men followed me and my roommate on our way home. Although this time, the men were not Japanese but fellow gaijin. We had to walk to random streets far away from home so they wouldn’t know where we live.
In my theory, Japanese people dislike any type of conflict and this cultural norm makes it easier for women to bear any kind of harassment rather than draw negative attention because of confronting people. Maybe this is why these kinds of issues are not very much addressed.
What I have written about above are my personal experiences and I do not intend to scare off women living or visiting Japan. Most of all, I do not intend to generalize Japanese men. I love Japan and everything this country has to offer. However, we should be aware that this country is not exempted from such issues despite its reputation for being safe.