Safety in Japan

Overview – Adapted from International SOS Japan Country Report

Japan is one of the world’s safest destinations for foreign travelers. Petty crime is the main risk to visitors, especially in major cities, but levels remain low. Japan experiences frequent tremors and occasionally more severe earthquakes. However, as a result of long experience dealing with such risks, the national infrastructure is highly resilient and Japanese civil authorities have a very high level of capability.

  • Crime: Crime rates are low. Streets in the central business areas of major cities are generally safe for foreigners at all times, though petty crime such as pick-pocketing can occur in crowded areas but is more uncommon in Japan than most other destinations abroad. Members are advised to exercise extra caution and remain alert against touts at bars or clubs who offer lucrative deals to extort large bills – especially targeting foreign businessmen.  As is advised always for safety, do not leave drinks unattended and when going out at night it is best to use the buddy system.
  • Natural Disasters: Japan is in a seismically active zone and earthquakes of varying magnitude occur frequently. There is also a risk of tsunamis due to seismic activity in the Pacific, though the country has established an advanced early warning and evacuation system. The country is also affected by tropical storms from May to October each year. Strong typhoons may result in flooding in areas very close to the coast and these tend to occur in September and October. Japan also has several active volcanoes.
  • Standard of Health Care: In large cities, hospitals and clinics have excellent, modern equipment of international standards and often have English-speaking physicians. The medicine practiced in Japan is the same as that of Western countries in the large medical institutions. In general, the major hurdle is the language barrier between medical staff and patient. However, the majority of Japanese doctors write/comprehend English very well. Japan’s public emergency ambulance service is efficient and can be reached by phone or by going to the nearest police station at no charge. Japan has a national health insurance system, which does not cover care for foreigners who are not insured in Japan to receive medical care. Foreigners seeking medical treatment in Japan will typically need to pay for all services up-front and file a reimbursement claim with their international or home country insurance provider. However, most hospitals take care of patients in an emergency regardless of insurance coverage if the situation is life-threatening.This ambulance service will deliver you to the nearest hospital, regardless of whether there are English-speaking staff there or not. For more info see Medical & Health Resources in Japan.
  • Food Safety: Tap water is safe to drink in Japan and it is an extremely clean country, and the food is safe. The practice of eating sashimi (raw fish) or sushi is popular, and, in general, the quality of the fish is extremely good. There are many other food options in Japan though beside sushi.  For more info, see Food in Japan.
  • Emergency Phone Numbers – Remember, 911 does not work in Japan!
    • Ambulance or Fire: 119
    • Police: 110
  • English Help Lines in Japan:
    • Japan Helpline (24/7, English, toll free) 0570 000 911
    • Tokyo English Life-Line (9-11pm) 03 5774 0992

CISI International Health Insurance Coverage

All Nakatani RIES Fellows are provided with overseas health, accident, illness, repatriation, and evacuation of remains coverage through a CISI insurance policy for the duration of their stay abroad. Participants will receive a CISI insurance card to carry with them in their wallet while in Japan and a detailed booklet outlining the coverage amounts provided. You can call the number on the back of this card at least 24 hours prior to your appointment to see if CISI can arrange for pre-payment of your medical care. However, if you are experiencing a medical emergency or CISI cannot arrange for pre-payment you will need to pay all medical costs up-front individually and then you will need to file a claim for reimbursement directly with CISI. For more info see Medical & Health Resources in Japan.

Japanese Cell Phones in Japan

All participants are required to rent a Japanese cell phone (or SIM card) prior to departure for abroad.  This will ensure that all participants have working Japanese phone number that they can be reached at for the duration of the summer.  Incoming calls to the student’s Japanese cell phone number are free and outgoing calls or texts will be charged on a monthly basis to the credit card used to sign up for the account. Students will be required to carry their Japanese cell phone with them at all times and have their batteries fully charged.

Emergency Contact Wallet Card

Students will also be required to carry with them at all times a printed copy of the Emergency Contact Wallet Card.  This will have all program contacts in Japan and in the U.S., the phone numbers of the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate, and students will be required to write in phone and emergency contact information for their research lab upon arrival at their host university.

U.S. Department of State – Smart Traveler Enrollment Program

The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a free service to allow U.S. citizens and nationals traveling abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. The Nakatani RIES Fellowship will submit a group travel registration with the STEP program on behalf of all participants. Benefits of STEP enrollment include:

  • Receive important information from the Embassy about safety conditions in your destination country, helping you make informed decisions about your travel plans.
  • Help the U.S. Embassy contact you in an emergency, whether natural disaster, civil unrest, or family emergency
  • Help family and friends get in touch with you in an emergency.

Rice University International SOS Policy

All Rice University students, faculty, and staff (including students enrolled in the Rice Summer School) receive free coverage under Rice’s International SOS policy. This is not health insurance, but does provide additional travel and security related support and recommendations while abroad. All participants will be required to register their travel with the International SOS Travel Registration site prior to departure for Japan.

U.S. Department of State – Emergency Preparedness for Americans in Japan

The U.S. Embassy in Tokyo maintains a detailed overview of Emergency Preparedness tips for Americans living or traveling in Japan.

U.S. Department of State – Emergency Contact & Resources for Americans in Japan

The website of the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo maintains a detailed list of emergency contacts and other resources for Americans in Japan.

U.S. Department of State – Students Abroad

The U.S. Department of State maintains a comprehensive website with detailed information, pamphlets and resources geared towards the needs of Students Abroad.

Disaster Response in Japan

For tips on what to do and/or expect in the event of a natural disaster in Japan see the following websites or resources listed below:

JNTO Response to Earthquakes, Wind, and Water-related Disasters

Japan is subject to many wind and water related disasters due to the fact that much of the land is steeply inclined and experiences a lot of rain. In addition, typhoons also hit Japan from summer to fall. Located in an area where many continental plates meet, Japan also experience earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Although Japan is a disaster-prone country, there is no need to be overly concerned. Many disasters are small in scale, and we have accumulated knowledge on how to deal with disasters through past experience. Disaster drills for various types of disasters are held on a regular basis, both publicly and privately.

For tips on how to respond to these situations see the JNTO Response to Earthquakes, Wind, and Water-related Disasters page.

JNTO Early Warning Mobile App

Japan is prone to frequent natural disasters. In order to keep your safety, Japan Tourism Agency offers “Safety tips,” a push-enabled information alert app for foreign tourists. “Safety tips” is a push-enabled app for Earthquake Early Warning and Tsunami Warning within Japan. It is provided in English. The app offers various functions useful for both foreign tourists and residents in Japan. Evacuation flowchart shows actions to be taken in the state of emergency; Communication Card helps you to communicate with people around; Website Links shares helpful information in the state of disaster.

NTT Disaster Emergency Message Dial (171)

Disaster Emergency Message Dial is a voice message board that is provided when a disaster such as an earthquake or volcanic eruption occurs, and is required when communication traffic to the disaster-stricken area increases and it is difficult to get through.

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