Safety in Japan

Overview of Safety in Japan (International SOS)
Cell Phones in Japan
CISI Insurance in Japan
Emergency Wallet Card
International SOS
Koban (Police Boxes) in Japan
Natural Disasters in Japan
U.S. Dept. of State: Emergency Preparedness for Americans in Japan
U.S. Dept. of State: Safe Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)

Overview of Safety in Japan (Adapted from International SOS)

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. 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

Articles on Safety in Japan 

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Cell Phones in Japan

The Nakatani Foundation will loan all participants with a Japanese cell phone to use for daily communication needs, communication with program staff in the U.S. and Japan as needed, and for emergency purposes.  Students are required to carry their Japanese cell phone with them at all times and have their batteries fully charged. In the event a student damages or loses the Japanese cell phone that has been loaned to them, they will be required to reimburse the Nakatani Foundation for the replacement cost. Phones will be distributed to students upon arrival in Japan.

There are a range of useful smart phone apps that students should download to both their U.S. and Japanese cell phones.  JNTO has also developed an Earthquake Early Warning app ‘Safety Tips’ that can be particularly useful in case of emergency. There is also the phone based Disaster Emergency Message Dial that can be used while in Japan.  This 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.

See also the Internet and Wi-Fi section on our Life in Japan page.

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CISI International Health Isurance

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. For more info see Medical & Health Resources in Japan.

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Emergency Wallet Card

Students will be required to carry with them at all times a printed copy of the Emergency Contact Wallet Card.  This card will be distributed to students during the pre-departure orientation in Houston and will have important contact information for all program staff in the U.S. and Japan, the phone numbers of the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate, the nearest English-speaking clinic in Tokyo, and phone numbers for police, ambulance, and fire services in Japan. When students arrive to their research host labs, they will update the back of this card with contact information for their host professor/lab and the nearest English-speaking clinic to where they will be staying.

By carrying this printed card with them, students will always have access to important phone and emergency contact numbers even if their Japanese cell phone is lost, damaged, or not working.

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International SOS

All Rice University students, faculty, and staff (including visiting 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.

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Koban (Police Boxes) in Japan

For more on gun control in Japan, and comparisons to gun policies in the U.S., see Safety in Houston and the U.S.

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Natural Disasters in Japan

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 the nation has 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.

There are a range of useful smart phone apps that students should download to both their U.S. and Japanese cell phones.  JNTO has also developed an Earthquake Early Warning app ‘Safety Tips’ that can be particularly useful in case of emergency. There is also the phone based Disaster Emergency Message Dial that can be used while in Japan.  This 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.

Japan also has a very high uncertainty avoidance score on the Geert Hofstede Country Dimensions and this has been tied to the role natural disasters have played in society.

  • “At 92 Japan is one of the most uncertainty avoiding countries on earth. This is often attributed to the fact that Japan is constantly threatened by natural disasters from earthquakes, tsunamis (this is a Japanese word used internationally), typhoons to volcano eruptions. Under these circumstances, Japanese learned to prepare themselves for any uncertain situation. This goes not only for the emergency plan and precautions for sudden natural disasters but also for every other aspect of society.”

It is imperative that you, as a foreigner living in Japan, read through the pertinent resources, save all emergency contact numbers in your Japanese cell phone, carry your Emergency Wallet Card with you, and follow all instructions given by emergency responders or those around you if an incident occurs. It is also quite common for universities or office buildings in Japan to have regular earthquake, fire, and disaster drills that are taken very seriously. Your host lab will likely give you instructions on what to do in case of a drill or alarm and you should follow all instructions that are given.

Disaster and Safety Resources for Foreigners Living in Japan

Local Resources in Japan 

Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Response in Japan

Earthquakes and Tsunamis in Japan 

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US Dept. of State: Emergency Preparedness for Americans Living in Japan

The Department of State and the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo maintains a wide range of resources on emergency, health, and disaster preparedness for Americans living in Japan. Click the topics below for more details.

Stay Connected in Japan
Recent events in and around Japan including natural disasters should remind U.S. citizens living and traveling in Japan of the importance of staying connected and having access to late breaking local emergency information.  The following suggestions will help keep you and your loved ones informed and safe during your time in Japan.

Crisis Information is Practically Everywhere in Japan, “J-Alerts”
During your time in Japan, you may see alerts for events as diverse as heavy rain, excessive heat, landslides, tsunamis, earthquakes and civil protection.  Make the U.S. Embassy’s website your first stop: it has an extensive list of emergency resources.  To receive alerts, enroll in STEP and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

The Japanese government uses a variety of avenues to reach people in affected regions. For example, during a Japanese television program, an alarm may chime, and an alert may scroll across the top of the screen for a minute or so. In some communities, loudspeakers outside may blast warnings as well. These are parts of the Japanese government’s “J-Alert” emergency broadcasting system that sends crisis information to the public. “J-Alert” even pushes messages to radios and cellphones. “J-Alert” can provide early warning emergency alerts on earthquakes predicted in a specific area, sometimes seconds before the earthquake hits.  It also provides warnings about other threats such as missile launches.

The Japan Meteorological Agency, a primary source for many of the crisis alerts in Japan, has a webpage in English. Japan’s Cabinet Secretariat has a portal website with information on civil protection.  If you can’t understand Japanese but are hearing or seeing emergency messages, pay attention and ask people around you what it means – it may be very helpful!

Japanese Government–Provided Emergency Information is Available Through Apps, in English
The Japan Tourism Organization has made available an android and iPhone app called “Safety tips” that “pushes” information alerts to users about disasters in multiple languages, including English! For more information about this app, check out the JNTO website and this press release.  The NHK World app also provides Japanese government emergency alerts via “Push Notification” service in English. Both of these apps push “J-Alerts” in English to your cell phone.

Establish Your Personal Social Network – Get to Know People Around You
Whether you have been living in Japan one day or 1,000 days, many times the best information comes from people in your network of local and expatriate friends, acquaintances, and business contacts.  This is especially important if you are unable to read and speak Japanese.  If you are a tourist, your social network could be as simple as the front desk in your hotel or even the cashier at the local coffee shop!

Social Media Can Be a Supplemental Source of Useful Information
Social Media platforms like Twitter and Facebook can be useful for timely updates.  Visit the websites of the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo or the U.S. Consulate near you to learn how to sign up for our official feeds.  These can be helpful supplements to information sent through the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program – STEP.  See the end of this message for a list of the Consulates in Japan, their locations, and their contact information.

Information on the Radio
Japan’s cellular network is very resilient and can be expected to remain in service even after a major earthquake with minimal interruptions; however, if cell service isn’t available after a disaster, you can receive emergency information in English over local radio stations such as AFN (American Forces Network) or InterFM (English language news alerts).  Some stations to monitor are: 

  • AFN Tokyo (810kHz, AM)
  • AFN Iwakuni (1575kHz, AM)
  • AFN Sasebo (1575kHz, AM)
  • AFN Okinawa (89.1MHz, FM)

Personal Preparedness Starts at Home
Once a disaster happens, it’s too late to prepare. Get your “Go Bag” together and work with your family to come up with a plan to communicate and find each other in the case of a crisis.  Don’t forget about your pets when making plans!  For ideas on how to stock your “Go Bag” or emergency kit, visit FEMA’s website.  Tourists should visit the Department of State’s Traveler’s Checklist for ideas on how to have a safe trip.

Disaster Prevention (Bousai) Information May Be Available from Your Local Government
Your local municipality may already have Disaster Prevention (“Bousai” or  “Bosai” in Japanese) information ready for residents and visitors online.  Prefectural, city, and even ward-office disaster prevention and preparedness information may be in English or have links to other useful resources.  Below is a selected list of disaster prevention websites for major population centers in Japan.  There may be many more resources available to you.  Do a web search with the word “bousai” and the town or region you are interested in, and you may even find information in English!

Sapporo City

Sendai (Miyagi):
Sendai City
Miyagi Prefecture

Tokyo Metropolitan Area:
Tokyo Metro

Yokohama (Kanagawa):
Yokohama City

Nagoya (Aichi):
Aichi Prefecture
Nagoya City

Kyoto/Osaka/Kobe (Kansai):
Kyoto Prefecture
Osaka Prefecture
Kobe City (Hyogo)
Nara Prefecture

Ehime Prefecture
Kochi Prefecture
Kagawa Prefecture
Tokushima Prefecture

Hiroshima Prefecture
Yamaguchi Prefecture

Fukuoka Prefecture
Kumamoto Prefecture
Kagoshima Prefecture

Okinawa Prefecture

For further information:

For any emergencies involving U.S. citizens, please contact the American Citizens Services (ACS) Unit of either the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo or one of the U.S. Consulates in Japan. 

U.S. Embassy Tokyo
American Citizen Services
1-10-5 Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo 107-8420
Tel: 03-3224-5000
After Hours: 03-3224-5000
Fax: 03-3224-5856

The U.S. Embassy serves Americans in Tokyo, Chiba, Fukushima, Gunma, Ibaraki, Kanagawa, Nagano, Niigata, Saitama, Shizuoka, Tochigi, Yamagata and Yamanashi.  


11-5, Nishitenma 2-chome, Kita-ku, Osaka 530-8543; Tel: 06-6315-5912, Fax: 06-6315-5914; serving Americans in Osaka, Aichi, Ehime, Fukui, Gifu, Hiroshima, Hyogo, Ishikawa, Kagawa, Kochi, Kyoto, Mie, Nara, Okayama, Shimane, Shiga, Tokushima, Tottori, Toyama, and Wakayama prefectures. 

Nagoya International Center Bldg. 6th floor, 1-47-1 Nagono, Nakamura-ku, Nagoya 450-0001; Tel (052) 581-4501, Fax: (052) 581-3190; providing emergency consular services only (including death and arrest cases) for Americans living in Aichi, Gifu, and Mie prefectures.

5-26, Ohori 2-chome, Chuo-ku, Fukuoka 810-0052; Tel: 092-751-9331, Fax: 092-725-3772; serving Americans in Fukuoka, Kagoshima, Kumamoto, Miyazaki, Nagasaki, Oita, Saga and Yamaguchi prefectures.

Kita 1-jo, Nishi 28-chome, Chuo-ku, Sapporo 064-0821; Tel: 011-641-1115, Fax: 011-643-1283; serving Americans in Akita, Aomori, Hokkaido, Iwate and Miyagi prefectures. 

2-1-1 Toyama, Urasoe City, Okinawa 901-2104; Phone: 098.876.4211, Fax: 098.876.4243; serving Americans in Okinawa and the Amami Oshima Island group


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US Dept. of State: Safe Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)

On Wednesday, January 10, 2018, the Department of State will make changes to our safety and security information to make it easier to find, understand, and use.

  • Travel Advisories will replace Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts.  Every country will have a Travel Advisory, which will provide one of four standard levels of advice.  The Travel Advisory will give an explanation for the level and include clear actions U.S. citizens should take.
  • Security Messages and Emergency Messages will be replaced by a form of locally-issued communication called Alerts.  These messages will follow an easy-to-understand format with clear actions U.S. citizens should take.
  • U.S. citizens who have signed up to receive updates via the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program ( will automatically receive the JapanTravel Advisory and Alerts via email after the new system comes online January 10.  They will continue to receive other routine messages from the Embassy, including announcements related to voting and other American Citizen Service issues.
  • For more information about improvements to our safety and security information and to enroll in STEP, visit

All Nakatani RIES U.S. Fellows in Japan are required to be enrolled in the U.S. Department of State’s Smart-Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).  The program will directly enroll all US Fellows in STEP via a group travel registration.  Any DOS or U.S. Embassy in Tokyo notifications will be sent to you via your primary email address. Through this program you will:

  • 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.

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