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

Other General 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

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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 can be 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 Response in Japan

Earthquakes and Tsunamis in Japan 

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

The U.S. Embassy in Tokyo maintains a wide range of resources on emergency, health, and disaster preparedness for Americans living in Japan:

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

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

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.

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