Monday, February 1, 2010

Why I Like Japan Reason #3: Safety

I had been living in Japan for around 6 months when it struck me: I was so much more relaxed walking around town. What's going on, I wondered. I get stared at constantly, so I'm always aware of people around me, and it's not like the streets are so empty that I don't have to worry about accidentally bumping into someone. No, the difference was I never felt like I was going to be attacked.

Japan is famous for its low crime rate, and you really feel the safety living there. Being robbed on the street is a rare thing. A friend of mine once left his backpack on a Tokyo street corner and it was still there days later, its contents unmolested. And I once saw a salaryman passed out face down on a train platform with his wallet in his out-stretched hand. I'll bet you it was still there when he woke up. The fact is, Japan is a remarkably safe place to live.

To walk down a crowded city street and not have to switch your wallet from back pocket to front. To not have to monitor for unpredictable crazy people. To not have to scan for potential muggers. To not have to keep an eye on dark corners and alleyway entrances that could hide assailants. To not have to constantly recalculate escape routes through the shifting crowds. I am blissfully free from such stressful thought processes in Japan.

I know that previous paragraph makes me seem paranoid, and when laid out like that it does seem a bit like safety overkill, but this is really what we're doing in our heads when walking down a busy, urban street. You can't tell me you don't tense up a bit in the Tenderloin or in parts of Oakland. Maybe these things aren't at the front of your mind but they're there in the back. It's called being aware of your surroundings. I really only noticed that I even did these things after living in Japan, when they had gone.

OK, Japan does have some weird crimes, like teenage daughters killing their fathers with axes, and anime fanatics stabbing each other in the streets. But this doesn't scare me. A knife? Come at me with a gun if you really want to scare me. When I saw someone get shot in LA, the killer and victim were standing a mere 5 feet from my car. After the shooting, the killer looked into my eyes and smiled. I was sure he was going to shoot me too. I nearly pissed my pants. If he had been holding a knife, I wouldn't have been scared at all.

It's a wonderful thing to be free from fear, even when it's just that little, everyday fear we call "street smarts."

This is part of an ongoing series of articles exploring my fascination with Japan. Previous entries include:


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