I just can’t get my head around it. In a city of 36 million residents – the most populous metropolitan area in the world – street crime is practically non-existent. Tokyo is a safe place.
In cafes, people save themselves a seat with their bag or iphone while they head to the counter to order themselves a coffee. No-one is going to take it, unless it was to try and find its owner as they thought it had been misplaced.
There are no security scans or bag checks and no one locks their bike up. You see flashy cars parked in places you’d never consider in other cities. And you can pretty much walk around anywhere at any time of the day or night and not feel the least bit worried or intimidated.
My husband called me in a mild panic when we had only just arrived here as he had left his work bag including laptop, keys, iphone and a fair bit of cash on a subway train going…somewhere. Sayonara bag you may think. But no. After a call to the lost property office, they confirmed that it had been handed in and to come and collect it. “What!?” said ‘The Londoner in amazement.
So off he went to pick it up and found everything in there...just not quite as he left it. The thing that most blew our minds was that the person in charge of the lost property had collected all the loose change swimming about in the bottom of the bag and put it in a little jiffy bag to save him the trouble and slotted all his pens into those pen slots (that no one ever uses) in the bag. So considerate! When he told me this story, we just looked at each other in quiet, shared disbelief.
The other surprising thing I’ve noticed here is that you frequently see kids from about the age of 6 travelling to school and back on their own either walking or on the subway system.
They know exactly where they are going, they are quiet and well behaved and almost blend in with the adults. The helpful men who wave batons to tell people which way to go at almost every intersection always seem to keep a protective eye over them with a friendly “Ohayo! (morning!) You have a few minutes to get there, don’t be late!” There always seems to be someone looking out for you here.
Interestingly, things are a bit different when it comes to looking after your own personal safety. Its quite easy to take your life in your own hands here.
For instance, my husband and I spent a fantastic hour driving through the streets of Tokyo at dusk in a (Super Mario) go-cart along with all the traffic. No helmet, no real instructions. Off we went dressed as Mario and Luigi pretending we were in a video game that had come to life! Nuts!
Speaking of which, many people rides electric bikes here but no-one ever wears a helmet (except the Westerners) and there appear to be no rules about where you can ride. Everyone rides on the pavement. Yet, somehow no one gets in your way. Bikes sort of calmly glide along weaving gracefully through. I’ve never once seen a collision. Which is why I don’t ride a bike here. You can guarantee I would be the one to break this equilibrium.
It also extends to the kids. We took the children to a park the other week where they have an area with tools and open firepits so kids can practise sawing wood, hammering nails and cooking stuff on open fires. All unsupervised. This blew my mind.
Surely there would be kids running around waving hammers over their heads and pretending to saw each other’s limbs off, while someone’s T-shirt caught fire? Nope! No incidents. Just some good old-fashioned playing of the type health and safety would no longer condone in most western countries. My kids loved it! And they came away unscathed.
The same could not be said for another park we visited which had a fantastic little running stream for little kids to play in. Fairly harmless you may think, but at one end was an almost vertical slope of jagged rock for kids to walk up and down whilst being pounded by pretty forceful waterjets.
After 5 minutes of excitement clambering up and down this gushing torrent my eldest came hopping over with a gash across her heel wailing “Mummy, I need a plaster”! I dutifully bandaged her up and off she went again. Another 5 minutes passed and another injury emerged. This time she said “Mummy, I don’t understand. Why are none of the Japanese children hurting themselves”? Ha! Good question! They must have lessons in this sort of stuff or something. Who knows?!
Anyway, back to street crime. Of course, it could be that the penalties for transgression are pretty severe here. There is a sign at the end of our street that states ‘’No littering or dumping garbage. If you dump waste illegally, you may be sent to prison for up to five years and/or fined up to 10 million yen (that’s £70,000 or $100,000!!!!)” Eek!. They take rubbish pretty seriously here.
However, I suspect it is more likely that the unique Japanese culture alone keeps things in check. The emphasis is on the importance of the group over the individual, consideration, politeness, respect, modesty and discipline.
So, while Tokyo is certainly not the place to learn how to be street smart, in the absence of our overzealous health and safety laws, I’m definitely trying to pick up some tips on avoiding injury!