Deep Japan has insight on theft prevention and precautionary measures to take in Japan. Here are some relevant concepts, and articles on them written by our Senpais!
Crime and Japan have come to be polarized concepts in most peoples’ minds, at least in the international community. This can be attributed to both reality and to the international media and general knowledge of and experiences in Japan. For starters, Japan is always cited as having the lowest gun deaths of any industrialized nation, and travelers who make their way to Japan will often say they’ve never felt safer abroad. While violent crime is often forgotten upon spending a few days in Tokyo, there are certainly types of crime unique to Japan. And while it may or may not be a concern for tourists, it can be a slight concern for people who are on a short to extended stay.
I have noticed myself growing a bit complacent when it comes to locking my bicycle. Coming from a college town in California, where bike theft was commonplace, I was surprised to find here in Japan that leaving my bike unlocked in front of convenience stores, even for an extended amount of time proved to have no consequences. When I do lock my bike, I do as most Japanese people do, and just lock the back wheel to the frame, such that the bike can’t be ridden away. Strangely, the difference between locking the back wheel, and not locking the bike at all is an enormous jump in security for Japanese people, whereas for me, it’s equivalent to placing a sign on your unlocked home saying “Please do not enter”; i.e, merely superficial security. Nonetheless, this method of using a very simple combination lock has served me well without any attempts of theft on my bicycle.
I think it begins with awareness, and moreover the population density in Tokyo. Ask any Japanese person, and they will tell you that bike theft is rampant, and you should always be very aware of theft, and lock your bike (and your home for that matter). I take a much more lackadaisical view of the Japanese crime environment and assure myself I don’t need to worry-“because it’s Japan“. This dichotomy of theft suspicion, with the actual lack of theft, in a way seems to neutralize crime better than heightened police activity could.
It’s hard to say why, other than end the discussion at a simple “it’s in their culture” conclusion, but the lost and found culture of Japan is unbelievably honest and reliable. One explanation could be that since violent crime and theft seem to be suppressed, the police spend a lot of time making sure people, as well as their items, are in the right place. As a general rule, if an item is not yours, then it shouldn’t become yours unless you buy it or earn it. Seems like a noble principle, not necessarily unique to Japan, but for some reason, this principle is in full practice here. When a lost item of value is found, it is promptly returned to the local police station, or store clerk where it was found. Alternatively, it could just be left in a noticeable location at the sight it was discovered.
Contrasted with the bike mentality that your bike is not safe unless it is locked, the idea that if you lose an item it is likely gone with a new owner, is not the standard thought process. Nonetheless, in order to reduce item loss and theft, it is best to be aware that this is the state of things. Littering and claiming items you don’t own for example are looked down upon in Japan, and the ever-present cultural mentality has an interesting effect on the mind of the traveler, even if these things are commonplace in the home culture.