Japan’s reputation as a safe country is widely known and admired. Many have better explained the order, respect and honesty in Japanese culture so I won’t do that there. Instead I will try to highlight how much a feeling of safety can help a person’s mental health and overall happiness. It’s especially vital to articulate this because if you have never known environments that are less safe – or downright dangerous – it is easy to minimize or underestimate the impact of law and order on an individual level.
I’m from the Caribbean and I have lived in Japan for two years. When I moved, I didn’t feel like I was moving away from my island as much as I was heading to new opportunities. That is, I wasn’t unhappy at home. I was surrounded by family and friends and, though I lived alone, I spent most of my time with people I care about. It was a warm, loving, and comfortable environment, and it wasn’t easy to leave.
Nonetheless, I rallied and soon after I arrived I set about exploring my new home.
At first I stayed within the city, then the prefecture (Shizuoka), then prefectures all across Japan. I was almost always alone in these adventures. It didn’t feel significant that I traveled by myself; I hadn’t made many friends yet and finding people with similar points of interests may have taken even more time, so it was just practical to wander alone.
In the beginning, I only took day trips to popular sites and festivals, but as I got used to navigating I started spending nights in cities like Yokohama, Tokyo and Nagoya regularly. Even after I started making friends, I still took at least one weekend a month for a trip by myself.
This experience as a solo sojourner in Japan has taught me many things.
1. Safety brings independence.
I enjoy the company of close friends and family but I am also very happy when I’m by myself. I was hardly ever alone when I was back home but I realized that was a result of circumstance more than choice. As a single female, I often felt unsafe when I was out alone. Catcalls, petty theft and even violent crime were daily headlines. So it was simply wiser to stay in groups. Once I was freed from that environment, my feet took wing! Living in Japan gave me new independence and it was invigorating!
2. Safety is vital to good health.
Prolonged hyper-vigilance, fear, and distrust breeds mental and physical stress. It’s an insidious tension that you may not even realize you’re carrying but, when it’s relieved, you feel lighter, more energetic and more appreciative of even the simplest pleasures. I am content to stroll through parks, wander aimlessly through cities, and nurse drinks in cafes and bars. I don’t need “entertainment”; Japan has given me the freedom to simply exist without fear and that has been both calming and empowering.
3. Safety is not found in crime statistics.
Low numbers help, of course, but it is impossible to separate a feeling of personal safety from general trust in the people, culture and system around you. In Japan, respect and consideration permeate every interaction and expectation and that – more than any law or police presence – has made me feel so comfortable here.
It was one night in Tokyo two years ago that I realized how strangely happy I was. I was almost giddy while I was simply walking along on the streets of Shibuya. It was late – the trains had already stopped – and I was following Google through sparsely populated and dark streets (street lights in Japan are not the glaring spotlights that I was familiar with). Yet I felt safe. And I felt free. I now believe that quality of life is fundamentally influenced by feelings of freedom, independence and safety.
You may come to Japan for the food, history and sites, but you’ll leave with a feeling of peace that is hard to achieve anywhere else in the world.
Note: It is always important to be aware and cautious whenever and wherever you travel. I am distinguishing that personal responsibility from unhealthy suspicion, paranoia and fear.