A safe haven


  • Living
  • Sunday, 05 Jan 2014

A plaque illustrating preventive measures for cyclists against theft.

You can walk about in Japan with peace of mind as the crime rate is very low.

JUNE H.L Wong of “So Aunty, so what?” column wrote in her article “Feeling safe and sound” (Nov 6, 2013) that personal safety and security is a given in Japan.” She is right. It is something I cherish in Japan.

Like Wong, I have noticed wallets sticking out of the back pockets of men’s pants (including my husband’s). I have spotted women with their handbags casually dangling from their shoulders, sometimes even unbuttoned or unzipped.

Just two months back, a woman heedlessly held only one strap of her unzipped handbag, leaving its contents open to public view. She was walking in front of me, engaged in a conversation with a friend. Anyone could have easily nicked her purse or snatched her handbag. Fearing for her, I approached her to inform her of her unzipped handbag.

In Japan, if you leave things behind, you are most likely able to retrieve them. A few years back, my husband hastily left a 7-eleven convenience store without getting his change and didn’t realise it at all.

A plaque illustrating preventive measures for cyclists against theft.

The following day, when Koji returned to the store to purchase something, a cashier who had served him returned him his change. The staff took the trouble to check their store’s security camera so that they could remember Koji’s face! I was most impressed.

Honesty and personal security cannot be taken for granted, though. In recent years, snatch thefts and house or car break-ins have become more rampant.

Houses can be easily broken into through the windows, even if the doors are locked. You see, most windows in the houses here don’t have grills, for they are a way of escape in times of disaster.

Several months ago, my mother-in-law reported: “We’d better be careful. Two residences in our neighbourhood were recently broken into when the residents were out. Some silverware was stolen from one house and a few coats from an apartment.”

“Huh? Only those things?” I asked. “The burglar probably couldn’t find cash or anything valuable,” she replied.

These are petty crimes compared with the mugging and smash-and-grab in other countries. Petty crimes or not, crime prevention and awareness are being carried out.

Although I haven’t come across public signs that specifically warn of pickpockets and snatch thieves, I have seen signs that raise awareness of crime. However, unless you understand Japanese, you wouldn’t even know what is written on them.

Since groping incidents have previously occurred in dark, secluded places, signboards have been put up to warn women not to walk alone.

On one railing, I found a plaque with illustrations on how to prevent bicycle thefts as well as bag-snatching from the bicycle’s basket. However, only some people take the precaution of covering up their bags in the baskets.

While I was walking along some lonely streets, I noticed red posters almost everywhere – on the staircase to a road, on utility poles and outside premises and residences. Their literal English translation: “House-breaking will absolutely not be tolerated in this area.”

Then there is another kind of red poster which informs one that the area is under police patrol. In some places, banners are set on the pavement.

These measures are supported by the community’s association and the police in that district and ward.

When I saw the red posters in front of many houses in the neighbourhood where a motorist had snatched my mother-in-law’s handbag, I wondered if the residents participated in the patrol. I found out about it last month from an elderly man who happened to post newsletters on the community’s bulletin board there.

He explained: “Those red posters are merely to caution against crime. Only residents involved in the community service take turns to patrol the vicinity twice a day: 10am-11am and 6pm-7pm.”

A flyer he pinned up was about their community’s safety, especially for the year-end and New Year holidays. It advised drivers to lock their car doors and not leave valuables or even toll smartcards inside. It also reported the number of theft cases for last October in its region: Car theft – 1, motorcycle theft –1, car break-in – 6, snatch theft – 0, house-breaking – 0, others – 0.

I think these crime statistics are relatively small compared with those in Malaysia. And oh, some policemen still go around on bicycles in Tokyo!

I truly enjoy the security in Japan. Natural disaster notwithstanding, Japan is a haven for me.

> Sarah Mori, a Malaysian married to a Japanese, resides in Japan.


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