Japan has a bad reputation for its forces of nature
Japan has a great reputation for its people
Is Japan as dangerous or safe as they say?
And when you come, will you be able to handle emergencies, IF anything would happen?
After reading this article you will know about:
how safe Japan feels to travellers
about tsunami, typhoons and earthquakes related to traveling by camper
how deal with emergencies would they happen to you in Japan
Fire and ambulance 119
weather/ earthquake/ typhoon information by the Japanese Meteorological Institute
Safety is a personal feeling
This a tough subject to inform you on. Because the best advice would be to avoid all risk and stay home. Actually that is the best advice to stay safe on any trip. But we are talking about exploring Japan by camping car. So I will try to mix facts with sense.
For one, safety is a personal feeling. It depends a lot on what your past experiences are, where you are from or have traveled before. It depends a bit on luck too. You don’t need good luck, you just need to avoid bad luck and common sense will take care of the rest. Lets look at nature first.
Earthquakes and campers
Yes, earthquakes occur regularly, all the time actually, but most are so small you will never even notice. Buildings in Japan are built to withstand this force of nature. Houses for example are made of ‘light materials’ with lots of wood; it vibrates along with any movement of the earth. And would it collapse in the event of a major quake, the materials are less likely to trap or crush people and easier to quickly remove by neighbours, without the need to wait for large tools used by emergency services.
Your camper is even better though. It is small, light and cannot collapse from a quake. It vibrates along with anything on the road all day so I dare conclude it beats any hotel anytime. Unless you park under a bridge or inside a building of course.. So when selecting an overnight spot, maybe keep some distance from walls. But ‘by all means’ (as the Japanese say), don’t become paranoid about earthquakes. I am not, and I live here.
Tsunami and campers
A tsunami or tidal wave occurs only in coastal areas. That needs to be said because people automatically think that all of japan is tsunami-prone. The biggest part is not. A tidal wave does not happen frequently. When it does, it does not have to be a big one. When it is a big one, it is not all over the country. And it is not equally big in all places. But, as we have learned in recent history, when it does roll in big, it is disastrous.
Important to realise is that tsunami do not happen in the blink of an eye. They form only after a large earthquake happens under the ocean. These quakes are always felt by humans, mostly through our technology. In Japan, this technology will determine the size and force of the quake and thus the size of any wave. Because location and depth of a quake decide if at all a tsunami will be formed.
What I mean to explain is that there will be alerts; text messages, sirens and speaker instructions, which will indicate something. I say something because you will not understand what precisely. (more on that below). Bottom line is that there is time to react, to follow the local people, to follow the road signs that are everywhere in coastal Japan directing you to high places such as hills and buildings.
Do what the local do
Do what the locals do. Which is be calm and don’t worry. Most Japanese live close to the ocean, all their lives. They do not always have a choice but most do, and they feel safe from tsunami. You can avoid the issue by staying away from the coast. Or by parking on a hill at night, instead of on the beach. By law, schools should be built in high places if possible, so a school on the map helps you locate a hill.
Typhoons and campers
A typhoon and a hurricane is the same thing, just being called differently in different parts of the world. These violent storms are normal in Japan but mostly on the southern islands where they are also stronger. Islands like Okinawa where you are not likely to come by camper. But note that on Honshu, where you will be, there are occasional typhoons too. Every year.
Typhoons are seasonal, occurring mostly between May to October with August and September being peak. They move slowly so their path and force can be predicted by the weather forecast services. My favourite which I use daily is the Japanese Meteorological Institute because it is in English, fast to update and reliable.
These high winds are directly dangerous for campers and other (bigger) vehicles especially on open areas like bridges and mountain roads. Typhoons also bring with them heavy rain. The rain often causes flooding which can occur unexpectedly (to non-locals). Avoid parking near rivers. And consider your route through the mountains as rain triggers landslides which can block roads.
Hearing a speaker voice
You will hear speaker voices a lot. There are speakers covering all neighborhoods of Japan. At 4.30pm or 5pm depending on the season there is music to make the kids aware to return home. Where I live, the voice mostly informs about ‘old lady with so and so coat on having lost her way’ or something of that level of importance. Yes, important but nothing to worry about for happy travelers on their camper adventure.
Radiation and where not to go
The big earthquake and following tsunami in March 2011 caused a meltdown in the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. Radiation leaked into the environment and still today the immediate area is not safe. So avoid that area.
What area? Even though millions of Japanese continue their lives closer to Fukushima, maybe a tourist could just keep it simple. Japan is large, you have not been here before, or if you have, surely not everywhere. So even though we would like to spend our money in the disaster-hit area to help rebuild, we should consider. There is so much to see and do. The amazing temples at Nikko could be an upper limit on the east coast. Want to go further north? Go through the mountains and along the west coast until you have passed Sendai.
Is this suggestion based on anything else but what makes sense to me, personally? NO, it is not. So please make your own plans, according to what makes sense to you.
Talking to people and especially researching online you will find there is a lot of talk about safety in Japan. From tourists and foreigners living here. A lot is negative stories, we people love to share negative stories it seems. Of course most are meant to inform others.
Let’s look at safety and people now
Use your senses
As safety is a feeling, it comes from the senses. Naturally we feel safer if we can oversee new situations. For this it helps a lot of the surrounding is clean, not messy. Japan is a very clean country in the sense of no rubbish on the streets, no graffiti, no excessive noise pollution. To me that helps to feel safe. There is a lot of ‘eye-pollution’ though, blaring neon-lights and bright colours try to attract your attention, mostly in downtown areas. Somehow these I don’t link with feeling unsafe.
In foreign lands traffic can be a major safety issue. Mostly because you are not used to the local ‘style.’ In Japan the international road rules are followed, and generally in a calmly manner. So much so that outside the cities pedestrians and cyclists mostly stop and wait for red lights even if there is nobody in sight. It does seem a habit to quickly run through orange lights, at high speed, to avoid the next wait. So make sure to double check when your light switches to green.
Cyclist are supposed to be on the road but are often on sidewalks, and on any side of the street they like. Especially mothers-with-children seem to have the unwritten privilege to do whatever they please, and will do so. Beware of them 😉
As a rule in Japan, primary school kids always have to walk to school. With their friends or by themselves. And older kids often travel by train or bus, alone too. After school, children play outside in parks and around the house. These things mean safety to me.
These do happen, surely, but are not common. My friends often leave their doors unlocked in daytime, easy when the kids are coming home. It is normal to some of them, but not to all. Thinking of your valuables in your camper, theft from parkings is uncommon. Follow the normal rule of parking in a place that has some traffic if you can. And leave curtains open and the car cleaned up so anyone can see at a glance that there is nothing special to gain here. Leaving cupboards open is another tactic for this.
Women and men alike apparently feel safe in Japan, at least in Tokyo and Osaka. This article claims The Economist published research in February 2015 where these cities come out #1 and #3 in world, for safe cities. And as countryside tends to be even safer l dare say Japan is a safe place.
If you google though, there is enough information that indicates differently, but it seems mostly personal stories to me. Mine is personal too; I feel save, my kids play outside alone and my wife goes anywhere by herself at any time of day or night. Touch wood!
Now you know, Japan is safe to Go!
Create your own unique trip! Go Camper Japan!