Japan is known for being safe, but what should you do if you experience street harassment or stalking when out alone? This week, we answer this question! For more questions on moving to Japan, surviving daily life in Japan, and more, Guidable is here to help. Submit your own questions at the bottom of this post!
Question: How can I cope with receiving unwanted attention while out alone?
As a woman, I’ve always heard that Japan is a safe place to explore alone in public, even at night. I was recently approached when I was alone, though, and it made me feel really uncomfortable. Am I overreacting?
Japan has a reputation for being a safe country where “bad” neighborhoods are hard to come by, and catcalling and street harassment are rare.
While it’s true that crime is low in Japan, that doesn’t mean that bad things never happen. And if you’re a foreign woman in Japan, you might stick out and attract more unwanted attention (though street harassment and crime are common issues for Japanese women as well). Such attention can range from receiving unwanted flirtatious advances to being followed home.
Receiving this kind of unwanted attention or harassment isn’t your fault, and you aren’t overreacting at all by feeling uncomfortable or even traumatized by some of these experiences. You may wonder if you did something to attract such unwanted attention. Did you wear the wrong clothes? Should you change your body language in order to deter people who may want to approach you? Is it best to just avoid going out alone? Remind yourself that you’re not to blame for the other person’s actions, and you have just as much of a right to enjoy your life in Japan as they do.
There are a few pointers to keep in mind, though, when you’re out alone and find yourself in an uncomfortable or scary situation:
1. Be Aware of Your Surroundings
Be aware of your surroundings, what area you’re in, and how to get home. Keep in mind that neighborhoods with more nightlife, love hotels, and host and hostess club-type establishments might be more dangerous than other neighborhoods. Remain alert, especially at night.
2. Respond With Direct and Simple Statements
If someone approaches you and makes an inappropriate comment or asks you to do something you’re not comfortable with, respond with direct and simple statements. Words like “no” and “stop” are generally easily understood, regardless of the other person’s native language.
3. Find Help
If you’ve been touched, threatened, or otherwise feel unsafe, reach out for help. Find the nearest koban (police box) and explain what happened. Also, in many cases, your employer can help if you’re in danger. Consider if you have a supervisor or HR manager who you can contact outside of work hours.
4. Go to a Safe Place
If you think you’re being followed, find a safe and well-lit spot, such as a konbini, to stay at until the other person has left. If you’re on a deserted street, find the nearest major street or public area with more people.
5. Single Someone Out
Finally, if you’re facing street harassment or danger outside, find a designated “safe” person near you: scan your environment, and rather than yelling for help from any random bystander, it can be helpful to choose one person nearby to ask for help from. Even if the person you choose is a complete stranger, they may be more likely to feel responsible to help if you approach or make eye contact with them directly. If you are unsure about asking for help from someone random on the street, try to find a security guard, train attendant, or another trusted worker in the vicinity, and they will likely be able to assist.
Final Advice for Dealing With Street Harassment
One more piece of advice: don’t be too hard on yourself for how you respond in these stressful situations. I’ve encountered unwanted attention and advances while walking alone outside, and most of my female friends in Japan have as well. Our reactions have all been different (freezing up, running away, shouting back…), and none of those reactions were wrong—even if we sometimes wished we had been stronger or responded differently.
For more on this topic, read this article next on chikan in Japan: