I’ve always talked about how safe living in Japan is. Since I’ve lived here I’ve not felt scared once. That’s a big contrast to the number of times I’ve felt scared in England and in other countries when travelling.

It’s just safe, isn’t it?

One weekend I was in Tokyo. I spent the day exploring the old quarter of Asakusa. I prayed at Senso Ji temple, got my fortune read (A bad one…) and ate delicious okonomiyaki, one of my favourite Japanese dishes.

I was having a pretty good day.

I was staying in a Japanese style business hotel and was the only woman staying there that night. Despite this I felt perfectly safe whilst I was there, even if I did have to share a bathroom with all the men.

I wandered to the local 7-eleven to get some snacks and drinks for the evening. As I turned back onto the main street and walked towards my hotel, an old man appeared in front of me.

At first I just thought he wanted to practice English with me. Even in Tokyo there’s not that many foreigners so many people strike up conversation. Then it dawned on me. It was 10pm, pitch black and I was alone.

I don’t think he wanted to practice English.

I looked at him and was instantly mesmerised by his insanely long fingernails. He held out his hand making a kind of ‘Okay’ sign and started to shout ‘Money, money, money!’, aggressively in English.

I was still perplexed about what he wanted. Why does he need money? Then it dawned on me that this was not a kind and friendly old Japanese guy but someone who was confident enough to approach a 5’8.5 woman on a main road in Tokyo.

So I ran.

I only ran a short distance but I could hear his wheezing behind me. He was following me. I took a risk and stopped and turned back, He was shirking away back into the shadows.

At first I was perplexed about what happened. Then it dawned on me that he could have been trying to mug me, he may have even had a knife. The most probable explanation is that he’s a crazy old man or a desperate homeless man.

I walked back to the hotel as fast as I could. My heart beating fast and my mind racing. It affected me much more than it would have in a different country. I feel safe in Japan so wasn’t expecting any confrontation.

It reminded me to keep my wits about me a little bit more in Japan. Not to take the feeling of safety for granted.

At Sensoji temple in Asakusa
At Sensoji temple in Asakusa


Have you ever had an aggressive or violent incident happen to you in a supposedly ‘safe’ country? What happened and what did you do?

26 thoughts on “A scary encounter in Tokyo

  1. This is so scary, and I’m glad you were ok. It sounds like you were assertive and dealt with the situation well. I’ve been living in Phnom Penh for just over a year now and personally have always felt extremely safe, despite many people I know getting mugged. Then a couple of weeks ago it happened to me! I have written up a post about what happened that I’ll be publishing on my blog soon. Like you said, it reminded me to keep my wits about me and exercise more caution going forward.

    1. Hi Jen. I thought Phnom Phen was quite a scary place when I visited in 2013, probably because of the poverty and all of the stories that other backpackers told me. I’m sorry you got mugged. It must have been a horrible experience. I’ll read your blog post when it’s out.

  2. I live in Tokyo and every time I have visited the Sensoji I have been cursed. On 5 different accounts within hours of leaving bad luck hit me and some lasted months so now when I have visitors I tell them they need to go on their own because of this.

  3. Wow what a scary experience..I am glad you came out ok! I am so chicken…I don’t know that I would do well in a foreign country! I am a teacher also and have esl students in my reading groups. I would like to teach overseas some day, but it seems like a pipe dream…so much to arrange and not cheap to get there!”

    Enjoyed the read!

    1. I’m sure you would so fine in a foreign country Valerie! I feel safer when I travel than I do when I’m back in the UK. Just keep your wits about you and follow your intuition.

  4. Oh men how scary! I am so glad that you got out of there and managed to get away. I have had my bag stolen twice (not paying attention) but luckily never had a front on encounter (knock on wood). This is a good reminder to stay vigilant :).

    1. I bet it was horrible having your bag stolen! We carry our lives in our bags. They contain all of our most valuble and essential posessions so it must be horrible when someone steals that.

  5. Wow — so glad that you’re okay! I know what you mean about feeling safe in Japan. Korea (and also Japan) are the safest I’ve felt — but this is a good reminder that you just NEVER know and to be on your toes at all times!

    Thank you for sharing this with us.

  6. Glad that you are okay! 🙂 The same thing like when I was staying in Singapore. It was said as a safe country but true that we shouldn’t stay off guard and take it for granted although that I didn’t encounter any bad incidents before during my stay there. Criminal can happen anytime, anywhere. Just stay safe. 🙂

  7. It’s easy to get comfortable. Glad you listened to your instincts and you are safe. It’s funny but I do feel so much safer in Asia compared to when I was traveling Europe.

    1. I agree that I feel safer in Asia than Europe. I don’t even feel safe in England because of how many violent crimes there are.

  8. It’s awful that we need reminding to be safe isn’t it? I totally get what you mean though you do just feel safe until something bad happens! Glad you are okey (:

  9. That sounds so scary! I’m so happy you were able to flee and outrun him. This is a good reminder that anything can happen at anytime and feeling “safe” is relative.

  10. How scary….though glad everything turned out just fine. Irrespective of where we are, as women we should always be hyper-sensitive to our surroundings, especially at night. Stay safe 🙂

  11. Oh wow, so sorry to hear this happened! Good on you for instantly reacting though and getting yourself to safety. It’s so frustrating that even in rather safe countries, we still have to worry, but I guess that’s life eh? Glad you’re safe!

  12. Glad that you’re ok! I live in Korea and people always think that because it’s relatively safe, things won’t happen. But I’ve learned that you should always be mindful and take precautions no matter where you are because you really never know.

    1. Very true Mimi. Fortunately I don’t think this guy was dangerous but we should always keep our wits about us, wherever we are!

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