[The title of this post comes from the phrase "Rare jongens, die Romeinen", which is the Dutch version of Obelix's catch phrase "Ils sont fous ces romains" ("These Romans are crazy")]
Having been in Japan for slightly more than a month, I think it's time to reflect on some of the Japanese habits that struck me as strange. Now I'm aware that this has been done to death by pretty much everyone who's been in Japan for more than five minutes, but that's not going to stop me! I will make several posts on this subject, but I will make no guarantees as to when or how often these posts appear (because if I did, I'd probably not be able to keep to it anyway :P ).
The first thing I want to look at is theft, or actually the lack thereof. The Japanese seem to put an enormous amount of trust in their population, since security tends to minimal. I've heard it said that this is because the idea of stealing is so dishonouring that they wouldn't even consider it. Maybe it's because they make it so easy to do that any self-respecting criminal would be ashamed to do something with so little challenge attached.
For example, back in the Netherlands getting into my apartment building was a fairly involved procedure. You needed to use a keycard at the main door (twice, if it was after 23:00; once for the outer door and once for the inner door). The building had four main entrances, but the keycard only worked on the entrance you were supposed to use. Of course there was camera-surveilance too. Then there's the key for the hall containing your room (which can also be used for the mailbox), and finally the room key.
Here, there's no hall keys. No outer door keys. And while there is a guard at the main entrance, all the fire exits are kept open most of the day and may be used for entry without any kind of supervision. This means that if you feel like raiding one of the public areas, such as one of the kitchens, there's not really anything to stop you from doing it.
Stores are even more amazing. In the Netherlands, there are those electronic security devices attached to items. or in a supermarket the only way to leave is through the cash registers. Here, I've yet to see a store with any kind of anti-theft device. In the nearby Seiyu supermarket, because I use the side exit, I have to cross through the vegetable section, with my already purchased items, so it's not only possible to leave the supermarket without passing the registers, it's required.
My bike has a laughable excuse for a lock which would guarantee theft within minutes if this was used at a Dutch train station. But here it's common; I've yet to see the heavy chains that are common in the Netherlands.
Speaking of train stations... the Japanese use a system similar to the Paris subway: you have to use your ticket to get through gates at the entrance and exit (pretty much the only way, since Japanese trains tend to be so crowded you can't even move (and no, this is not an exaggeration), so it would certainly be impossible for someone to check the tickets on the train). In Paris, it is fairly impossible to pass these gates without a ticket. Here, it'd be fairly trivial (except for the enormous number of people who typically dwell at stations; while you could do it, it'd be hard to do unnoticed :P ).
And then there's the enormously crowded trains and stations. Which really is rediculous; for my Dutch readers, you might've been in a train that was so full the driver refused to leave. These are even more crowded than that. Whenever I'm boarding such a train, there's always the point where everyone is so squeezed together that I think it's not humanly possible to for anyone else to come on board and still close the doors. At that point, usually at least five more people manage to get in. The only consolation is that because I'm relatively tall, at least I can still breath.
But I digress. In most Western countries, such conditions would be a prime ground for pick-pockets. Here, it doesn't happen. You can just put your bag on the luggage rack and forget about it until you get out. There's no need to watch your belongings at all (it is then also not surprising that many Japanese tourists in Western countries get robbed quite easily; they're not used to having to watch out for there stuff).
Yes, I'm sure there are plenty of places in Tokyo where walking around at night is not safe, but overall Japan is living up to its reputation as one of the safest countries in the world. :)
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