Japan has a beautiful and diverse environment that is over 70% mountainous, with climates ranging from subarctic in the north to subtropical in the south. There are over 200 volcanoes and 6,852 islands. With such diversity, it’s no surprise that there are many beautiful habitats to enjoy, but also a range of potential risks.
Key safety considerations for Japan
Japan has its fair share of natural disasters, including earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, typhoons and landslides. Fortunately, Japan has established robust public warning systems and evacuation procedures. Your accommodation provider should have information about natural disasters and the procedures in place on what to do in such an event. We recommend keeping up-to-date with local weather warnings or advisories from the Japan Meteorological Agency before and during your trip.
Certain parts of the country are more prone to natural disasters. The northeast is more likely to encounter earthquakes, and Okinawa, Hokkaido and Kyushuu are more prone to typhoons.
Always check the governments international travel advisory before booking any travel plans. Once you’ve booked your flights or accommodation, buy travel insurance. It doesn’t cost you any extra to book it in advance of your travel date, but it does mean we can look after you for longer. For example, if an earthquake results in your travel being cancelled before you set off, we can refund any costs that your service providers can’t.
Japan has an earthquake early warning system. If a large earthquake is predicted, alarms are triggered. The sounds range from chimes through to air raid sirens. There are different procedures for what to do if you hear one of these warnings – depending on whether you are inside or outside a building. The Japan National Tourism Organisation has online safety tips for travellers on how to react during an earthquake.
Fukushima power plant
The Great East Japan earthquake of March 2011 and the tsunami that followed caused massive destruction across northeast Japan, even despite the sea wall defence. Since then, the cities and towns nearby have been restored to their original state and are once again busy.
However, there is still a radiation exclusion zone in place surrounding the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant, in the Fukushima Prefecture in northeast Honshuu.
Don’t travel to any areas with warnings or exclusions in place. Currently, Hiroshima and Nagasaki do not have radiation warnings in place and are safe to visit.
Sports and activities
The majority of our medical claims for Japan are related to ski and snow injuries, so if you’re planning to take part in any outdoor pursuits, remember to buy travel insurance before your trip.
We cover skiing and snowboarding as standard in our policy, at no extra cost. However, you must follow all instructions and warnings on the mountain and avoid off-piste or closed trails.
Japan has many wonderful opportunities for adventure, such as climbing Mount Fuji, hiking the national parks, scuba diving around the many islands, and cycling tours to the Japanese Alps. Your travel insurance will cover almost all of these adventures (within reason!), as long as you follow a few simple rules:
- If you’re cycling around Japan, remember to always wear a helmet and obey the local road rules.
- Make sure that any activities you book are with a licensed tour operator.
- If you’re going on a dive trip, you need to either be with a qualified diving instructor or you must hold an open water diving certificate.
- If you rent a motorcycle or scooter, it must be under 200cc and you should always wear a helmet.
- If you’re going on a trip to a remote area in Japan (e.g. doesn’t have telecommunications or medical services) then you have to be part of a licensed tour.
- Taking part in any competitions, races or professional sports is not covered under our policy. So if you’re heading over to Japan to take part in a ski competition, you will need to seek specialist cover.
Animals and insects
Japan is generally safe when it comes to dangerous animals, especially if you plan to spend most of your time in the cities.
There are some incredible creatures to be found in Japan, including the famous wild snow monkeys near Nagano. Just remember that they are wild animals and could bite if they feel threatened, so keep your distance unless a guide tells you it is ok to get close.
It’s a good idea to always wear appropriate footwear, such as hiking boots, when walking in rural areas, just in case you come across some of the less pleasant fauna. There are a few things to watch out for, including giant centipedes, poisonous snakes and the denki mushi – a little green caterpillar that will make you feel like you’ve been electrocuted if you touch it!
One of Japan’s deadliest creatures is the giant hornet, which has even caused fatalities. They carry a venom which is lethal in high doses, even to those who are not allergic, so seek immediate medical help if you get stung. You’re most likely to see these insects during the summer months in rural areas. If you’re approaching an area where there are a lot of hornets, you’ll see warning signs – so it’s best to avoid these parts! There may be nests, which will increase your chances of being stung.
As with any trip, do some research into what animals or insects may pose a threat to you in the particular area you’re visiting, as well as related to any activities you’re doing (e.g. ocean encounters, mountain hikes).
Although Japan is considered a very safe destination for tourists, you should still use your common sense to avoid trouble. We recommend a few simple precautions to keep you safe on your travels:
- Avoid going out by yourself at night to quiet or unlit areas, especially when you don’t know your way around.
- There have been some cases of bag snatching in Japan, so remember to keep your valuables out of sight, close to you and zipped up.
- Don’t carry a lot of cash on you at one time. Distribute it between the hotel safe, your wallet and a pocket so that you won’t lose it all if your bag is taken or you are pickpocketed.
- Do some research or ask someone you can trust, such as the hotel concierge, if there are any dangerous areas you should avoid in the district where you are staying.
- We recommend that you never leave your drink unattended when you’re out, and never accept any food or drink from a stranger, unless you can see the barman pouring it or the waiter serving it.
- Avoid letting people know where you are staying and be very cautious of anyone asking for your personal details without sufficient cause.
There are some surprising laws and customs in Japan that some foreigners will not be aware of. Here are a few basic rules to follow to avoid landing yourself on the wrong side of the law:
- Keep an eye out for no smoking signs. In some places, smoking in public is prohibited and offenders can be fined.
- Drinking alcohol on the street is actually legal in Japan, with some vending machines even selling beer and sake. Just ensure you act respectful and don’t draw attention to yourself if you’re drinking in a park or on a beach. The legal drinking age is 20 years old and this is enforced by Japanese police.
- Japan has a zero percent blood-alcohol limit for driving, so if you are planning on driving (even if it's the next day) make sure you don’t drink.
- You are required to carry your passport at all times when travelling around Japan, and police may stop you to check. If you’re caught without it, you could be arrested.
- The police have the right to stop and search you. They can also seize illegal items and detain you for up to 23 days without charge.
- Some prescription drugs that you purchased at home, could be illegal in Japan. If you need to take medicine into Japan with you, bring your prescription note from your doctor and a letter explaining why you need the medication.
Typhoons and snow storms have resulted in some travellers being stuck at their destination for longer than planned, or not being able to reach their destination at all! Events like this are often unexpected, but you can prepare for this type of outcome by purchasing your travel insurance as soon as you book your flights and accommodation. That way, if your trip is cancelled before you’ve boarded the flight, your pre-paid costs will be covered. Additionally, if you’re stuck overseas for an extra week due to flights being cancelled, we can pay for your accommodation and other expenses so you’re not left out of pocket.
We often see claims for travellers who have needed to seek medical care following a ski or snowboarding accident. As well as medical costs, there may also be the costs of curtailing the trip to return home earlier than planned for treatment. Avoid adding any stress to this type of situation by getting travel insurance cover so you don’t have to fork out thousands of dollars to be airlifted off a mountain!
So you’re ready to go? Make sure you check out our handy pre-travel checklist before you head off.