I've read about accidents and violence involving exchange students in other countries recently. Do I have to worry about safety in Japan?
Japan has a reputation as a very safe place, where anyone can walk city streets at any hour of the night, and belongings are never stolen. There's a lot of truth in that: crime rates are low, people don't have guns, and most of the people you meet are courteous and welcoming.
But it's not the whole story either. As is true anywhere, you need to be aware of where you are, who you're with, and what some of the unspoken rules of conduct are.
Japan is a less safe place for women and people of color than it is for white males: women in particular are subjected to forms of harassment--like being groped on trains--that often go unreported in the media.
Gay and lesbian students face their own cross-cultural challenges in a new country. As a 1997 article in the Chronicle of Higher Education pointed out, many study-abroad advisors have been making efforts to offer special information and help to gay students going abroad. NAFSA:Association of International Educators has a LesBiGay special interest group, whose Web site lists resources, interviews gay students and advisors, and discusses the issues and problems faced by both gay American students overseas and gay students from abroad who are studying in the US. Japan has a long tradition of tolerance for "alternative life styles," and safety is not normally an issue for lesbian and gay students. Gays in Japan are more likely to be in the closet than their Western counterparts, however, and you might want to have your antennae up until you get used to the atmosphere on Japanese campuses.
In the wake of several recent overseas accidents and terrorist incidents in which US exchange students either were involved or narrowly missed, universities, students, and parents are thinking more about safety abroad. One set of guidelines has been drafted by NAFSA; it is available under Safety Abroad.
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