• Life & Culture

Crime Rate in Japan vs the USA: Which one is safer?


 In any given country, crime rates are a matter of widespread significance. It’s a statistic that has many contributory factors, and as such reveals a lot about the challenges a nation faces.


This is no different in the USA and Japan – two countries that many people view as somewhat contrasting when it comes to crime. Put simply, the US is considered by some to have a relatively high crime rate, with Japan viewed as one of the safest countries


But how true is this assumption? Is it really the case that Japan is safer than the USA, and to what degree?


As an ALT moving to Japan, you’ll want to know. So, let’s break the US vs Japan crime rate debate down by analyzing some of the types of crime that are most prevalent in both countries.






Intentional homicide rate per 100,000 people


USA: 5.0

Japan: 0.36


In terms of intentional homicides, the U.S. rate is almost 14 times higher than Japan by the last measurement. Indeed, the latter has one of the lowest homicide rates in the world, with no other country experiencing fewer homicides per population over the 2010s decade.


There are a number of factors for the lower crime rate in Japan vs USA, but arguably some of the biggest include strict gun laws and the strong emphasis Japan places on community




Cannabis usage rate per 100,000 people


USA: 13.7%

Japan: 0.1%


The U.S. has more people using opiates per year than Japan, by a margin of over 13.6 people per 100,000. By and large, punishments for drug possession are generally more severe in Japan than the USA. 


For this reason, cannabis has very few users in Japan – the fact there is a seven year prison sentence in the country for anyone who uses it makes supply very hard to find. However, comparing this to the USA is slightly unfair, as recreational cannabis use is legal in some U.S. states. 



Burglaries and Theft

Burglary rate per 100,000 people


USA: 714

Japan: 234


As an average, Japan has 480 fewer burglaries per 100,000 people than the U.S. It also has roughly three times fewer amounts of property theft compared to the North American country. By a similar measure, the U.S. has roughly 20 times as many car thefts compared to Japan.


Generally, this is due to the country’s advanced car security technology, and its strong belief in the protection of personal property. 






Fraud rate per 100,000 people


USA: 1.29

Japan: 0.3


Fraud crime levels are typically much lower in Japan than the U.S. Per 100,000 people, 1.29 fraudulent crimes are committed in the U.S. each year, whereas the same rate is around 0.3 in Japan


However, that’s not to say that fraud isn’t a problem in Japan. Although the country is comparatively safe in many aspects, fraud is a big deal, with the ‘Ore-Ore Sagi’ scam causing particular concern for the elderly population. Some ATMs in Japan even have signs warning people to watch out for older people being guided to them via phone. 


Because of this, Japan has particularly high levels of security for financial transactions, and Japanese banks are some of the most stringent in terms of fraud prevention. 



Total crimes

Total crime rate per 100,000 people


USA: 41.29

Japan: 22.39


On the whole, the total crime in Japan is much lower than the United States, with the former having a rate of 41.29 per 100,000 people, and the latter 22.39. However, naturally, this differs depending on what the crime is – for example, crimes in Japan are more likely to relate to property and fraud than violence or drugs. 


For example, one of the few areas where Japan tends to have a higher crime rate than the USA is bicycle theft. However, this is mainly because cycling is a lot more popular and affordable in Japan than the U.S. – so, there are a lot more bikes, and they tend not to be as secure as in the USA, leading to more thefts. 





Why is the crime rate higher in the USA than in Japan?

There are a number of different reasons why there is a vast difference in the crime rate in the USA and Japan. Some of the most prominent include the comparative economic disparity between the poor and wealthy, and societal values on law and order


For instance, new graduates at companies in Japan typically earn a value much closer to that of their superiors, and there are not the vast discrepancies seen in the U.S. Indeed, generally there is less separation between economic classes, the extent of which is often seen as a contributory factor towards poverty, and consequently, crime


There are some other arguable reasons, too. Getting hold of a gun is far easier in the USA than it is in Japan, for example. In fact, according to the 2020 Small Arms Survey, there were 120.48 firearms per 100 inhabitants, whereas Japan had only 0.3


This vast discrepancy is a result of lenient gun laws that the U.S. has always employed. By contrast, Japanese authorities deal harshly with gun ownership, and this has meant that there are fewer firearms out on the streets. The only guns you can get if you are a shooter or hunter are long guns, shotguns or rifles.


Asides from this, there are other indirect factors that may lead to the U.S. having a higher crime rate. These include Japan’s comparatively strong punishments for crimes like drug possession – indeed, the conviction rate for these offences in nearly 99%, meaning that most people who get arrested get sent to prison. 


And, it’s important to consider the difference in cultural attitudes and societal norms within both the USA and Japan. Japanese people are renowned for their belief in law and order in society, and value social cohesion highly


For example, arson is widely considered to be the worst of all crimes in Japan, for its damaging effect on the fabric of community life. It is seen as a crime that represents a disruption to social order, both physically and symbolically.


Of course, this is also the case in the United States, but arguably not to the same degree. Indeed, it isn’t just the USA that compares in this way to Japan – most developed countries also have higher crime rates. 



What is the age of criminal responsibility in Japan vs the USA?

The age of criminal responsibility differs between Japan and the U.S. In Japan, the age that a person becomes criminally responsible for their actions is 14. Whereas, in the U.S., this age is usually 18, although this can differ state-by-state. 


A recent amendment to Japan’s Juvenile Law has meant that 18 and 19-year-olds will no longer be seen by law as minors. This means that young offenders will be given harsher punishments than before, and will be given sentences with specified dates.


In both the U.S. and Japan, there are separate justice systems for offenders that fall below the criminally responsible threshold. This system is aimed at rehabilitation for juveniles, and usually seeks not to punish the offender, but to mold them into being more upstanding members of society. 


This is especially the case with Japanese prisons, where most guards are licensed teachers. They are in many ways educational institutions as much as they are physical confinement centers. 





How safe is Japan for Tourists?

On the whole, Japan is considered to be safe for tourists or other visitors who take a trip there. The country generally has some of the lowest crime rates in the world, especially compared to some other developed countries. 


However, that’s not to say that crime does not exist in Japan. Particularly in bigger cities and busy areas, there are specific safety concerns that need to be watched out for. These include pickpocketing and theft, and we’ve outlined some ways you can protect yourself against this below. 



Top Tips for Staying Safe in Japan

Although Japan has a good reputation for safety, it’s still worth bearing in mind some key tips for safety when visiting or working as an ALT. These are not necessarily exclusive to Japan, but are important to consider nonetheless:

  • Stay aware of your surroundings in busy areas: in crowded places such as train stations and city centers, check that your personal belongings are safe and protected. 

  • Protect your personal information: when sharing your personal information with people or organizations, be mindful of how it is going to be used. This may be sharing travel plans with strangers, or giving people your hotel address. You should also be careful with any phone calls that you receive from unfamiliar parties. 

  • Be careful with strangers: as with anywhere you travel to, you should be careful when dealing with strangers. Unfortunately, there may be people who don’t have the best intentions. In particular, be wary of anyone who tries to engage you in conversation or offers to show you around.

  • Trust your instincts: as a general rule of thumb, it’s important to use your common sense when travelling in Japan. If you find yourself in situations that you find uncomfortable, don’t be afraid to seek help or exit the environment. 

Top Teach Abroad Providers: Safety

Did you know Interac are winners in the 2023 Go Overseas Community Choice Awards? We won 2nd place in the Safety category, so if you teach with us you know you’re in safe hands. 


Safety is one of the most important factors we ask reviewers to rate; almost every program on Go Overseas (even those that aren’t in the teach abroad category) is rated on safety. In particular, we want to know how teachers felt about the safety of their school and the local community.”



The last word on Japan vs US Crime Rate

Thanks for reading our comparative guide to Japan vs US crime rate. For any ALT wanting to explore a new life in a different country, it’s always worth knowing how safe your future home will be. 


And, if you value social cohesion and a stable public life as much as the Japanese people do, then Japan may well be the country for you. 


If you’d like similar information about the rest of Japan, check out other guides to Japanese life and culture, from food, to entertainment, to public transportation.


Get in touch with us today for more help on Japanese social customs, careers and more.


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About the Author

Brian McDonough is a consultant at Interac, Japan’s largest provider of ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers). Originally from the US, Brian has lived in Japan for over 25 years, giving him a unique perspective on the cultural differences and challenges people face when moving to Japan. He has first-hand experience of working in Japan as an American.