Feeling safe and sound

Personal safety and security is a given in Japan, even while travelling on a packed train.

It was his butt that got my attention. The posterior belonged to a trendy young man but what got me staring was the oversized wallet sticking out of his back pocket.

I didn't see him earlier because the train we were in was packed and it was only when a good number of passengers got off that I saw him standing in front of me.

I was seated, so his tush was right at my eye level. If I were a thief, all I had to do was to reach out and nick the wallet as I got off. I don't think he would have been any the wiser.

Oh, did I mention we were on the subway in Tokyo?

That's why it was a sight unusual for me.

Of course, Malaysian men also keep their wallets in their back pockets but they are stuffed deep and tight. The only things that stick out of Malaysian male posterior pockets are cheap combs that no one will steal.

But from the day I arrived in Tokyo for my family holiday, I have noticed how chevalier the Japanese seem to be with their belongings.

I have seen so many women walking around, sitting or standing in the subway with their handbags unzipped and the contents quite visible to the curious. Like me.

Of course, the natives don't bat an eye. Not only that, they leave their bags or jackets to book tables in crowded food courts.

They do the same in Singapore, I know, but people there leave tissue packets or a water bottle, not expensive or valuable stuff. That's asking for trouble, even in Singapore.

But this is Japan where personal safety and security is a given.

When I was planning the holiday, I did worry a little about the radiation emanating from Fukushima, wondered whether we might experience an earthquake (we felt the ground give a shudder when we were in a department store but we couldn't be sure as no one else reacted to it), fretted over the weather and the clothes to pack, fussed over what medications to bring and calculated carefully how much yen to carry to last the whole trip.

But not once did I think I needed to lecture my children on keeping themselves and their belongings safe from pickpockets and snatch thieves.

That was my perception and now that we are on the tail end of our visit, nothing has changed that perception.

I feel safe even in my low budget hotel. I keep the passports, money and jewellery locked in my suitcase with nary a worry of break-ins.

My son who is sharing the room with me doesn't even bother to lock up his expensive headphones.

How can you not feel safe when you see policemen patrolling in cars, on bicycles and on foot?

How can you not think all is well when you see little schoolchildren, as young as seven or eight, taking the subway by themselves?

That, despite Japan's strange obsession with adults dressing up as schoolgirls and maids.

In the most crowded of streets like Shibuya and Harajuku, and popular theme parks like Disney Resort, there are no public signs to warn you of pickpockets or snatch thieves.

Even its red light district - our hotel is right next to it - doesn't seem to have the kind of seedy and dangerous connotation of red light districts in other cities.

That feeling of not having to keep a sharp eye over one's belongings is infectious and liberating.

After a day or two, I was walking around with my bag loosely slung over a shoulder and not clutched closely to my body, the way I would hold it back home.

I am still careful to keep it zipped, old habits die hard after all, but it is more to make sure my things don't fall out.

And it's crazy how many cyclists there are in this city who whizz past you on the sidewalk. I keep thinking one might accidentally hook the strap of my bag and cause an accident.

Again, it's amazing to see the many bicycles parked and unlocked with all sorts of accessories from baby seats to blankets to cushions left on them.

I write this on the penultimate day of our vacation.

We fly home tomorrow. It has been a really good break with the kids but soon it will be back to our dull grey lives.

I read about the kerfuffle over the latest crime statistics and cannot help feel sorry for our poor police force that continues to face an uphill task when it comes to public perception of safety in our streets and premises.

Anyway, I am not dwelling on this, not when I am so far away and feeling so safe.

That, of course, will change the moment we land in KLIA. Like our mobile phones, our personal safety radar will also be turned on again.

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