Equip Yourself with Emergency Numbers When Visiting Japan

It doesn’t matter whether you’re visiting the safest country on earth, or the most dangerous republic, it’s vital to know what to do and whom to call in case of an emergency in the specific location you will be in. It may be as simple as dialing “911” where you’re from, but because emergency numbers aren’t always universal, a little research goes a long way. 

When it comes to Japan, there are a set of specific numbers and protocols that everyone, including tourists, should know about just in case something unfavorable were to happen. 

Because there are many kinds of unpleasantries that could happen that call for different solutions, it’s best to at least brush up on the various telephone numbers to dial in an emergency event in the different parts of the country.

English Translations for Emergency Numbers in Japan

Because Japan is quite modern and technologically advanced, you will see that many phones have English translations on their payphones for what to dial in case of an emergency. In fact, they even have pictographs that indicate the difference; a police car to indicate the number to call the police, and a firetruck to alert the fire brigade. You don’t even have to swipe your card or enter a coin; these lines are toll-free. 

Some public pay phones have a specific button colored red that you should press for emergencies. This is called the “kinkyu tsuho” button, which is a special button that you must first press that will subsequently allow you to dial in the required emergency number. Now, you can ring this number directly from the privacy of your cell phone.

110 – The Number That Rings the Police

To dial the police, press “110” on any telephone around Japan. Use this in case you witnessed or were a victim of a crime, or witnessed/are part of an accident. This is for the immediate attention of a police officer, who will make his/her way to you as soon as possible. 

There are police consultation services that in English, but they are only open from Mondays to Fridays, from 8:30 AM to 5:15 PM. Their number is 03-3501-0110.

119 - The Equivalent of 911: Japan’s Emergency Number

If someone become sick, injured, or in need of medical assistance, dial 119. This number is also used in case there is a fire. When this number is called, emergency services can trace the location from where you’re calling from, but it’s still important to give the operator the specific address of where the incident is taking or took place.

In case you aren’t sure if the person you are with needs medical attention and need assistance on the matter, dial 7119. 

Other Emergency Numbers

Some emergencies happen while you’re out at sea. In this case, you have a maritime emergency, for which you call 118. They are more likely prepared with the right training and equipment for use in water to help you out.

Japan has many earthquakes, so when an emergency happens that is specific to that catastrophe (like if a chunk of cement fell in front of your house, and you can’t get out), that is the job of the team behind earthquake assistance. You may phone earthquake assistance by dialing 171.

There is also a hotline that you can call to handle cases of violence, however, it is not specified whether these services are available in English. The number for the violence hotline is 03-3580-2222.

Services for Counselling and Urgent Matters

  • If you need medical support that isn’t as urgent but still needs to be attended to, you can contact the AMDA International Medical Information Center. The number of the branch in Tokyo is 03-5285-8088. There are English, Thai, Chinese, Korean, and Spanish service is available from 9 AM to 8 PM daily, Portuguese is available from 9 AM to 5 PM on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, Filipino is available from 1 PM to 5 PM on Wednesdays, and Vietnamese is available from 1 PM to 5 PM on Thursdays.
  • There’s also an Osaka branch, whose telephone number is 050-3598-7574. This number can handle only three languages; English, Spanish, and Chinese, and is open from 9 AM until 5 PM from Mondays to Fridays.
  • For foreigners who have particularly urgent questions that no one knows the answers to (and can’t be answered by google search), there’s Japan Helpline, which you can try calling at 0570-000-911. For counseling services, there’s “TELL”, which stands for Tokyo English Life Line. They can help you with matters that are connected to mental health. The TELL lifeline number is 03-5774-0992.
  • For those who think they may have contracted AIDS and need counseling, or help to find a clinic that will test you, you can contact the Japan HIV center, which is a non-profit center that will help you out and will not discriminate against your creed, nationality, religion, or illness. Their number is 03-5259-0256, and they’re only open from 12 PM to 3 PM on Saturdays. 
  • There’s also Charm that offers support and counseling in different languages (Their English, Spanish, and Portuguese lines are open from 4 PM to 8 PM on Tuesdays, Thai line is open from 4 to 8 PM on Wednesday, and Filipino/English on Thursday, also 4 PM to 8 PM.). Their number is 06-6354-5901.

For more information on AIDS, try dialing 0120-461-995.

Emergency Numbers for Immigration Problems

In case you encounter problems or have specific questions regarding Japan’s immigration system, you can call the phone number of the immigration bureau in your region. The amount of help you will receive is relative, as it all depends on the person who answers the phone, and some may be more helpful than others. Your best bet would be to explain your immigration troubles to someone who can speak both English and Japanese, and have that person talk to the person from the immigration bureau on the phone.

The number of Regional Immigration Bureau in Tokyo is 03-5796-7111. They’re open only from 9 AM to 12 PM, and 1 PM to 3 PM on weekdays. Each bureau has a different number, so places like Sapporo, Sendai, Narita Airport, Osaka, etcetera, will have different numbers that you can easily research online.

What to Say When You’re on the Phone with An Operator

You may be intimidated to call any of these numbers because of a possible language barrier. In case the operator does not understand English, and there is no one around you to help translate or relay it in Japanese, here are a few helpful tips that could save a life.

  1. Speak slowly. Because of the sudden event that caused the emergency, you may start panicking and talking quickly, which makes it hard for operators to understand. 
  2. Keep a few phrases of Japanese handy in a note app on your phone, or a piece of paper, so you can write what is most likely to be said in case of an emergency. Listed below are a few examples you may deem important to remember.

How A Dialogue Might Go

In the circumstance of calling 119, the person who answers will ask whether the emergency of the caller is that of a fire (“kaji desu ka” – “is it a fire?”) or one in need of an ambulance (“kyuukyuu desu ka?” – “or acute care?”). For instance, you’re dealing with a fire. You thus reply, “Kaji Desu”, which means “There’s a fire”. If it were an emergency that needed an ambulance, you reply, “Kyuukyuu desu”, which means “There’s an emergency”. 

To assess the gravity of the situation, the dispatcher will ask you what exactly happened to have caused it. By that, he will say something like, “Dou shimashita ka?” which is Japanese for “what happened”. Your reply can be as specific or generic, depending on the arsenal of words you have ready to describe the situation.

Words to Describe Your Emergency

  • You can say “Kega desu”, which means “I’m injured”. 
  • “Mune ga taihen kurushii desu” means that someone is having chest pains.
  • “Kou netsu desu” explains that someone has a high fever.
  • “Dokubutsu desu” indicates that a poisoning took place.
  • “Ishiki fumei desu” works if someone passed out. 
  • “Shukketsu desu” states that someone is bleeding. 
  • “Koutsuu jiko desu,” tells him that a traffic accident happened. 
  • “Byouki desu” details that someone is generally just sick.

You then identify yourself, by saying your name, address “Juusho wa, [insert address]” desu, then “Denwa bangou wa [insert phone number] desu”.

Translation Services

There are emergency translation services available when it comes to medical matters. They can help you interpret what you’re trying to say, or understand what the person/people around you is/are trying to tell you. The number for this is 03-5285-8185. The languages available for translation are English, Spanish, Thai, Chinese, and Korean. They are only open from 5 PM to 8 PM on weekdays, and 9 AM to 8 PM on weekends, as well as Holidays. 

Call When Only Necessary

Anyone who decides to dial an emergency number in Japan when there is no real emergency will be apprehended, most especially if it is a prank. These services are used for people who are critically hurt, ill, or in danger, and are taken very seriously. So, if you have a simple stomach ache that doesn’t seem to be life-threatening, for instance, there are other ways to treat yourself than call emergency services.

Possible Catastrophes That Could Elicit an Emergency

The probability of you experiencing a catastrophe that could be a cause for an emergency depends on where in Japan you are. In Tokyo, the buildings are very stable, so the probability of one collapsing is low. You’re more likely if ever, to see more medical emergencies, because of the sheer density of people in that area, and having an aging population. Someone fainting in the train, or a traffic incident is more realistic.

Illnesses aside, Japan is predisposed to more catastrophic events because of how its island group is geographically positioned. Most of the country is situated along the Pacific ring of fire, which means that the tectonic plates around this area move a lot, thus, the country experiences many strong earthquakes. This is also why Japan has so many volcanoes and mountains. Earthquakes along the sea also cause tsunamis, which can swallow hundreds of structures, if large enough. During August and September, Japan also goes through its annual typhoon season, where it is battered with strong gusts of wind and copious amounts of rain.

Crime Rates in Japan

Aside from calamities, there is also the possibility of a crime being committed against you – however, the probability of that is also very low. It isn’t news that Japan is known for its safety and the honesty of its people. Statistics even prove that it’s safer than any U.S. city. If you leave a bag somewhere, chances are, it’ll still probably be there when you get back. That does not mean to say that crimes do not happen at all because they do.

Common crimes include pickpocketing, and being charged incredible amounts for a night out to the credit card of the customer, unbeknownst to him/her. Many foreigners complain of having their drink tainted with a drug, as they are forced to give money to the perpetrator while they are under the influence of the drug. More violent (albeit rarer) circumstances of violent crime include a stabbing incident that occurred in July 2016, where a man stabbed 19 people in a hospital that housed disabled patients.

These are all situations that call for the attention of the police. Invest in an app that can help you translate from English to Japanese that can help you while you travel, and in case of emergency.

Are Visitors Likely to Experience An Emergency Situation When Visiting Japan?

Most visitors who come to Japan rarely encounter any trouble. In fact, they are most often pleased that it is so incredibly peaceful and that people are helpful and hospitable. It still pays to be ready in case anything unfavorable should happen, and it isn’t hard to keep note of these numbers, and a couple of Japanese phrases that could prevent a disaster from going further south, or save your own life.