Where do you go if you want to walk around on the streets alone in the middle of the night or if you don’t want to have to carry your wallet in your front pocket? One of your best options is Japan.
A recent study by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) came up with safety rankings for 50 of the world’s cities. Tokyo topped the list, and its neighbor, Osaka, came in third. Southeast Asian city-state Singapore was second, and European hubs Stockholm and Amsterdam rounded out the top five.
Unguarded vending machines are everywhere in Tokyo, but they are never robbed (Photo: General Eccentric/flickr)
Tokyo is at the center of one of the world’s largest metro areas. The city proper is home to 13 million-plus people, but the sprawling metropolis has more than 35 million inhabitants. Despite all these people living together in relatively close proximity, the crime rates are extremely low. The biggest problem in the Land of the Rising Sun is bicycle theft: 6.6 riders per 100,000 found themselves wheel-less after their bikes were stolen.
One illustration of the lack of crime in Tokyo is the vast number of vending machines, which are everywhere on the streets, even in the busiest boroughs. These coin- and drink-filled boxes sit unguarded right on the curbside, yet break-ins are rare.
Singapore is as safe at night as it is during the day. (Photo: William Cho/flickr)
The same type of dynamic can be found in Singapore, the Southeast Asian city-state where you can walk around in the middle of the night without worry. Singapore has a notoriously strict set of laws to deter everything from drug use to larceny to violent crime. It also shares two traits with the other cities at the top of the EIU rankings: economic wealth and social services.
Everyone in Singapore has access to affordable public housing, for example. Stockholm, meanwhile, has an extensive welfare system that leaves hardly anyone homeless or in dire poverty. Also, both cities have very high per capita incomes.
North America did make an appearance near the top 10 of the EIU rankings. Toronto earned eighth place with one of lowest murder and robbery rates in the Americas, despite a metro area that is home to more than 5 million people. An anti-gun campaign, meant to curb the already-low instances of gang violence, has dropped the murder rate even further in recent years.
Perhaps the biggest surprise, to some, is New York City’s rank on the EIU index. The Big Apple sits in the 10th spot. The city is certainly more dangerous than Tokyo. However, New York has had a huge drop in crime recently. There were more than 2,000 murders annually in the five boroughs during the crack epidemic of the 1990s. That number has now dropped to fewer than 400 per year. There is a massive police presence in areas frequented by tourists, and gang activity has been reigned in to a large extent.
Here are the top 10 safest cities, according to EIU:
- Osaka, Japan
- Melbourne, Australia
- New York City
Jakarta scored at the very bottom of the list of the world's safest cities. (Photo: Blek/flickr)
What about the bottom of the index? Cities that are well known for violent crime, like Johannesburg, South Africa, and Mexico City, were among the lowest scoring of the 50 metros surveyed. Other low-scoring cities, such as Jakarta and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, have a large number of traffic deaths annually despite not having the highest violent crime rates.
Aside from the obvious variables of personal safety and infrastructure, the EIU also looked at health security (the availability and quality of healthcare) and even took digital security into consideration. These are things that are important to residents, but less vital for people who are looking for a safe place to visit.
Of course, the safety index could be seen as somewhat subjective. Many “dangerous” cities have districts or areas that are completely safe and crime-free. And some people might argue that the EIU's safest city, Tokyo, can be a nerve-wracking place to visit because it's prone to earthquakes.
However, the EIU safety study does answer the first questions that most travelers ask: Am I going to get robbed or mugged or hit by a car when I am visiting this city?
Data from the U.S. FBI and the World Bank offers a wider view of crime and safety by focusing on countrywide stats instead of just on cities.