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Scams in Japan

by Ewa Nowogorski

Where there are people, there will always be dishonesty. People who are greedy will sometimes go to great lengths to make more money than their efforts deserve. And that is why every country has its scams and scammers. Here we will talk about a couple of really common scams in Japan, and the people most susceptible to them.

The Drop and Swap

People in the service industry who handle your money, such as when you are paying them for a good or service, will sometimes “accidentally” drop your change and pick up similar looking (but less valuable coins or notes instead, handing you back less than what they should have, cheating you out of a little bit of money. This is a very small and petty scam that doesn’t usually zap all of your money, but it is illegal nonetheless, and you should always be weary of servers who drop your change.

The Restaurant Table Charge

Not a true scam, but many restaurants in Japan, especially drinking establishments,  will often charge 300-400 yen ($3-4 USD) per person at a table, compensating by giving you a tiny side dish that you did not order and cannot refuse, called an “otoushi”, or appetizer. These are often considered as table charges, and they exist as an insurance of sorts to the restaurant so even if the customer does nothing but drink one glass of beer and decides to take up the table for several hours, the restaurant will not be at a complete loss. Although this is definitely unfair for the customers who only intend to stay for a short period of time and are willing to pay for actual good food.

The Spiked Drink

Drink spiking is something you should always be alert about, even in Japan. Refrain from drinking alone, particularly in seedy-looking areas, as there have been reports of some shady bartenders or accomplices spiking the drinks of patrons. This scam is usually about money and occurs once you place an order, drink your beverage and then pass out afterwards.

Hopefully you won’t find yourself being aggressively woken up by people demanding payment from you or having already stolen your passport and emptied your wallet. In some intense cases, you could be dragged to a nearby ATM and forced to withdraw all your money. Unfortunately, sexual assaults on both men and women have been reported due to spiked drinks. It’s always best to stay with a group of people instead of partying alone.

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