Adachi-ku is really not that bad

Many of you know that Adamu lives in the Ayase neighborhood of northeast Tokyo. I also lived there for two years until moving to the west side of town earlier this summer, mostly at the behest of my new wife.

Adamu and I have both mentioned Ayase on the blog from time to time, mostly in relation to local crime-related happenings. So a reader recently asked us:

I am currently looking to move to the Nishi-Arai area, but it seems that when I ask a Japanese about Adachi-ku they all say that it is dangerous and low class. I asked a Police Officer in Kita-Senju and he said that there isn’t much violent crime, but maybe I would have to deal with loud bosozoku or getting my bicycle or umbrella stolen. For me, that is a fair trade off for drastically reduced expenses and good access around Tokyo. Anyway, I did check out the Nishi-Arai area with my own eyes and it seemed quite nice and all the people were friendly and polite. So am I missing something here or is it just the over paranoid Japanese who think more about image vs. reality?

I would say “you are not missing anything here.” Adachi-ku is, objectively speaking, a pretty good place to live. It’s convenient to central Tokyo, has many good local amenities like parks and shopping centers, and is quite cheap even compared to more distant suburbs. The perception of a high crime rate probably has more to do with the handful of high-profile incidents that have occurred there, but this is hard to avoid in any highly-populated urban area. That said, Adachi-ku is predominantly a working-class area, and this leads to some non-obvious drawbacks to living there, mainly if you plan to have a family.

One of the biggest black marks against Adachi-ku is apparently its public school system. Working-class areas of Tokyo are known for having very crappy schools which teach at such a low level, and have such a working-class student culture, that their students rarely go on to meaningful higher education (there is a discussion of this phenomenon in western Tokyo here). My wife claims that her mother once told her “If you don’t study harder, you’ll have to go to school in Adachi-ku.” It isn’t a great place to have kids.

Likewise, it can be very uncomfortable for middle-class Japanese people to socialize with their neighbors because of the class gap. This isn’t a big deal if you are a single foreign person who can socialize away from home, but if you have a Japanese stay-at-home spouse it can be problematic.

Those two factors are probably the biggest reasons why rent is comparatively low in Adachi-ku: people who are well-off enough to have families tend to avoid the area in favor of “more genteel” suburbs like Setagaya.

On another note, Adachi-ku is overpopulated and its infrastructure sometimes hasn’t quite gotten up to speed. Some train stations were built when the area was largely farmland, and don’t really have the capacity to deal with a crush of tens of thousands of people every day. Commuting to and from Ayase Station was something of an ordeal: in the morning, the outbound platform would always be full to the brim with people waiting for the next originating train to the city, and in the evening, you had to be right by the staircase when the train stopped, or else you would quickly get lost in a mob of wobbly salarymen and women clogging up the stairs. The Tobu Isesaki Line seems to be similar but perhaps a bit better (it’s comparatively easy to get a seat on an originating Hibiya Line train at Kita-Senju, even during rush hour).

Is it dangerous? Not really. Lock your doors and windows, lock your bike, keep your umbrella with you, and you will probably be fine. If you want to verify this, check out the Metropolitan Police’s violent crime map.

27 thoughts on “Adachi-ku is really not that bad”

  1. Jeeze. I live in a neighborhood that has a reputation for safety in a city that has a reputation for safety in a city in North America and I’m still wary about running afoul of the guys slinging the crack rock two blocks over. Umbrella theft don’t rate.

  2. Totally. Even the most dangerous neighborhood in all of Japan would rate as a pretty damn safe neighborhood in basically any city, large or small, in North America. (Possibly with a caveat exempting the sketchiest, least residential areas, like Kabuki-cho or whatever.)

  3. An old girlfriend of mine worked as the head pharmacist in a major hospital in Adachi-ku. She and her friends, who worked as clinicians, surgeons, anaesthetists etc, regularly told me that care and facilities rank among the lowest in Tokyo. Even discounting for the way in which people usually gripe about work and talk themselves down, they seemed deadly serious. I may have mentioned before that her plan of action if she had an accident there was to crawl to a taxi and take it to a neighbouring ward.

    I’m sure you can often get good treatment, just as you can get a decent education. However, if you are bringing up reservations about the quality of schools then it might be worth mentioning the same about healthcare.

  4. “I live in a neighborhood that has a reputation for safety in a city that has a reputation for safety in a city in North America and I’m still wary about running afoul of the guys slinging the crack rock two blocks over.”

    That, and the power company doesn’t seem to blink an eye when there is an outage for two or three days. Are the worst public schools in Tokyo as bad as the best in DC?

  5. Adachi-ku and Ayase are totally fine to live in. That said, some shit goes down here.

    Tonight a crazy woman decided to sit on the sidewalk in front of the MiniPlaza. I asked if she was ok and she just nodded. Others asked the same, got her to stand up. She stood around for a while and fucked off.

    Also, on August 6, near the Tokyo Detention Center in Ogura, Katsushika-ku (very close to Ayase) a 60 year old man committed suicide by stabbing himself in the throat with a kitchen knife then bleeding to death in an open lot.

  6. Likewise, it can be very uncomfortable for middle-class Japanese people to socialize with their neighbors because of the class gap.

    This reminds me of Tsuruga, a small city in Fukui where I’ve lived (mostly) since 1995. I’ve never minded living there, but my wife (who is from Tsuruga) often gets frustrated with the provincial/slacker attitudes of her neighbours, most of whom work in the construction industry that services the many, many local nuclear power plants. There are a fair number of folks from the Ibaraki nuclear towns (Tokkai-mura, Oarai), but they mostly live in their own little world, attending private kindergardens and schools, and live in company housing or expensive rented condominiums.

    Funnily enough, as a non-Japanese person (ie, a “foreigner”) I find the more educated people are (the higher their class), the more obnoxious they can be to deal with, whereas more “blue collar” folks are typically more friendly and laid back, with fewer issues about my foreign-ness. Probably why I’ve stayed connected to Tsuruga for so long!

  7. I’m not sure about Adachi-ku, but if you’re considering living out in that area, I say you should continue on the Jyoban Line further into Chiba. Kashiwa is one of the nicest places I’ve lived in Japan, and there is very little of this kind of working class stuff you guys are mentioning.

    The rent might be a bit more expensive than Ayase, but it’s still lower than Tokyo prices, and you have access to quite a few convenient shopping areas. Also, the city facilities are excellent, and there is a lot of help here for foreigners living within the city limits. There are also a lot of great services for families with new babies and small children. It takes roughly an hour from Kashiwa to Shinjuku, but that’s not that bad considering the surroundings.

  8. I’ve been living in Ayase for 6 years, the only place I would move to in Tokyo, is Meiji jingu mae or Nippori. The great thing with Ayase is that there are many parks, outdoor pool, onsen not so far and many supermarkets.
    Concrete jiken happened many years ago, there are nothing happening now; You can find just some crazy people that you will find in any other places in Tokyo.
    The most dangerous places in Tokyo are Shinjuku or Shibuya but compared to US or Europe is nothing. The scariest place in Japan I’ve seen, is probably Osaka Airin chiku but nothing like that in Tokyo neighborhood.
    The only thing in Adachi-ku is the new year eve in Nishi Arai Taishi, chimpira everywhere but it’s kind of fun.

  9. “Are the worst public schools in Tokyo as bad as the best in DC?”

    American problem seems to be drugs and violence in some contexts (The Wire) and, according to a recent Newsweek expose, unionized teachers. Apparently, there are plenty of teachers who show up, read the newspaper, and don’t teach because they know that they can’t be disciplined. There is also massive resistance to any kind of performance evaluation (which rots me – part of my job performance evaluation is based on asking students “how do you rate his knowledge of the subject matter?”).

    In Adachi, I expect that, if there really is a problem, it is not violence, but rather students “taking over” classrooms to the point that nothing gets done.

  10. nowhere dangerous really unless you count Sanya,
    or maybe Kotobuki cho in Yokohama.

    Mind you it’s different for gaijin and Japanese people
    and different rules apply.

    in London these days you will very easily get mugged for your
    phone or ipod which can be exchanged for class a and class b drugs.

    Picture that – can you imagine teenagers robbing you blind
    in Asadachi-ku ? No. I doubt it.

    Kabukicho is not dangerous I have been out there countlesss times.
    It is dangerous if you are a young vulnerable woman in the mizu shobai
    trade as you will be exploited and consumed but for your average
    blogging gaijin it’s as safe as houses.

  11. Muggings are almost unheard of in Japan, but sexual assault isn’t. I know most of the commenters here, and therefore probably readers as well, are men but I suspect that lone women have a lot more to worry about walking in some areas.

  12. “Likewise, it can be very uncomfortable for middle-class Japanese people to socialize with their neighbors because of the class gap.”

    I find this comment a bit troubling. Can’t your wife hang with the proles? Like one commenter here, I find the farmers and workers of Japan a little more accommodating than the intellectuals. Does that mean we gaijin are doomed to be proles ourselves? I don’t think so, but, discuss.

  13. Can’t your wife hang with the proles?

    It’s not an issue of “can’t.” It’s just more difficult. Picture a guy from Orange County hanging out with guys in an East Coast inner city. They might be friendly, but they won’t have a heck of a lot in common and they are bound to make each other uncomfortable on a regular basis.

    It’s easier for transplants to feel equally comfortable with different subgroups because we already have a sizable cultural gulf between ourselves and any other sector of the native Japanese population. For natives, though, it’s much easier to understand the group in which they grew up.

  14. Sorry can I just add . .

    there are a lot of bad and dangerous people down in the 海の家
    in katase enoshima at this time of year. all the Shibuya yaks hang out there
    and there were a couple of stabbings last year.

    it really is where a lot of beach-loving effluent flows via the Odakyu line

  15. Shutsubotsu! Ad Machikku has done spots on Adachi-ku before, the shrine, the new Toneri Liner, etc. and it looks like a great place to live. Places with old style markets seem to me like they are more prone to elements that produce crime. In my area, Monzen-Nakacho is the closest example I can think of, and sure enough it is the reddest area near me on the crime heat map that Joe linked to.

    Don’t get me started on Katase Enoshima. If Shonan could floss, Katase Enoshima would be gone.

  16. Shutsubotsu! Ado Machikku Tengoku can make almost any place look good, through skillful photography, careful selection and good editing. I’ve gone to some of those places afterwards and been sorely disappointed. Nothing against Adachi-ku, mind you; the home of Atsumi Jiro, Tochiazuma and Adamu-kun can’t be half bad.

  17. I basically did, too. Most of my education has been in the inner city of some American metropolis, and Adachi-ku is basically better than any of those places. But I’m not Japanese (or Marxy) so I don’t really give a crap about class distinctions.

  18. “But I’m not Japanese (or Marxy) so I don’t really give a crap about class distinctions.”

    well said.

  19. I live just across the river from Adachi-ku in Minami Senju, right next to the Sanya neighborhood mentioned by Force. A lot of Japanese folks give me surprised looks when I mention I live there (most of the foreigners simply don’t know it), because for so long it had a reputation as a truly dangerous (as opposed to just ‘sketchy’) neighborhood (Director Michio Sato was murdered while trying to make a documentary about the day laborers here).

    But over the past decade or so, the place has gone through a near-complete transformation. A combination of concerted, organized long-term effort by the Arakawa-ku government and the realization by developers and home-hunters that there was land only 10-15 minutes from Tokyo-Akihabara-Otemachi (and only 5 minutes from Ueno) that was cheaper than similar plots an hour’s commute west from Shibuya and Shinjuku.

    The current Google Map view of Minami Senju is a year or two out of date, but basically the entire riverside (the area east of the station) has become a long, well-maintained park lined with very nice playgrounds and jogging paths, and there are now high-rise mansions just about everywhere. Since 2005, when I moved in, 3 new shopping centers have opened, as well as three public schools, a new hospital and at least a dozen specialist medical clinics. Since the neighborhood was planned essentially from the ground up, the streets were laid out in straight grids all with wide sidewalks and lots of greenspace, and all the utility lines were buried to eliminate the ubiquitous sky spaghetti that hangs over most of the streets in Tokyo.

    True, most of the things that make a neighborhood interesting to visit are in the older sections in and around Taito-ku or Sumida-ku, or heading over toward Nippori and Ogu, but as a place to raise a family with a 20-minute commute to work, it seems like a great place to me.

  20. That is a nice-looking area — I used to ride through the riverside park on my bicycle commute — though I mainly remember it because I saw a girl drop her pants and pee in the middle of the park one night. It may be safe but it’s still a bit hinky.

  21. Joe, are you actually implying that there are neighborhoods in Japan where people DON’T piss on the street?

  22. Incidentally, the current issue of Brutus is all about east Tokyo, from Ningyocho to Oshiage and Kita-Senju. Lots of nice-looking restaurants listed.

  23. I saw someone walking a 500 pound gray pig on a leash in front of my apartment the other day.

  24. Someone here mentioned Airin-chiku in Osaka – I’ve been there a number of times and I think it’s safe to say it’s by far the “diciest” place I’ve yet been. Commonly referred to as 釜ヶ崎, anyone with an interest in the homeless mecca of Kansai should hop off at Shin-imamiya station and take a look around.

    I’m moving to a far more suburban and “nice” (read: boring) area this weekend, actually, but I’ve spent quite some time living a ways west of Keihan Fujinomori, home to a large number of small trucking and waste disposal companies, and thus according to locals is a prime yazuka gathering ground. Men with shaved heads dressed all in white with heavy tattooing are a fairly common site at the convenience store about 1 minute from my apt. ^^

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