RIO DE JANEIRO – Takeshi Itai, a Japanese tourist attending the World Cup in Brazil, was visiting a slum, or favela, in the eastern region of Salvador when five men brandishing guns approached his taxi.
Luckily for Itai, a 34-year-old from Kitakyushu, Fukuoka Prefecture, the taxi was able to drive away before a robbery could take place.
“I’ll never go into a favela again. I never imagined I would have guns pulled on me,” he said, recalling the incident that occurred on June 11, a day before the opening of the World Cup, in one of the regions of Brazil known for its high crime rate.
Roughly a week into the monthlong tournament, Japanese spectators are already becoming victims of crimes such as pickpocketing, and mugging, and other forms of theft.
As of Monday, the Foreign Ministry said it was aware of at least three criminal cases targeting Japanese in Recife, in the northeast, where Japan played Cote d’Ivoire in their Group C opener on Saturday. Four other cases have been reported in Sao Paulo, the country’s largest city.
The ministry has issued a warning to Japanese tourists, urging them to be vigilant about their belongings, and avoid venturing into the favelas.
Itai, a seasoned traveler who has visited more than 50 countries, said the “atmosphere is really frightening in Brazil.”
The Foreign Ministry says more than 5,000 Japanese have traveled to the country to attend World Cup matches.
In a sprawling country where prices are comparatively high, many young people arrive at cheap hotels by bus and travel around on foot.
Unable to buy high-priced World Cup tickets themselves, there have been cases reported of some Brazilians snatching wallets in World Cup public viewing areas, tearing off wristwatches, or stealing smartphones out of their victims’ knapsacks.
In Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, there have been several cases reported of Japanese travelers who have had match tickets or large amounts of cash stolen.
But the Foreign Ministry does not have a full grasp of the situation as most of the victims will not report the incidents to the police or diplomatic missions abroad unless their passport is stolen.
On Monday, the Consular Office of Japan in Recife said a Japanese tourist had a bag containing their passport and tickets for Japan’s matches stolen.
The victim, who had spent the night with friends at an airport in Recife, noticed the theft after waking up. Their bag, which also contained a wallet with roughly 500 real (about ¥22,800) in cash and credit cards, as well as a camera and a computer, had been stolen.