Walking home from work late one night, I was thinking gratefully of just how safe Tokyo is. Not once had I been hassled or mugged. Then suddenly, with a thud, I found myself on the ground. I got up to face my attacker. He was big. I relied on the tried and trusted response to danger that has served me well in the past: I sprinted to a nearby police station. I rushed in and blabbered that I had been mugged. Strangely, my attacker was right behind me. But the solitary policeman turned a deaf ear to my increasingly desperate pleas and insisted we both leave the station. He must have thought we were two drunks unworthy of his attention. My attacker was laughing heartily, no doubt relishing another round, when I managed to hail a taxi and hop in. The driver had the presence of mind to realise that my bruised, scratched face was no joke, and he rushed me away. One isolated incident does not mean a crime wave is hitting Tokyo. The Japanese capital is still a remarkably safe place for walking: it puts other major cities like London and New York to shame. But the streets are meaner than they were 10 years ago. The number of reported crimes last year in Tokyo reached nearly 300,000, more than double that of a decade ago. In response, the Metropolitan Police Department set up a task force last month with the aim of cutting crime back to 1992 levels. The faltering economy does not help. A sense of frustration is palpable. A recent magazine advertisement said, 'Salary cut, bonus slashed, stop complaining, everyone is suffering.' It reflects the begrudging acceptance here that things are expected to get worse. But there is no safety valve in the form of a viable opposition to hold the government to account, no outlet for protest. Sullenness has replaced revelry in the packed late-night train carriages. 'Salaryman' office workers now get drunk to forget their situation rather than celebrate their good fortune. Firms big and small are planning to lay off more workers this year. One result is xenophobia - crimes are widely blamed on foreigners. One locksmith advertises 'foreigner-proof' security locks. In eastern Japan, Shizuoka police distributed a handbook last year entitled, 'Characteristic crimes by foreigners in Japan'. In Tokyo's Nakano district, police recently put up signs saying, 'Beware bag-snatching foreigner groups', and another, 'If a bad foreigner calls out to you, keep your eyes on your purse or wallet.' For the record: my assailant was Japanese.