Crime and Punishment


Japan is still perhaps, the safest place to live in the world, with fewer crimes than in any other country.
During the mid eighties, the number of crimes reported were about 12.5 %, of the American figure of 13.21 million. One reason for the low crime rate is the hashutsujo (police box) and the chuzaisho (Live in police box), they are to be found in many places in the towns and cities, near a railway station, on a street corner, and so on. They keep a register of local residents, and become very familiar with the local people. A stranger to the area would be noted, and if you are a foreigner, a closer examination by a policeman might be in order. The police boxes are also useful in that, when a crime does take place, the police can respond quickly. Maybe, another reason for low crime in Japan, is the neighborhood committee. They do make it their business to familiarize themselves with new residents, especially in the countryside where they take themselves more seriously, often a feeling of intrusiveness is felt, especially if like me, you come from a large city, where people go out of their way to avoid any kind of contact with one another, and would be both deaf and dumb if a crime did occur.
That was Japan, up until the end of the 1980s, how about now?
A once Safe Place to Live?
Sadly, the crime rates are on a steady upward path, politicians are at a loss on how to deal with it. Crimes committed by minors are growing alarmingly, politicians are wanting to lower the age in which a minor can be tried for his or her crime. As the law stands now, a 14 year old youth on younger, committing murder will be sent to a reform school for a few years, then released into society again. The youth will only appear in a family court (the lowest court in Japan, usually dealing with divorces and such), no mater how serious the charges brought against him. Also the names of convicted youths are not publicized, in order to protect the youth? Politicians and the NPA (National Police Agency) have realized at long last, that the punishment meted out to these young criminals is not severe at all and does nothing to discourage future youths from committing any kind of crime.
The NPA used to blame foreigners for the rise in crime, but just recently they have stopped doing so. We are only a National security risk, especially if the alien card laws were repealed, according to a statement made by the NPA late last year (1998).
Japan has always had it share of wicked malefactors, from serial child rapists and murderers to the Aum Shinrikyo, who were responsible for carrying out the gas attacks on the Tokyo subway trains, and who are still battling it out in court.

The Young Criminal:

Recently young offenders committing serious crimes has risen sharply, crimes against people is especially of concern in a country where such acts were nearly unheard of. The recent fad of youngsters to go "salary man bashing" seemed to bring complete dismay to the Japanese adult population.
Children committing crimes against other children has risen. It used to be only bullying at school, which incidentally saw a drop last year. Taking money from weaker children and bullying were quasi-acceptable pass times for stronger kids. Or at least it appeared so, considering the inaction taken by schools and other authority figures to halt this practice. Now, I think the stakes have been raised by disaffected youths who see the leaders of Japan committing crimes and receiving only a "slap on the wrist". Many people say that society in Japan is breaking down, social values are being lost. It is the young people today who will decide Japans future tomorrow. Truancy from schools is rising, apathy towards, teachers and schools in general is increasing. What happened? Maybe too much pressure has been put on children to achieve a higher and yet, higher standard of achievement for too long. The results we are seeing now is a backlash against society that could well have serious consequences for the well being of Japan in the not so distant future.
A popular subject on TV is the police. Documentaries follow a standard pattern of showing policemen at work. Picking up drunken salary men from the sidewalk, stopping drunken salary men fighting, the odd road accident scene and finally the police and how they tackle the Bosozoku, youth gangs on motor bikes and driving cars. If you watched the movie, Black Rain, starring Michael Douglas, there were a couple of scenes depicting such a gang. The film was fairly accurate, although the ages of the gang members average at around 19 years old for both boys and also, girls. They make their cars and bikes as noisy as possible, drilling holes in the exhaust pipe, removing the muffler, etc. They seem to be aimless in their driving, only wanting to cause the most disruption to other people, blocking a highway is one popular event for them. The police seem powerless to stop them causing havoc. The gang members often join crime gangs, when they get older and perhaps they already have an association with them while still in the youth gangs.
It has been reported that a young Japanese-Brazilian boy who was beaten to death last year (1998), by 50 gang members, were told to do so by a Yakuza boss (crime gang boss). It is said that he told the youths to go gaijin bashing. Perhaps in their desire to please him they went too far and murdered a young innocent boy. The gang members who were caught and convicted of this crime received a few years in prison.
Crime in general
Why is the crime rate going up? The answer in part, is in the preceding paragraphs. Politicians ask the same question, but appear blind to the truth. Especially as many public officials, have been convicted and will be convicted of crimes, but they do not go to prison! A high profile crime, recently, is that of a middle aged couple in Wakayama, who set out to poison their friends and acquaintances and claim the insurance money they had taken out on their lives. The wife has also been accused of attempting to poison her husband for the same reason. A festival in the summer of 1998, many people fell ill after eating curry, prepared by the neighborhood committee. Police, later found that it had been laced with poison. A young child died as a result of this crime. The same housewife has been accused of this crime too. It is the same substance used to poison her other victims.
I guess she will go to prison if and when she is convicted, or maybe, more deservingly be awarded the death penalty.
Another case that came to light last week (w/e January 12th) was that of young women being drugged and then being kidnapped. One young woman was found near her home. She had died from exposure, as the average temperature in Japan now is barely above 0?(January). A 23 year old man has been arrested for these crimes. He did it to steal their money and maybe had little concern for their well being after he had taken what he wanted. More on this story when he is sentenced.
As I have mentioned in this section and others, businessmen and politicians are largely corrupt in Japan, it reaches out into all parts of society. Hospitals, publishers, police, bankers, stock brokers, building contractors, public officials, lets not forget the politicians and many others.
With such a shameful list is it any wonder that there is a fall in social values and a youth who are adrift? The economic recession has also played its part in the higher crime rates, especially among young people. High school graduates are finding it very difficult to find a job now, even college graduates are not being employed. No lifetime jobs for them, in fact that promise made by employers is quickly becoming something from a bygone era.


The picture I may have painted here, may sound very bleak, for Japan it is, but compared to the rest of the world, this is still a safe country, for how many more years that will be so, is anybody's guess. You can still leave your shopping bag, camera, purse, etc. somewhere in public and it will nearly always be there on your return. I cannot say the same for my own city (London). Visit the Hall of Infamy to read about some of the criminals that I have selected for that section, from public officials (suspended sentence) to the most evil criminals in Japan.
If you have any comments send me an e-mail or submit it on my on-line form.

Update !

A revision to the juvenile law was proposed by the Cabinet on March 9th 1999. The amendment would be the first since the enactment of the juvenile law in 1948.
The proposal would allow prosecutors to make objections on points of law and evidence. They would also be able to appeal to a higher court. Three judges would hear the cases, instead of just a single judge.
These amendments would affect juveniles who are being tried for very serious offenses, where adults would face the death penalty or life in prison.
The law at present, defines a juvenile as a person under twenty years of age, and stresses rehabilitation ( Huh !) into society. There are, however, many people opposed to this amendment. The Japan Bar Federation, lawyers, political opposition parties, etc. They fear that the idea of rehabilitation will be forgotten and that juveniles will be treated the same as adults.
I would say goodbye to bad rubbish, if they are old enough to commit the crime then they should pay fully for it. These concerned groups, perhaps, don't realize or care to think about, are the rights of the victims. As it stands in the U.S.A, the criminals have far more rights and civil liberties than the victims. Japan should not follow down this same ugly road.

Some crime statistics

Source: National Police Agency

Violence against teachers in 1998
446 cases - Up over 20%
Students arrested for violence against teachers, 569 in 1998 - Up 7.6%

Source: National Police Agency

January - November 1998. Teens aged from 14 to 19 years old.
144,228 were arrested. Up 3.1% from a year ago.
Murder, murder robbery and fatal assaults, 257 arrests.
15.5 criminal violations for every 1,000 juveniles.
Children aged under 14 committing crimes, 24,712. Up 4.4% from the year before.
Thefts: 91,922, up 2.4%
Violent crimes: 15,969.
Vicious crimes, murder/robbery and murder, 2,055.
36,900 arrests were girls. More than double from the previous year.

Source: National Police Agency

Thefts by foreigners from January - June 1998
Foreigners arrested for criminal offenses: 2,414, down 12.8% from last year.
There were 11,589 cases, down 12.8% from last year.
Gross number including burglaries: 2,786 up 19.7%
Crimes committed by two or more people: 53.1%
Thefts committed by six to nine people: 689
Thefts committed by 10 or more people: 2,312