|Japan's foreigner crime
By Hussain Khan
Japan seems caught in a media frenzy - without much
justification - about crime committed by foreign
nationals, a perception that is a growing problem for
multinational business people, tourists and just about
everybody else but the Japanese, who seem determined to
blame their crime problems on everybody but themselves.
Writing about the perception of deteriorating
law and order, the daily Yomiuri Shimbun in a
Japanese-language editorial recently pointed to what it
perceived as increasing foreign-instigated crime in
Japan and commended all political parties for vowing in
bloodthirsty stump speeches during the recent electoral
campaigns to do something about it. But, the paper
lamented, none of the politicians has come out with any
specific proposals to quell foreign-instigated crime.
Despite the rising tide of rhetoric, however,
there seems to be very little foundation for concerns
about foreigners. The National Police Agency recently
published a White Paper on foreign crime in Japan.
Unfortunately for the media and the politicians, the
paper acknowledged that foreign-instigated crime had
actually fallen in 2000 and 2001.
increased thereafter - which is somewhat natural as the
numbers of foreigners in Japan has increased markedly as
well, meaning that even if the percentages of crime
committed by foreigners drop, real numbers are probably
bound to increase. A record 1,851,758 foreigners
registered with immigration authorities as of last
December 31, a 4.1 percent increase from the high
recorded a year earlier, according to data released by
the Justice Ministry's Immigration Bureau.
number of foreign nationals in Japan to study came to
110,415, breaking for the first time the 100,000 mark
targeted by the government in 1983, according to the
bureau. The number of registered foreigners is
equivalent to 1.45 percent of the nation's total
population of 127,435,350 as of October 1. While the
nation's overall population grew 2.3 percent in the past
decade, the number of registered foreigners grew 44.5
percent in the same period.
are from 183 countries and territories, with Koreans
comprising 33.8 percent of the total, followed by
Chinese (22.9 percent), Brazilians (14.5 percent),
Filipinos (9.1 percent), Peruvians (2.8 percent) and
Americans (2.6 percent). Tokyo accommodates the largest
proportion of foreign residents, accounting for 18.1
percent. Osaka, Aichi, Kanagawa and Hyogo prefectures
The above statistics indicate that the
total number of crimes has doubled since 1980, reaching
about 2.85 million, according to the police White Paper.
There are no statistics in the paper to prove that the
increase in foreign crime rate was commensurate with the
increasing percentage of foreigners in Japan.
fact, despite the increase in the numbers of foreign
residents, foreign-instigated crime was only 1.39
percent of the total committed in Japan in 2002 - thus
below the statistical norm for the number of foreigners
in the population.
Crimes might have increased
by foreigners if they had remained unemployed, as in
most European countries. But in Japan, foreigners by and
large are already working, since it takes a
sponsor-employer to get into the country to work.
Nonetheless, sensational stories in the media on
foreign criminals are commonplace if sometimes
misleading. For instance, a two-hour show supposedly
dealing with foreign criminals was aired nationally by
NTV television recently that mainly depicted reporters
and cameramen following the police. More than a quarter
of the airtime was devoted to foreign crime, with no
interaction between police and foreigners except to
But it makes good politics. Two
days after the Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi
announced his new cabinet after his re-election as
president of the Liberal Democratic Party on September
20, three cabinet members, Justice Minister Daizo
Nozawa, Public Management Minister Taro Aso and National
Public Safety Chairwoman Kiyoko Ono, appeared on NHK
television and talked about foreign crime in their first
Nozawa said the prime
minister had charged him to make Japan the "world's
safest country" again. Kiyoko Ono was the most specific,
saying that foreign crime and youth crime were among her
But while Japanese eyes are
on foreigners, there is plenty of local activity.
Murders, robberies and other crimes committed in Japan
rose 16.6 percent year-on-year to 11,304 cases in the
January-June period, according to data compiled by the
National Police Agency. This figure marked the highest
level of crime since 1989, the earliest year for which
comparable data are available. Felony cases reported by
the police have surged 120 percent over the past 10
The number of serious crimes such as
murder and arson committed by juveniles also increased.
Such figures for juveniles under the age of 14 - the
minimum age at which offenders face criminal charges -
totaled 131 in the first half, up 87.1 percent from the
same period last year.
Commenting on the crime
situation, Nihon Keizai Shimbun noted: "Three categories
of crimes pose an especially serious threat to public
safety in Japan: juvenile crimes, which are growing in
both number and brutality; the rapidly increasing number
of offenses committed by foreigners; and crimes
involving gangs, who are quietly infiltrating ever
deeper into the fabric of society. Reducing these crimes
is crucial to turning around the worsening situation."
It is clear, however, that in these categories,
foreigners are neither involved with gangs, which are
composed of Japanese citizens, nor are there any minors
among foreigners coming to Japan to commit any juvenile
There is little public discussion by
Japanese sociologists on how to prevent the increasing
crime wave. In most societies, public crime can be
closely correlated with rising joblessness, an
increasing problem in Japan as the country has attempted
to work through its economic problems, restructure
companies and cut lifetime employment.
and the politicians have one solution: increase the
number of police officers. Almost all political parties
asserted in their election pledges to boost police
forces. The Democratic Party of Japan, for instance,
wants to recruit an additional 30,000 local police
officers over four years.
Given that the number
of citizens per officer in Japan is among the highest in
the developed world, a certain buildup is said to be
unavoidable. New Komeito's proposals to hire retired
officers and privatize some police duties related to
enforcing traffic rules merit serious consideration. The
Tokyo metropolitan government's plan to make its
employees available to law-enforcement authorities
should provoke discussion on the flexible use of staff
Nonetheless, the surge
appears to be more in public perception than actual
crime. About 142,000 juveniles were arrested under the
criminal law last year, about 70 percent of the peak
level in 1983. Among those aged under 14 who are not
subject to criminal penalties, 20,477 were taken into
custody by the police for violating laws, less than a
third the figure in 1981.
The number of
juveniles who committed heinous crimes such as murder or
burglary, after peaking in 1959, declined almost
continually until 1991, when the figure turned upward
again. The murder ratio, the percentage of murders by
males per 1 million population, is highest among the
late-teen and early-20s cohort globally, but in postwar
Japan, the ratio in this age bracket has continued to
plunge sharply in a movement counter to the world trend,
said Mariko Hasegawa, a professor at Waseda University.
"Japanese young people have become a group with an
exceptionally low murder ratio," she noted.
Still, juvenile delinquency is one of the most
important security issues to address. Juveniles commit
eight times as many crimes as adults do and account for
40 percent of those nabbed under the criminal law. They
are to blame for 70 percent of street crimes, such as
bag-snatching and motorcycle theft, which affects the
perceived safety of a society.
With many street
criminals evading arrest, the actual number of juveniles
who get involved in such wrongdoing is believed to be
much higher than the total shown in the statistics.
These young criminals typically form groups and
repeatedly offend, ganging up on the homeless or weaker
members of their own group. For such youths, strict
punishment as well as active exposure of their crimes
are effective in stopping them from engaging in
misconduct. According to Hasegawa, to prevent such a boy
from committing a crime, a medical and psychological
approach would be more effective than a severe penalty.
Professor Hasegawa attributed the falling murder
ratio among Japanese youth to the high level of
education available to a wider spectrum of people and a
lifetime employment system at companies in postwar
"With the Japanese economy and society
set to undergo a sea change, the ratio will rise in
years to come," she predicted. "It is vital to examine
what measures have been effective in deterring juveniles
from becoming involved in crimes and reflects the
outcome of the study in future steps."
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