Japan's Irrational Fear of (Phantom) Crime
Friday, November 17, 2006 Posted: 12:45 PM JST
Over the years I have done quite a few articles on crime in Japan. Delving into crime figures dating way back to the fifties I discovered that Japan is much safer today than is generally believed. Japanese newspapers and magazines often print screaming headlines about the increase in crime. Japanese TV, especially the 'wide shows', seem to show nothing but crime. They go into the tiniest horrifying detail.
There is a strong feeling among Japanese that crime is getting worse every year. Especially foreigners are blamed. The truth is that the only thing on the increase is fear, media coverage of crime and anti-crime measures. Companies selling security measures, news media and the police benefit from this irrational fear, so they continue fanning the myth. Crime in Japan has been falling for years. And foreigners play a far smaller role than is presented.
Today, the Asahi Shimbun has an excellent article on this phantom crime.
Koichi Hamai, a professor of criminology at Ryukoku University, is quoted as saying that you can't argue with the numbers.
"What was deteriorating first of all is people's perception of safety, not objective (figures on) crime situations," Hamai said. "It is clear from the data in the white papers."
Hamai worked for the Justice Ministry until 2003 and was once involved in writing the white paper.
Hamai points to a common perception that foreign criminals are a growing menace as an example of how the public's fear and the facts don't match.
According to the white paper, an increase in violent and organized crimes involving non-Japanese is fueling public fears.
While the number of general crimes dropped after 2002, the number of arrests and other police interventions into cases involving non-Japanese continued to grow, reaching a record 43,622 in 2005.
But Hamai notes that non-Japanese accounted for just 3.8 percent of the total for that year. "Suppose all non-Japanese were to be driven out of the country. How much would it reduce the crime figures?" he asked.
Many experts also question whether safety can be measures only in terms of the number of cases known to police.
Hiroshi Kubo, who was in charge of anti-crime programs at the Tokyo metropolitan government until 2005, is one of them.
"Figures that come to the fore are skewed by the views of both the public and police on what should be controlled," Kubo says.
It was not until 1999 and 2000 that police authorities began to actively crack down on stalking and domestic violence.
Before that, police generally steered clear of domestic troubles and other civil cases.
"The hurdles for reporting to police have become lower," Kubo says. "Society's growing intolerance is probably a factor."
Yoshiro Kawakami, a professor of social psychology at Seijo University, says the real threat comes from mounting anxiety, not increasing lawlessness.
In recent months, local governments have set up cellphone services to report on "suspicious" characters, and banks have stepped up security measures to identify customers.
When people learn about new anti-crime measures, they naturally conclude that "such safety steps are taken because safety is deteriorating," he said.
Local authorities will then respond to growing public fear by building up still more defenses against crime.
"A loop of this kind is expanding at an extraordinary pace,"
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