05 July 2004

Crime and Japan

The Japanese have begun to fear crime in the same irrational way as Americans. One of the interesting (if not pleasing) things I discovered on this trip to Japan is that the Japanese are starting to fear crime. After decades of essentially having no crime, in the last ten years Japan has begun to have a little crime. To us, it still seems like the safest place on the planet, but to them its a rising wave of lawlessness. Virtually every Japanese person I talked to on this trip mentioned the increase in criminal incidents.

Sadly, the reasoning and cause both seem to echo some of the bad tendancies of America. A number of Japanese -- especially older ones -- blame the crime on the influx of immigrants, particularly from Korea and China. There are more Koreans and Chinese working in Japan these days as the demographics of a rapidly aging Japan take hold. Whether that really has anything to do with crime is unclear; especially since the criminals chronicled in the media (at least) seem to be mostly homegrown.

What is clear is that, just as in America, it's the media coverage of crime that is generating the fear of it. Statistically, America is actually quite safe and getting safer; as you can guess from that, statistically this "crime wave" in Japan just doesn't register. Nevertheless, given the ceaseless reporting of crime, as well as a few admittedley sensational incidents like the recent 11-year-old stabbing, it's on the mind of everyone there.

Both "Bowling for Columbine" and "Fear: Why Americans are Afraid of the Wrong Things" are good places to follow up this topic.

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