Murder in Japan

TOKYO —

Late last year, the outspoken new financial services minister, Shizuka Kamei, launched a blistering attack on corporate Japan, accusing it of raising the murder rate among families by laying off workers to increase profits. Meanwhile, the media is full of stories of heinous crimes and tragic victims. A recent poll showed a record high 86% of people support capital punishment.

In the face of these developments, not to mention rising inequality and poverty, you might think the wheels are coming off Japan’s famously ordered society.

But you’d be wrong. In some ways the exact opposite is true, especially when it comes to violent crime: There were fewer murders recorded in 2009 than in any year in the postwar era.

The 1,097 murders in Japan last year were, according to statistics from the National Police Agency (NPA), down 200 from the previous year, a third of the number in 1954. This is out of a population of 127 million, in the middle of the worst recession since the war.

This represents less than a tenth of the murder rate in the U.S., and a hundredth of that of the most violent countries in the Caribbean and South and Central America. So why, despite the tough times, are fewer Japanese people killing each other, and why do anywhere between 50% and 85% of the population think the country is becoming more dangerous?

One reason may actually be weakening interpersonal relationships. The biggest falls have been recorded in killings involving people who knew each other, which make up the majority of murders in most countries. The NPA said that grudges were the motivation for 466 murders in 1985, but only 194 by 2008.

Similarly, murders involving work relationships fell from 104 to 61 over the same period while those among friends and acquaintances fell from 317 to 254. Some commentators have suggested that in an increasingly impersonal society, fewer people actually appear to care enough about others to kill them.

Nobuko Sago, who helps run a telephone counseling service in Tokyo for people facing difficulties in their lives, believes there has been a weakening of ties, particularly between younger people in recent years.

Another cause is demographic, says Professor Koichi Hamai, a prominent criminologist from Ryukoku University Corrections and Rehabilitation Research Center.“One reason for the fall is the aging society, the number of people in their 20s — which is the peak age for murder — is falling, and with it, the murder rate is falling steadily.”

It is not only murder. Most types of crime have become scarcer across Japan. Contrary to popular perception, youth crime has also been dropping, and one of the few areas that is getting worse is actually crime by the elderly.

Hamai has researched the contradiction between increasing panic about crime, and the reality of the falling rate. One of his studies tracked crime reporting in the liberal Asahi newspaper over a 20-year period (1985-2004) when homicide rates trended downward. Even as the frequency of such incidents was falling, he found the number of articles that contained the words “heinous” and “murder” increased exponentially — inevitably leading many to get the erroneous impression that the nation was in the grip of a serious crime wave.

“The media coverage of murder cases has changed over the years: it’s much more sensationalist, it portrays offenders as monsters, and focuses in much greater detail on the victims and the cruelest elements of crimes,” says Hamai, who previously spent many years working in the Ministry of Justice.

Moreover, Japanese have a high level of trust in their media.

“People believe what is reported in the media in Japan, around trust 90% newspapers and 80% of TV. This is way higher than in other countries,” says Prof Hamai.

“In other research, I carried out 50% of people thought that crime had greatly increased in Japan, but only 4% felt it had in their neighborhood. That’s a huge gap,” he adds.

Jake Adelstein, who worked for 12 years on the crime beat of the Yomiuri Shimbun, believes crime stories are essentially a cheap and dependable alternative to other types of stories.

“The Personal Privacy Laws have made investigative journalism very burdensome and expensive, and a flood of court decisions against the media in libel cases further put a damper on edgy articles,” says Adelstein. “Articles on crime fill the gaps, and mistakes can be blamed on the police. Thus, it’s safe and cheap. It’s economics at work.”

Some older Japanese people like to reminisce, as do elderly folk in many places, how they used to be able to leave their keys in their doors. The truth is, they are probably safer doing it now than they have ever been.

If only someone would let them know it.

Special to GlobalPost

GlobalPost

Author Infomation

Moderator
Moderator
  • 0

    sharky1

    Leaving keys in doors??? Why would anyone do that??? I can see leaving the door unlocked, but leaving the key in the door is a bit odd. Good news about falling crime rates though. Could it be due to people becoming more civilized?

  • 0

    kyoken

    Leaving keys in doors??? Why would anyone do that???

    Both my grandmothers told me that they never had to lock her houses; that was normal for Germany before and shortly after the war.

    I also seldom lock my appartment door here in Japan if I am out less than an hour.

  • 0

    Branded

    "another reason for a low crime rate is"

    The fact that Japanese police don't do autopsies that could prove murder ! Another poster once wrote- you won't find what you don't investigate.

  • 0

    buggerlugs

    From first hand experience I can tell that the police do nothing even close to investigating. They get an easy answer and stick to it.

  • 0

    Nessie

    Great article, JT. Thanks for this one.

  • 0

    GJDailleult

    "One reason may actually be weakening interpersonal relationships." I know that cops always look at the "nearest and dearest" after a murder, and as the article says, most murders involve people who knew each other, but that is a strangely depressing statement. Murders are down because people have nobody close enough in their lives to have a motive for murder!

    I have also heard, but don't know the figures or their accuracy, that Japan has an extremely high number of deaths recorded as due to unknown causes, compared to other countries. As said above, autopsies are not done, and some of those unknown causes deaths are likely murder cases. That is the theory anyways.

  • 0

    sharky1

    Murder rates are falling but murder methods are becoming more and more heinous...

  • 0

    guest

    Japans murder rate is about 3 people a day, but, it's suicide rate is about 100 people a day. Something smells fishy in keystone land.

  • 0

    pointofview

    Depends how they are categorizing crimes. I also highly doubt that most of the news is trustworthy. People are convinced to believe such a thing however.

  • 0

    kazan

    This is a really interesting article. Because the media covers the sensationalist crime stories, violent crime seems to be on the rise, but I completely didn't realize that the crime rate actually dropped.

    Japans murder rate is about 3 people a day, but, it's suicide rate is about 100 people a day. Something smells fishy in keystone land.

    Contrary to Western cultures, up until recently suicide has been seen as normal, or even honorable in cases. Samurai would kill themselves to honor their feudal lord rather than work for another man, common women and men would kill themselves to protect their honor rather than face arrest and shame, etc. Just because Japan has a high suicide rate doesn't mean the cops are twisting investigations. The Keystones are still kind of incompetent, of course, but there are other explanations for why the suicide rate is so high in Japan.

  • 0

    kazan

    @ shitamachipride: The impression I got from the context of guest's comment was that cops were warping murder investigations to make them look like suicides. I certainly believe that the cops force confessions (I've been stuck in that position myself) and that they're pretty corrupt, but this isn't about that, it's about the suicide vs. murder rate in Japan, and how the suicide rate remains high even as violent crimes go down.

  • 0

    goddog

    I often do not lock my door in my mansion. However, one day when I did lock it, someone tried to come in, and it was not my kids. So be careful.

  • 0

    dolphingirl

    Maybe the number of violent crimes and murders is decreasing but I read that the overall crime has increased rapidly over the last 20 years. The media has created fear and the public has lost confidence in the police. Then the politicians blame the increase in crime on youth and foreigners and people believe them, spreading even more fear.

    And since the police are inept in some cases, more people believe that they can get away with crime. It just becomes a vicious cycle, I think. If you have citizens who don't trust law enforcement, you end up with some people losing faith in the system which in turn could cause more crime. The police have really got to get it together and build the public's trust again. As it stands right now, people believe the media more than they believe the cops and that is not a good thing.

  • 0

    DeepAir65

    why do anywhere between 50% and 85% of the population think the country is becoming more dangerous?

    The article beat me to it - MEDIA

  • 0

    MASSWIPE

    Thank you for this article. The information it contains is true: the number of murders committed in Japan reached its annual postwar peak in the middle of the 1950s, when the country had 40 million fewer people than it does today. Thus, Japan was actually a much more dangerous country back then, if per capita murder rates are anything to go by. So much for the glory of mid-Showa Japan.

  • 0

    Branded

    goddog- "I often do not lock my door in my mansion."

    Odd- most "mansions" in Japan, condos for the rest of the world, are fully equipped with high tech security systems including gates, locks, and cameras in the elevators. Japan for all it's talk about safety is one of the most fortified nations I've ever seen. Police on every corner, security quards at every entrance, neghbourhood night patrols in every community etc etc etc. Japan is nothing more than a police state with probbing eyes on your backside at every turn- No Thank You !

  • 0

    jeffrey

    While Japan's murder rate is among the lowest in the world, the overall crime rate, while also low, is under reported by probably 10-15%. Or, more specifically, the Japanese police can't be bothered to investigate crimes that can't be solved by beating a suspect with a phone book until he confesses.


    dolphingirl at 01:35 PM JST - 16th Then the politicians blame the increase in crime on youth and foreigners and people believe them, spreading even more fear.

    There is some truth to this because there are more foreigners in Japan than there were even a decade ago and they aren't all working in IT, banking and teaching English. It's an open secret that a good number of the immigrant Chinese and Nigerians (!?) in Japan are involved in less than legal activities. The fact that they are even here is probably a violation of immigration law.


    Branded at 12:54 AM JST - 17th March Odd- most "mansions" in Japan, condos for the rest of the world, are fully equipped with high tech security systems including gates, locks, . . .

    Maybe those built in the last ten years or so. Otherwise, not.

  • 0

    Branded

    Jeffrey; "Maybe those built in the last ten years or so. Otherwise, not."

    Try the last 20 years ! As you said about "foreigners in Japan"

    "they aren't all working in IT, banking and teaching English."

    No... some have been running businesses selling and installing security systems throughout the country for years now ! And Believe me, selling fear is "big" business !

  • 0

    kodaiflow

    USA 5.6/100000 JP 1.53/100000. How do they get 1/10th? They could get that if they use the US's "intentional homicide" number, but that includes suicides. But back to the point in the article the US rate dropped form 9.8 in 1991 to 5.6 in 2007. I would guess most people watching Fox News would guess that.

  • 0

    skipbeat

    Some older Japanese people like to reminisce, as do elderly folk in many places, how they used to be able to leave their keys in their doors. The truth is, they are probably safer doing it now than they have ever been. If only someone would let them know it.

    Maybe if they live in the boondocks where no one visits. People should not be naive.

    This represents less than a tenth of the murder rate in the U.S., and a hundredth of that of the most violent countries in the Caribbean and South and Central America. So why, despite the tough times, are fewer Japanese people killing each other, and why do anywhere between 50% and 85% of the population think the country is becoming more dangerous?

    If there is one crime committed in Japan that says the country is unsafe. If a country is safe then there would be no crime (it is impossible for any country to be free of crimes). The majority of Japanese homicides are heinous.

    The 1,097 murders in Japan last year were, according to statistics from the National Police Agency (NPA), down 200 from the previous year, a third of the number in 1954. This is out of a population of 127 million, in the middle of the worst recession since the war.

    That's it? What exactly do the NPA classify as a murder?

    It is not only murder. Most types of crime have become scarcer across Japan. Contrary to popular perception, youth crime has also been dropping, and one of the few areas that is getting worse is actually crime by the elderly.

    Are the youths getting jobs then? Elderly are setting poor examples for the youths. Hopefully the youths don't learn from the elderly in this case.

    It would be nice if the NPA, media, and the government face the facts that crimes are committed everyday and there are victims left unsung instead of telling the people how safe Japan is. Just because it doesn't happen to you it probably happens to someone. How many crimes committed goes unreported?

    I would rather live in a world knowing the dangers then live in a world that says otherwise.

  • 0

    nigelboy

    The majority of Japanese homicides are heinous.

    As if homicides aren't "heinous"...

    That's it? What exactly do the NPA classify as a murder?

    When somebody kills another. What's your definition?

  • 0

    Frungy

    Japan is getting more dangerous... but only because of all the old people still driving. Sheesh, they're the biggest public health hazard in the country!

  • 0

    netrek

    This shows Japanese are very polite!

Login to leave a comment

OR
  • 営業/建設機械  

    営業/建設機械  
    MB Japan 株式会社、埼玉県
    給与:給与要相談 歩合制 給与参考例・・・2013年度営業職月給平均 45万円  
  • TOEICインストラクター

    TOEICインストラクター
    Berkeley House Language Center / バークレーハウス語学センター、東京都
    給与:時給 3,000円 相談可
  • TOEFL・IELTSインストラクター

    TOEFL・IELTSインストラクター
    Berkeley House Language Center / バークレーハウス語学センター、東京都
    給与:時給 3,500円 相談可
  • 海外留学担当者

    海外留学担当者
    Berkeley House Language Center / バークレーハウス語学センター、東京都
    給与:月給 25万円 ~ 35万円 相談可
  • PR and Communication Specialist

    PR and Communication Specialist
    Italian Chamber of Commerce in Japan、東京都
    給与:給与についての記載なし

More in Opinions

View all

View all