The Collapse of the Safe Society?
John de Boer (University of Tokyo)
"The safe society is crumbling," warned PM Koizumi in the wake of the horrific schoolyard-stabbing incident that led to the death of eight young school children and left fifteen others injured in Ikeda last June. On Thursday (August 2, 2001), the National Police Agency (NPA) confirmed this statement as it released its biannual report on the state of crime in Japan. The report's conclusion was that "crime has hit a record high."
Japan used to be a remarkably safe and honest society. A forgotten wallet could be found where it was left and if not, delivered to the nearest police box with all its contents inside. Personal safety was practically assured while walking alone late at night, irrespective of sex or age. In this cash society, carrying large sums of money was a necessity and never a source of insecurity. 'Mujin' (staff-less) vegetable stalls and train stations were part of the rural charm and rarely taken advantage of.
However, times have changed in Japan. According to the NPA study on crime, during the first six months of 2001 the number of crimes climbed by 15.9 per cent from the previous year. Most troubling is that police admit they are becoming increasingly incapable of dealing with this situation. The agency's director, Setsuo Tanaka, confessed that, "crimes are occurring faster than we can make arrests." The study showed that while crime rates increased, arrest rates fell from 25 per cent to 19 per cent between 2000 and 2001. This means that more than eighty per cent of all crimes committed in Japan between January 1 and July 1 2001, led to no arrest!
The number of 'serious' crimes, which include murder, assault and robbery, rose by 23.3 per cent. In fact, the night before the report was released a 25 year old man was arrested in Okinawa for a stabbing spree that left one woman dead and five others injured. After stabbing his parents with an 18 cm blade, this man ran out onto the street and proceeded to murder a 68 year old lady as she was walking home from the bus stop and later knifed a 5 year old girl and an 11 year old boy. Police were still trying to decide whether the suspect could be held responsible for his actions since he was mentally "incoherent."
The tragic increase in Japan's crime rate has led many to question why. Some say it is related to Japan's prolonged economic 'downturn', others site the breakdown of family values or the decaying school system. Another obvious reason, as witnessed by the recent crimes committed by clinically ill individuals, is the lack of effective treatment for such people. Clinical treatment often involves nothing more than drugs and more drugs.
There are many reasons for the collapse of Japan's safe society and if Japanese feel that this is a value worth fighting for they must do everything possible to stop this tragic trend that ends in death and destruction.
Below are some of the worst recent stabbing cases:
- August 2001: A 25-year-old man was arrested in Sashiki, Okinawa following a stabbing spree that left 1 woman dead and 5 others inured. The man was arrested shortly after, however, police are still trying to decide whether the suspect can be held responsible for his actions since he was incoherent when initially arrested.
- June 2001: 8 school children were stabbed to death and 17 were injured including two teachers in Ikeda by a 37-year-old man who had been clinically diagnosed as schizophrenic. The man was arrested immediately after.
- December 2000: A family of four was found stabbed to death at their home in a Tokyo suburb. No arrests have been made.
- August 2000: A 15-year-old newspaper delivery boy was arrested for stabbing to death three members of a neighbor's family in their beds in Notsu, in southwestern Japan.
- May 2000: A 17-year-old boy wielding a 16-inch knife hijacked a bus in southwestern Japan and fatally stabbed one passenger.
- February 2000: A teen-ager was fatally stabbed by a fellow student during a squabble at a junior high school in Fukuoka, in southwestern Japan.
- December 1999: A 7-year-old boy playing a schoolyard in Kyoto, in western Japan, was fatally stabbed. The 21-year-old suspect later committed suicide by jumping out of a building as he was about to be questioned by police.
- Gary Schaefer, "Crime Hits Record High in Japan," Associated Press, August 3, 2001
- "Stabbings leave 1 dead, 5 injured," Asahi Evening News, August 3, 2001
- Keiko Kanai, "Eight Children Die as School Stabbing Stuns Japan," Reuters June 8, 2001.