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Home > Special Topics > Social Trends Last Updated: 15:18 03/09/2007
Social Trends #85: September 14, 2004

Attitudes towards the Police in Contemporary Japan - Part Two: Rising Crime Rates Overwhelm Japan

J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM)

A full list of articles in this series can be found here.


Although by international standards Japanese crime levels are still relatively low, a massive 150 percent upsurge in the crime rates over the last ten years has created a real sense of crisis. Such a huge increase in a relatively short timescale has completely overwhelmed the policing system, leaving both victims and police unable to cope.

While crime figures for 2003 and preliminary data for 2004 both indicate moderate decreases in the level of crime, rates are still substantially higher than a decade ago. Furthermore, until 2003, the country experienced seven successive years of record high crime rates. For example, between 1998 and 2002, robbery increased 104 percent, car theft 75 percent, and burglary 42 percent.

Because people are experiencing a level of crime that is totally alien to them, it is generating a deep sense of fear and uncertainty.

During the late sixties and early seventies, while most industrially advanced nations experienced dramatic increases in crime, Japan registered significant reductions. In fact, it only recorded a fraction of the levels seen in most other OECD countries.

However, during the nineties, the script changed dramatically. While nearly all OECD countries recorded declines in criminality, in Japan victimization rates soared. This gave the country one of the most rapid increases in crime levels ever witnessed among the OECD countries.

Traditional policing methods just could not cope and there were insufficient victim support networks to help the rapidly growing number of people hit by crime. While in some respects Japan is merely catching up with other industrial countries, it is doing so at a phenomenal pace which it simply cannot handle.

Explaining the rise in crime
Explaining the sharp increase in crime has spawned numerous theories. Criminologists have tended to identify a complex web of causes stemming from amongst other things the prolonged economic recession, changing social patterns and inadequate policing structures.

On the other hand, many Japanese lawmakers as well as senior police officers have pinned the blame for the crime wave on Juvenile delinquents and foreign criminals, labeling these two groups as "the twin causes of rising crime."

Although detailed analysis of the crime statistics disproves the youth and foreigners notion, the media has tended to side with lawmakers who have promoted this idea. Large swathes of public opinion believe that these two groups are responsible for most crimes, even though they actually only comprise very small groups in the overall crime figures.

The impact these two groups really have on the crime figures will be discussed in greater detail in later articles in this series.

A full list of articles in this series can be found here.

Related links

Juvenile crime hits record high
Mainichi Shimbun, 8 August 2003

Top LDP man calls foreigners 'murderers and thieves'
Mainichi Shimbun, 13 July 2003

New Religious Cults in Japan: Part Three Asahara Verdict Highlights Police Failures
J. Sean Curtin, Social Trends: Series #70, GLOCOM Platform, 1 March 2004

(Some parts of this article first appeared in Asia Times Online on 28 August 2004, http://www.atimes.com, and all those sections are republished with permission. Copyright of these sections belongs to Asia Times Online Ltd.)

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