Japan has a well-earned reputation as one of the most orderly societies on earth. Its crime rate, while rising in recent years, is still low by Western standards. When crime does spike, many Japanese are quick to blame foreigners.
But a recent crime wave is undeniably home grown-in more ways than one.
The surge in lawlessness involves not only property crime such as shoplifting, pick pocketing, and embezzlement, but also a rise in violent crime. In response, the government is planning three new prison wards-complete with “metal walkers and support rails.”
Metal walkers and support rails? Oh, did I mention that the new “usual suspects” are Japanese senior citizens?
Between 2000 and 2006, the number of Japanese over 70 charged with a crime more than tripled-to nearly 30,000 a year. Assaults have risen 17-fold and shoplifting and pick pocketing four-fold in the past decade. Even murder rates among the elderly are rising. All told, Japanese senior citizens were responsible for one in seven crimes, up from one in 50 in 1990.
While it’s true that Japan has the fastest-aging population in the world, the increase in the elderly crime rate was seven times the increase in their numbers.
If more senior citizens don’t explain the phenomenon, what does? A popular explanation is “financial hardship.” Koichi Hama of Ryukoku University spoke for many experts when he said that “it’s very difficult to live on their small pensions.” They shoplift to make ends meet, and then it escalates.
While this may be part of the explanation, Japanese elderly are hardly unique in their economic vulnerability. Around the world, economic downturns hit pensioners living on fixed incomes especially hard. Yet we don’t read about crime waves among European and North American elderly.
An important part of the explanation lies in the increasing isolation of Japan’s elderly. Japan’s microscopic birthrate has produced an aging population with no one to care for it, whether children or paid caretakers. Japanese elderly are so starved for companionship that they buy talking dolls they think “are actual grandsons and granddaughters,” according to the manufacturer.
Thus, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that one-third of the “elderly offenders arrested for theft in Hokkaido” saw stealing as “a way to attract attention.” Or even that a 79-year-old woman who stabbed a younger woman in Tokyo said, “I had no place to stay, so I wanted the police to take care of me.”
Japan’s demographic collapse-the product of plummeting marriage and birth rates-has weakened the Japanese family and, with it, the entire society.
And that, sadly, is exactly what we can expect to happen in the increasingly hedonistic Western societies, where self-satisfaction and sexual license have become the driving ambition of millions.
No society that devalues marriage, that ignores the importance of child rearing, and that rejects the foundational role of families can sustain itself over time.
While we may not experience a geriatric crime wave like Japan’s, unless we change our ways, our future will be just as bleak-and lonely.