Japan’s Unique Crime Problem

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.

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  • kirbys

    Abortion became legal in Japan soon after WWII. There’s gotta be a connection!

  • fatherjo

    Japan would be better off if it were a Catholic nation. It is learning this the hard way.

  • Bruce Roeder


    I believe there is a connection.

    Japan’s 1948 Eugenic Protection Law (EPL) built on eugenic ideas from the 1940 National Eugenics Law (modeled on the 1933 Nazi Sterilization Law) designed to prevent those with hereditary diseases from reproducing. Plus, the 1948 EPL greatly broadened the goals of eugenic policy, adopting characteristics of eugenic legislation from various countries other than Nazi Germany. For example, in addition to sterilizing those with hereditary diseases, people with infectious diseases, such as leprosy, also became targets for sterilization.

    Moreover, eugenic activists influenced Japanese postwar policies on abortion. They endorsed easier access to abortion because they were concerned about gyaku-tota, reversed natural selection (the process in which “good” human stocks are reduced while “bad” ones are increased). The educated upper and middle class couples (who they naturally believed would reproduce superior progeny) more often used birth control while couples from lower classes did not, thus producing a higher number of lesser quality children. The EPL arguably implemented a more rigid eugenic policy than the prewar period, expanding and intensifying the targets of compulsory sterilization and abortion.

    While aspects of the EPL have been criticized and tweaked since 1948, its underlying effect has never been abandoned. I do not believe Japan has fully understood the impact of this yet.

  • Warren Jewell

    My, my, Bruce R. – I live and I learn –

    Japan has long been so pathetic that part of the consequences comes in its elderly now committing crimes to have jail-time companionship.

    Such a clever race so very cleverly wrong, unto self-destruction – can any dobut that America could so end up a pathetic wreck of what it once was?

    Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.