Crime in Japan

Japan has a relatively low crime rate. Women can feel free, in general, to walk at night without fear of being attacked. Crimes in which people are shot and/or killed are few since Japan has very strict gun-control laws.

Types of Crimes

Crimes are divided into six main groups:

1. Felonies: murder, conspiracy to commit murder, robbery, rape and arson.

2. Violent offenses: unlawful assembly while possessing a dangerous weapon; simple and aggravated assault; extortion and intimidation.

3. Larceny: burglary, vehicle theft, shoplifting.

4. Intellectual: fraud, embezzlement, counterfeiting, forgery, bribery, breach of trust.

5. Moral: gambling, indecent exposure, distribution of obscene literature.

6. Miscellaneous: obstruction of official duties; negligence with fire; unauthorized entry; negligent homicide or injury; possession of stolen property and destruction of property.

There can also be special laws dealing with prostitution, illegal possession of swords and firearms, customs violations and drug possession and use.

In 1990 larceny formed 65.1 percent of the total crimes with negligent homicide or injury as 26.2 percent of crimes. Although Japan has far fewer people than the U.S., comparisons are still possible. Japan has aground 1.3 robberies per 100,000 people. By comparison, the U.S. has 233 per 100,000 people (England has 65.8 and West Germany 48.6).

The Japanese murder rate is about 1.1 per 100,000 people; West German has a rate of 3.9, Britain a rate of 9.1, and the U.S. 8.7 per 100,000 people.

Crimes "cleared," Japan and the US

Finding exact statistics is not particularly easy, though. Web Japan has an excellent set which is what I used below. For the US stats, I used the FBI site itself. One difference, even though it's a minor one, is that the Japan stats are for 2005, the US stats are for 2004. In some cases there were no actual definitions used, and thus no direct comparison with US stats was possible. There is also a question about the term "serious," since some crimes would be considered "serious" in Japan but maybe not in the US. Thus, absolute direct comparisons between the two countries is not reliably possible; however, general comparisons can be given.

There are some specific comparisons between the two countries (noting that the US stats are 2004, while the Japanese stats are 2005):

Murders cleared: Japan 96.6%; US 62.6%.

Rapes cleared(the US stat is for "forcible" rapes): Japan 69.5%; US 41.8%.

Larceny cleared: Japan 24.9%; US 18.3% (although the US rate is for "larceny thefts" while the Japanese rate is not so broken down)

Robbery cleared; Japan 54.6%, US 26.2%

Arson cleared; Japan's was 71.5% , US 17.1%.

Using those five categories where general comparisons can be made, and averaging the numbers, we come up with a Japanese clearance rate of 63.53%; the US clearance rate was 33.2%, a little over half of the Japanese average.

More stats for Japan's clearance rate of crimes:

Violent offenses: 59.7%

Felony offenses: 65.3%

White-collar offenses: 39.1%

"Moral" offenses: 53.1%

It would be very hard to find exact comparisons between the two countries for clearance rates on these crimes, though, largely due to matters of definition; what is a crime in one country might not be a crime in the other.

Why the differences in crime rates

As noted above, one major factor are the strict gun-control laws in Japan. By pure logic, you can't have very many crimes in which guns are used if people don't have the guns to use in the crimes. Part of the difference is also due to cultural differences between Japan and the U.S. There is much greater emphasis on the group in Japan, and on not standing out or doing anything which will bring dishonor to the family or other social unit.

This is all extremely significant considering just how tightly packed the Japanese population is. It would seem that the population density would lead to a very high crime rate, but that is not what happens in Japan. This helps to show that crime, especially violent crime, is dependent on external factors (the lack of availability of guns) and cultural factors (emphasis on honor and group harmony.) In the U.S., with the incredible ease of obtaining weapons and the emphasis on people "doing their own thing," a much higher level of violent crime should not be a surprise.

As to juvenile crime, in 1990 juveniles were responsible for very slightly over half of the crime (52%), but over 70% of those crimes involved shoplifting and theft of motorcycles and bicycles rather than rape, murder and drug use and possession as in U.S. juvenile crimes.

Another factor that may play a large part in the lower crime level in Japan is the use of their police forces. There are kobans, (fairly small police stations) in profusion in Japanese cities. The police there seem to work much more closely with the community than in the U.S. where there is a "us vs. them" mentality on the part of many communities and even some police forces. (I have a lot more on this in my section on police in Japan.)

Japan does have their own version of the Mafia, called the yakuza. There are three major syndicates in Japan which controls over 1,600 gangs and 42,000 gangsters. Although they engage in illegal activities similar to the Mafia they are more involved in supporting "traditional" Japanese virtues and are sometimes involved with right-wing groups. They also tend to cause the crime rate to actually be lower since they "discourage" criminals from operating independently or in small groups.

In general, then, Japan has crime but it is of a much less violent nature than crime in the U.S. This makes Japan a much safer place to live then in the average American city. A great deal of this difference is related to the strict gun-control laws in japan, unlike the U.S. where special-interest groups promote the idea that people have the "right" to whatever kinds of weapons they want in whatever quantity. Rights involve responsibilities and the concept of responsibility is more ingrained in the Japanese culture than it is in the U.S. culture. Guns kill people and it is people who are using the guns; the guns do not act by themselves.

The ease of obtaining guns also automatically causes crimes to be of a much more violent nature in the U.S. then in Japan. In many American cities murders and other crimes involving the use of guns are almost daily occurrences; and this will continue as long as guns are so easily available. It's actually a matter of logic: if you don't have easy access to guns (Japan), then you won't have many people shot and even killed by guns; if you have easy access to guns (U.S.), then you will get many more killed and injured by guns.

Main Index
Japan main page
Japanese-American Internment Camps index page
Japan and World War II index page