The 2003 PM Koizumi Cabinet Anti-Foreign-Crime Putsch
is overlooked by the foreign-language press

(The following essay appeared in The Japan Times (Oct 7, 2003) edited into an article entitled: "Time To Come Clean on Foreign Crime: Rising crime rate is a problem for Japan, but pinning blame on foreigners not the solution". Authorship unbilled at The Japan Times Website)


By Arudou Debito
Sept 29, 2003
(Freely forwardable)

OVERTURE: For those who read and watch the Japanese press, these are scary times. Foreign crime is allegedly on the rise, members of the new Koizumi Cabinet are making clear policy statements against it, and the National Police Agency is ready for a new push. This despite incontrovertible evidence that foreign crime both as an absolute and a rate is miniscule compared to that of Japanese crime. However, the English-language media is ignoring this impending policy putsch (which may dramatically affect their readership's civil liberties in Japan), instead focussing on economic reform (probably to avoid scaring away foreign investors). What is going on?

That is what this essay will discuss. Many of the points below I have raised elsewhere, but soldier on--there is news and new data within, and the topic is timely with things on the move in the highest levels of government. Now is the time to woolgather before things become entrenched as law, and I hope that the journalists out there will see the issues involved as worthy of overseas attention.



Japan's overt stoking of public fear of foreigners is not in itself news, as it has been going on for years.

For example, politicians have raised the spectre of foreign criminality in exaggerated tones: Foreigners are worthy of roundups during natural disasters (Tokyo Gov Ishihara, April 2000); "a million" foreigners are in Japan building robber and murder gangs and turning Kabukichou into a "lawless zone" (Dietmember Etoh Takami, July 2003): foreigners have become as much a problem as youth crime (Cabinet member Tanigaki, July 2003). With the advent of the World Cup in 2002, Miyagi Prefectural Assemblyman Konno Takayoshi pondered aloud in a June 2001 session on how to deal with illegitimate children from foreign hooligan rapes.

The issue has once again become the topic du jour. News stories on foreign criminals are now quite commonplace (especially with the attention drawn by a horrifying murder of a Fukuoka family probably by a Chinese gang in June 2003). One two-hour show, aired nationally on NTV during prime time on Sept 16, 2003, had cameras following police on the beat (a la the American Fox Network show "Cops"); more than a quarter of the airtime was devoted to foreign crime alone (with no interaction between police and foreigners except to arrest them). Gov Ishihara came on after every segment devoted to foreigners to remark on, inter alia, the cruelty of Chinese crooks and the need for more police.

I say "once again" because the topic is seasonally recycled. The National Police Agency supplies the media with regular updates on any rise in the foreign crime rate (about once every six months, going quiet when crime rates go down, ahem). Result: the public get fresh scare showers, and businesses (like Miwa Lock KK) can find lucrative opportunities selling security measures (such as advertised foreign-gang-proof locks). Public warnings issued by the NPA depict "bad foreigners" snatching bags and credit cards, posted in public places like bank ATMs and public transport nationwide. More at

Unfortunately, very little has appeared in the Japanese media to temper things--like comparing the rising Japanese crime rate with the foreign. Pity. This would reveal that the foreign crime rate is less--far less--as a proportion of the population than the Japanese rate (more on that later in this essay). Not much more has been said about the need to keep matters in perspective--that foreigners live here too and are overwhelmingly law-abiding.

The problem is this time around the fearmongering is not merely another fad. It is about to gel into public policy.



With the most recent election within the Liberal Democratic Party for a new leader, all four candidates in a Sept 18 TBS TV debate offered their policy visions for foreigners, including Japanese language tests for new foreign laborers, crackdowns on crime, etc. In other words, dealing with the foreign element in our society was a much a policymaking litmus test as, say, dealing with bloated public works or rekindling national growth.

PM Koizumi was reelected on Sept 20 and two days later his new Cabinet was announced. No fewer than three Cabinet members (Justice Minister Nozawa Daizo, Public Management Minister Aso Taro, and National Public Safety Chair Ono Kiyoko) appeared on NHK talking about foreign crime in their first policy statements. Nozawa talked about how Koizumi has charged him with making Japan the "world's safest country" again. Ono was the most specific--saying that foreign crime and youth crime were among her policy priorities. The Yomiuri and Sankei Shinbuns (Sept 22) duly headlined that as such in their Cabinet member profiles and statements. These might be just another election-campaign promises waiting to be broken, but with this much fanfare I doubt it.



Ironically, this anti-foreign crime policy putsch has been ignored in the domestic English-language press--even though its outcome will affect the majority of its readership. Neither The Japan Times nor the IHT-Asahi mentioned a word about it in their Sept 22 and 23 issues--merely running article after hopeful article about Japan's economic turnaround and reforms with the retention of Economic Policy Chair Takenaka Heizo. The only mention was in the Daily Yomiuri, quietly buried in a profile of on NPS Chair Ono. The Japanese original, BTW, had "foreign crime policy" rendered both as clearly a headline and within the text. See both and compare for yourself:

Yomiuri Shinbun Sept 22, 2003, on imminent foreign crime policy. Includes the headline.

Note how this headline was removed from the English version
(Daily Yomiuri, same day), and the issue quietly buried within the text

(No other English-language daily even mentioned the issue, even though it was a matter of policy debate within the Sept 18 LDP leadership debates. The Japanese dailies certainly did, not to mention the broadcast media. I guess we need more people who can read and understand Japanese, who will pay more attention to the issues that the Japanese themselves find important.)

Brouhaha is precisely what is needed at a time like this. If more media questioned both the basic presumptions of the policy putsch and the data underlying it, we might see more balanced policymaking in future. But that is not happening.



The National Police Agency had its most recent White Paper on Foreign Crime available for download from its website (http://www.npa.go.jp) conveniently in time for the new Koizumi Cabinet. One look indicates that yes, after a dip in 2000 and 2001, both the number of foreign crimes and foreign perps have increased. See revised page at http://www.debito.org/crimestats.html

What is left out:

1) The number of registered foreigners in Japan is also increasing year on year. From 1,778,462 in the beginning of 2002 to 1,851,758 souls by the end (http://www.moj.go.jp). More people means more potential criminals. So statistics comparing foreigners to foreigners both in raw numbers and in percentages tells only half the story.

2) The other half is this: The number of crimes regardless of nationality in Japan in 2002, according to the Japan Times Sept 23, 2003, was 2.85 million, a postwar record high. However, since the Japanese population is not really increasing, the rise in the Japanese crime rate is more marked than that for foreigners. See for yourself:

3) Moreover, according to the same Japan Times article, the number of crimes committed in 2002 by foreigners was 1.39% of the total. Given the fact that the number of registered foreigners (i.e. those on one-year visas and above) is 1.5% of the total Japanese population, this means that foreigners are less likely to commit crimes on average than Japanese.

4) Let's mitigate that even further: Note that crimes committed by foreigners also includes visa violations--crimes that Japanese by definition cannot commit, which should be caveated out for a better comparison of crimes committed by everybody. Since visa violations make up around a quarter to a third of the total, the crime rate for SIMILAR crimes committed by foreigners thus drops to around one percent of the total.

5) Further mitigation: If one includes ALL foreigners in Japan, including the 3-month visas, tourists, illegal overestayers, etc, my contact in the Asahi Shinbun has revealed that the foreign population rockets up to FIVE percent of the total population of Japan, making the crime rate even lower.

6) While we're at it, how about those visa overstayers so often bandied about as on the rise? According to the most recent data from the Immigration Bureau (available at any Nyuukoku Kanrikyoku Office as a free orange pamphlet), the number of illegal overstayers has FALLEN every single year without fail since 1993 (see http://www.debito.org/crimestats.html#visa)

Hence upon proper examination, the whole statistical basis behind the push to curb foreign crime is flawed and distorted to the point of unscientificity.

I personally brought this point up with Dietmember Fukushima Mizuho (Shamintou, Kanagawa) on Sept 27, 2003, during the Q&A segment of her speech to the PGL Conference, Seisen University. She answered that she is quite aware how the government is fudging statistics to create a culture of fear. Alas, her voice is not the one making headlines.



It would be facile to say that this is the product of an island society with few natural resources and so little historical contact with the outside world that it is inherently xenophobic. So I won't. I believe the cause is economic.

I have mentioned elsewhere about the foundation in May 1999 of the "Policy Committee Against Internationalization" (Kokusaika Taisaku Iinkai) within the National Police Agency (http://www.debito.org/policeapology.html), and its specified aims to draft policy against foreign crime and their syndicates. This is the organization producing our friendly neighborhood warnings about extranational miscreants.

What is one goal of any government organization? To justify its budget. What better way in this case than by stirring up fear of crime? This tactic worked very well during the World Cup in 2002, particularly when the promise of hooligan riots due to the Argentina-England game provided a budget to fly 3000 mainland police to Hokkaido with room and board for a week, as well as hire three ferries just in case they needed to cart thugs out. How much money was spent to arrest a total of 11 people (two foreigners) during that whole week of games in Sapporo? Uncertain. (http://www.debito.org/worldcup2002.html)



Most Japanese know this but very few people overseas do: Clearance of crimes in Japan (meaning finding the perp(s) for every crime committed) is now down to around 20%--a postwar low and a shock for those expecting Japan to be the same old clean, safe streets. I believe this is in part due to a longstanding economic downturn in the provinces, and a slow but perceptible breakdown in respect for property by Japanese people. But that is not what we hear about. It's much easier to say the foreigners are responsible.

For consider a normal public reaction. If police were to tell us that Japanese crime is out of control--people would criticise the police for not doing their job of keeping a lid on things. However, if they say the same about foreign crime, public attitudes are less antipathetic. After all, foreigners shouldn't be over here in the first place if they're going to make trouble (furthermore, what policeman can anticipate what heinous crimes foreigners, particularly Chinese, will commit?). So kick them out. Can't do the same for citizens, though.

The point is that foreigners are a much softer target, and it is far easier for the police to shift the focus on them instead of where it belongs--on the 99% of criminals in Japan who are in fact Japanese.



If there really was a problem that warranted a sensible policy against domestic crime, I would support it. In fact, given a general rise in crime, I think a reasonable case could be made for more cops on the beat. However, the clear and present policy push to target foreigners is not only unfounded statistically, but also has been up to now half-baked and arbitrary in its application. I have witnessed--and personally experienced--clumsy police targeting, apprehending, and questioning of foreign-looking people for no express reason except they thought their genetic makeup aroused suspicion.
This has reached the point of attracting criticism by the United Nations. (http://www.debito.org/japanvsun.html)

Good public policy needs common sense, but it has been sorely lacking in Japan so far. Not once have I ever seen a public announcement sophisticated enough to avoid scaring the general public into thinking that foreigners are more likely to commit crime than the average Japanese. Not once has any police agency made it clear how they would avoid mere racial profiling, or even distinguish between "illegal" from "legal" foreigners on sight. Not once has any government agency tempered their public admonitions with the caveat that foreigners are people too--not to mention our neighbors, worthy of respect and treatment with dignity. And never once have I seen a top policymaker or a law enforcement official withdraw a statement that essentially bashed foreigners despite citing erroneous evidence. Yet future policy will be strenghening these hands to stay this course.

A solution? I suggest readers stay informed, and that reporters out there reading this start getting the word out in the international media. I understand that Japan is more and more off the world media radar screens given that economic power and opportunity is shifting towards China ("Confessions of a Foreign Correspondent", Japan Times, Sept 23, 2003). But Japan is still one of the richest (the secondmost, remember) most modern societies, and if our policymakers will not see the sense in us being here (often at their behest), then they must be shamed into doing so through both domestic and international awareness.

One way is by taking up political and social issues, not just economic, when reporting on and talking about Japan. Please consider helping out. I hope I have been successful in convincing you that there is a story here.

Arudou Debito
Sept 29, 2003
More details on problems towards international residents in Japan at

(Click to see Japan Times Website (Oct 7, 2003) edit entitled: "Time To Come Clean on Foreign Crime: Rising crime rate is a problem for Japan, but pinning blame on foreigners not the solution". Authorship unbilled.)

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Copyright 2003, Arudou Debito/Dave Aldwinckle, Sapporo, Japan