TEXT OF IHT/ASAHI ARTICLES DEC 2002
ON SKEWED FOREIGN CRIME STATISTICS IN JAPAN
AND THEIR EFFECTS
Hello All. Here are two excellent articles which appeared in the Asahi Shinbun
last December. As it was the end of the year and people were otherwise preoccupied,
the articles didn't seem to cause much of a stir. So I'll type them in for wider
distribution. Excuse typos. They really are worth the read. Bests, Arudou Debito
Article one of two:
"DON'T STICK 'EM UP!" FOREIGNERS CRY
The walls of Tokyo banks are plastered with posters depicting non-Japanese as devious thieves.
By Paul Murphy
IHT/Asahi Saturday-Sunday, December 14-15, 2002
(original article scanned at http://www.debito.org/TheCommunity/ihtasahi121502.html)
With their dark faces and speech bubbles in katakana, it is easy to recognize that the cartoon bad guys about to rob a woman leaving a bank are foreigners. The poster, created by the police and stuck beside an ATM machine in a UFJ bank booth in JR Ueno Station, is one of many variants on the same beware-of-foreigners theme to be found throughout Tokyo.
(see the poster at
At Asahi Bank near Ueno Park, one of the two ne'er-do-wells conspiring to steal from a Japanese woman in another cartoon poster has long blonde hair and a big nose. the female thief's accomplice could pass as a Japanese but, according to an Asahi bank guard, he too is a foreigner.
Across the road in a Daiwa Securities branch, another poster showsa a blond-haried cartoon criminal speaking baby Japanese in katakana as he works with a literally shady brown mustachioed man to relieve a Japanese woman of her cash.
(see the same one from Nagano in 2001 from Mainichi Daily News at
Even the nearby branch of foreign-owned Shinsei Bank has two sets of posters warning of foreign thieves. "The police asked us to put them up in March," said a Shinsei official.
The cartoon scenarios are all similar: One foreigner distracts the attention of a Japanese woman who has just withdrawn cash from an ATM while another steals her money or cash card. It is a crime of increasing frequency, say police. Ueno police asked financial establishments to put up posters at 36 locations in the area, and also briefed bank officials on the threat, said Akihiro Hanamura, deputy superintendent of Ueno police station, which is reponsible formaking and distributing most of the posters.
(see more info and police posters at
MOST CRIMINALS JAPANESE
So is Ueno drowning under a tsunami of non-Japanese fraudsters? Not exactly. According to Hanamura, in the 10 months to the end of October, there were only four cases in the Ueno area of ATM-related theft--all thought to involve foreigners--and none in 2001. In total, foreigners were responsible for 87 of the 1007 reported Penal Code violations in his precinct last year.
"Crime by foreigners in Ueno is not a small problem but it is not a big problem either," he said. "Japanese commit most of the crime."
Evidence of that is at a nearby police box noticeboard, which is plastered with the faces of about a dozen suspects being sought by the police, all of them Japanese. Among them are the sinister Harutoshi Zaitsu, a 45-year-old man on the run from a murder rap; the slightly deranged-loooking Kenichi Hori, 34, sought for an arson attack; and members of cult Aum Shinrikyo.
But if he most sought-after criminal suspects are Japanese, why do Ueno's anti-crime posters focus on foreigners?
Hanamura does not have a ready answer, but defends the poster campaign on the grounds that foreigners commit the ATM scams and not only in Ueno. The Metropoitcan Police Department recently announced the arrests of 30 Latin Americans in connection with such crimes. "I assure you have been no complaints about the posters," said Hanamura.
But, for different reasons, not everyone is happy with the signs.
"It isn't much use," complains Minoru Kagawa, a 59-year-old office worker, gesturing to a plain illustration depicting dark-skinned thieves. "The police should make a poser that can grab the attention. This one here doesn't stand out."
But Kagawa has no quibbles about the content of the advertisement. Japanese need to be warned because they are not used to such devious crime, he said. "Japan is a soft touch for foreigners who come here because times are hard back home. The can lie and steal and get away with it in Japan."
Takuya Ujiie, a 21-year-old part-time social worker, agrees. "Japanese don't commit this sort of crime," he said. "Maybe foreigners think these posters are unfair, but I am a Japanese and I think you should have them."
But rights activists, who point to the proliferation of similar prosters in Tokyo and elsewhere, accuse the police of scaremongering and feeding the idea that foreigners are criminally prone. "This is not good for our reputation. it makes out that foreigners are criminals. We know there are some bad foreigners, but not all are bad," said Imtiaz Chaudhry, secretary-general of United for a Multicultural Japan, a nonprofit organization based in Noda, Chiba Prefecture. (http://www.tabunka.org)
Activists say the poster campaign--first reported last year when a bank in Nagano Prefecture put up, and then took down, a poster--began to spread this year. These signs are "all over Tokyo" and there have been recent sightings in Saitama, said Jens Wilkinson, a coordinator for The Community, a Web-based activist group that has lobbied banks to remove the notices and police to stop making them. (http://www.debito.org/TheCommunity)
Critics say the campaign is out of proportion to any threat.
Police logged 107 thefts of the type warned about in the Tokyo metropolitan area in the 10 months to October, said Hanamura.
Posters distributed by police warning people to keep a tight grip on their purse when approached by a foreigner merely serve to inject suspicion into everyday interactions between Japanese and non-Japanese, said another Community member, who declined to be named.
(see the gripping poster et al at
He said that posters warning about "bad" foreigners were as objectionable as those simply warning of foreigners.
"You can't tell whether a foreigner is good or bad by looking at them," he noted.
OVERSTAYERS SKEW FIGURES
Academics who have studied the foreign crime issue say the hubbub is misplaced considering the great bulk of crime is committed by Japanese. Of the 325,000 people indicted last year for Penal Code offenses--which include robbery, assault, murder, and most other serious crimes--11,893 were non-Japanese, around 3.6 percent.
The figure is high relative to the number of registered foreigners, who make up 1.4 percent [NB 1.7, actually] of the population, but experts say that to get a meaningful reflection of the scale of the problem, foreign overstayers and estimates of illegal aliens should also be included in the population tally.
Still, the topic makes delightful press and not just in the sensational weekly magazines. A study by Nara University associate professor of sociology Ryogo Mabuchi of the Asahi Shinbun morning and evening editions for the first half of 1998 found that crimes by foreigners were 4.87 times more likely to be covered than crimes by Japanese.
Mabuchi also faults the media for "giving birth to misunderstanding" by simply reporting statistics on rising foreing crime without analyzing underlying factors behind the trend such as an overall rise in the population of non-Japanese residing in the country (see second article in this series in separate email immediately following).
According to H. Richard Friman, professor of political science at Marquette University in Wisconson and author of a number of publications related to crime in Japan, scapegoating foreigers at a crime of economic or social crisis is not unique or new to Japan. It occurs periodically in Europe, he said, and happened in Japan in the aftermath of World War II and the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923.
The collapse of the bubble economy--which has weakened the financial clout of Japanese crime gangs--the Anti-Organized Crime Law of 1992 and competition for turf "between and within crime syndicates have created an increased willingness among Japanese crime groups to work out arrangements with foreigners," Friman said.
Such unholy alliances increase the profile of foreign crimjinals and fan fears among Japnaese. The salso offer "law-and-order" politicians the opportunity to score political points at the expense of those who do not have the right to vote, producing "a tendency to emphasize crime by foreigners as the primary criminal threat," he said.
Among leading politicans, the issue has perhaps been seized upon most enthusiastically by Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara, who has repeatedly stressed the danger of foreign crime since he came to office in 1999. Last year, he famously penned an article for a major daily newspaper in which he referred to a particularly brutal murdar--by an unknown assailant--as a crime that "reflected the ethnic DNA (of Chinese)."
ARTICLE ONE OF TWO ENDS