CRIME REPORTAGE IN JAPAN--NOT WHAT YOU WOULD HEAR
(originally sent in response to a Fukuzawa posting from Rick Castberg and Brad Fast on Fri, 17 Nov 1995)
People comment ad nauseam about how safe Japan is. They look at stats about the low murder, rape, robbery rates and even go so far to say how nice it is to have such a peaceful, passive, monocultural society, and how awful it would be to have outside (often stated as American) influences contaminate things, etc.
However, one side of the story that very few outsiders get is how crimes themselves are reported to the police in Japan. Even if one leaves out the unquantifiable rumors of how few victims of crime come forward and report, word has it that police boxes have incentives to keep their local stats down (they get some sort of systematic benefit if crime figures are down or stay low), that they often like to "non-report" the "non-serious" crimes, and often that they turn a blind eye to the activities of organized crime or the open suppression of political expression.
Unfortunately, many of the stories one hears are hearsay and, as is the nature of information used as propaganda to propagate a "national-image", not readily confirmable. One takes it all with a grain of salt, until...
Until crime finally happens to you. I had an experience a few weeks ago that was very sobering.
WAS WE ROBBED OR NEARLY RAPED?
My wife woke one morning to find the outside pane of our double-glazed bedroom window broken. She called me at work to ask what I had done, and I pleaded innocent.
I then told her to call the police and report it.
Believe it or not, she refused. She has two kids to watch and to have to wait for the police to investigate some kid's vandalism was an inconvenience and a half.
I said that a crime has been committed, by either a burglar or a punk, and the police should know about it.
She still refused, angrily, and I pressed her for reasons why. Here's what came out:
Several years ago, she was walking home from work reasonably late in the evening through the Jieitai-Mae Subway Station (where the SDF base is) area. She was eventually followed by some guy and nearly molested (a good scream fortunately sent him scurrying).
Fine. Glad to hear that.
But when she had tried to report it to the local police box, the officer just scoffed, said she wasn't hurt, and told her not to walk through there again. That sort of thing often happens in that area, so stay out. Bye.
Didn't even ask my wife's name, the place or the extent of the incident, nor even make a record of it.
My wife got so furious that she still doesn't trust the police anymore, echoing Brad's point about the subordinate lot of women in this society.
Now how about follow-up, making the police accountable for their actions, or non-actions? I asked my wife why she didn't complain about this to the proper authorities. Get that officer's name, go to Chuo-ku Keisatsu Chou, and tell somebody about such brusque treatment.
She said that there would be no point--nothing would change. To the police, it wasn't a sex crime. I told her indeed nothing would change unless she made a noise when it was due.
She went silent.
Back to the window. So I again told her to call the police. She still refused. So I told her to call jiichan over and have him make the decision. She agreed to that, and after finding a screwdriver mark on the window, they called the police. Voila! The cops officially confirmed an attempted break-in of our house.
The police said they'd increase patrols in the area (what else are they going to say, right?), but our neigborhood, Makomanai, a well-to-do area, has had an increase of theft lately (car tyres, etc). The glazier also said that his company alone handles about 40 to 50 broken windows from burglaries a year in Sapporo.
Watch out, was all they could say.
We will. But insufficient reporting to the police or not, I'm much less in the mood to hear any more of the boilerplate about how safe Japan is anymore.
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