Japan Times: Police surprisingly mellow when dealing with Japanese shoplifting


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Hi Blog. Turning the keyboard to Shrikant Atre, frequent letterwriter to the Japan Times, who makes an interesting observation:

Amazing shoplifting statistics revealed by JT report

Dear Debito,

I was surprised and shocked by the news below. News is about the statistics of shop-lifting (Manbiki) and how the NPA is looking at it. See below.


Japan Times Monday, April 13, 2009
Tokyo police to survey shoplifting suspects
Kyodo News
The Metropolitan Police Department has decided to conduct a survey on about 2,000 shoplifting suspects concerning their motives and whether they premeditated the crime as the number of shoplifting cases has been on the rise, according to Tokyo police officials.

Finding out more about the living conditions and the mental state of such suspects could help prevent further escalation of shoplifting crimes, the officials said.

The police will collect information based on questioning for about two months from later this month, covering 30 survey items including the suspect’s occupational status and whether they are on welfare.

The survey items also include why the suspects chose a particular shop and if there was something that could have prevented them from carrying out the crime.

The police will compile the data by dividing up the results into first-time offenders and repeat offenders…

Rest of the article at http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20090413a5.html

COMMENT: I think any crime is a crime. If the NPA tries to solve the problem by “counselling and trying to find out Mental State of criminals involved in these cases” this must be another form to forcibly reduce crime rate of (I suspect crimes done by J citizens) in Japan.

I wanted JT to find out that out of the 17,816 cases alone in Tokyo last year, how many were NJ criminals ? How many J criminals have been “Councelled and Let to go with a small verbal notice”.

The same report states that “Items worth over 300 billion yen are shoplifted each year in Japan where the crime is usually seen as a minor offense”.

Now, if there are 145,429 cases reported in last year in Japan which has a population of 125 million, it means that 1.16 percent of all the Japanese people (unless only NJ did all the said crimes) ARE Criminals. Good indication ! All the world should watch Japanese Tourists instead of making a YOKOSO to them. Also the same report statistics if believed, these 1.16% people stole goods worth of 300 billion yen / year in Japan, means 2400 yen of shoplifting per capita or a Whopping 2.06 million yens of heist apiece by caught criminals (145,429 only) ? I am literally amazed by these statistics.

Also if stealing goods worth to the max tune of average 2 million yen is a “minor offense” as NPA / report says about it, what kind of message are J criminals sending to NJ criminals ?

I want all (the J and NJ community) to seriously think of the report and tell us incidents where an NJ was targeted even for a mistaken good stealing accusation (of some 200 or 300 yen worth goods) which may have accidentally fallen in his bags, being caught and being immediately detained and subsequently deported. Yes, I had seen that on TV serials about MANBIKI, also heard about such stories in past.

In my thinking (I repeat my view here), stealing even 1 yen worth of goods / money that does not belong to oneself, is a Crime. And seeing how the news talks about it, I am shocked, amazed, bewildered.


Shrikant Atre
Pune, India

10 comments on “Japan Times: Police surprisingly mellow when dealing with Japanese shoplifting

  • I know it’s hard without the original data (anyone have a link?)
    but let’s try to be realstic with the provided data.

    Can we assume here that the 145,429 is just the number of cases REPORTED to the police, and that the 300 billion yen is probably an estimate from the shopkeepers’ associations and such of TOTAL shoplifting/theft from stores (maybe even includes theft by employees).
    The average shoplifting amount of 2 million clearly doesn’t make sense.

    I think it’s also safe to assume a lot of shoplifting cases are repeat offenders. Or at least that it is NOT safe to assume each reported case is by a different individual, yielding a rate of 1.16% of the population shoplifts annually. The data as shown cannot support that conclusion. Though it could be possible that unreported shoplifting cases could mean 1%, 5%, or even 50% of the population shoplifts. We don’t know. We can only assume it’s somewhere above almost 0% (with a few people committing multiple cases, which is pretty common when we read accounts of practically “professional” shoplifters who make a living selling off their plunder of DVDs or whatever to make a living, as some Japanese people have realized Japan is a very easy country to steal in) with increasing percentages as we factor in single offenders.

    Debito, you could use your numbers if using the proper words “could be” “as much as”, but to make the statement “… 1.16 percent of all the Japanese people ARE Criminals…” with the ALL CAPS being your own, is dishonest and/or intentionally inflamatory, and gives further ammo to those who seek to discredit you as one who tends to exaggerate.

    Sure, I think tons of people shoplift in Japan. I see old people/homeless shoplifting food all the time (I can’t rat out someone for shoplifting food) and young punks breezing though anti-shoplifting electronic alarm gates with possibly expensive stuff while staff do nothing. Meanwhile I’ve been stopped at the very same gates and had my bags searched because the store clerk forgot to demagnetize my purchase – ALWAYS take the receipt in Japan!
    And I also think gaijin tend to get special attention/hovering from store clerks (while Japanese people just keep stealing) and that there is probably far less leniency for gaijin shoplifters. I also beleive that gaijin (like immigrants in many countries) are far less likely to commit such petty crimes, since the risk (arrest, jail and deportation) is far higher than for natives (the miniscule risk that cops will actually get involved and give you a stern talking to and let you go after you apologize)

    But back to the main point. I’d love to see the complete data set. Problem is the NPA only reports arrest rates, and since it’s safe to assume J cops are more likely to arrest gaijin because they want to, that gaijin can be easier to find in a crowd (plus they have so many of our fingerprints on file already) and thus easier to find and arrest, and that gaijin are more likely to be reported as suspects (even when the criminal turns out to be Japanese), and that there is a segment of the J population that loves to make trouble for gaijin and complain to landlords and the police about the smallest matter (such as growing plants that LOOK like marijuana yielding a full apartment search) the stats are already biased.

    For example in 2007 there were 241,425 known cases of theft/larceny of all types, with 16857 arrests, 705 being arrests of gaijin (330 of whom are from Korea or China, unclear if they are zainichi) for a rate of 4.2% of arrests being gaijin (minus possible zainichi) and no data on actual prosecution. How can we interpret the data? How could we prove the likely bias against gaijin? Does it mean gaijin are actually 2-3 times more likely than Japanese to commit thefts, or just 2-3 times more likely to be arrested? Or some middle ground? Or perhaps even a bias with gaijin half as likely to commit theft, but 6 times more likely to be arrested?

    We only know that 4.2% = actual rime rate X arrest bias
    It could be 1.4% X 3 (3 times more likely to be arrested)
    it could be 4.2% X 1 (no arrest bias)
    it could be 0.7% X 6 (6 times more likely to be arrested)
    it could even be 8.4% X 0.5 (half as likely to be arrested, if you’d believe it)

    As Debito mentions, it would be nice to see the shopifting data and the arrest data, as it could provide some evidence on this front regarding possible leniency to Japanese natives versus gaijin.

    The NPA English data (or at least the parts they chose to publish, gaijin crimes listed at the end, just before bouryokudan..yep, in terms of “danger”, gaijin = bouryokudan, there are no special stats for elderly crime, corporate crime, bureaucrat crime, male/female breakdown, crime by income level, etc. only gaijin and yakuza get special attention. Thanks NPA!)


    — Thank you for the thoughtful comment. However, if we’re going to take note of semantics, please also take note of authorship. I didn’t write this. Please direct your comments towards Shrikant.

  • The statistics Shrikant Atre tries to put on this are flawed in that there are a number of assumptions s/he makes. Not least of which is that the ~150kish are all first timers (and not multi offenders) as well as that the losses quoted are only for the ~150kish caught (unlikely) and not total losses claimed by retailers (likely).

  • I saw a similar program on Japanese television last week which also reported on Shoplifting and its consequences. It seemed to me that most if not all were handled very lightly by the police and by the in store security. Several were allowed to escort themselves to the local Koban after they were caught.

    I wonder however what the course of action would have been if NJ would have been caught on tape doing the same thing? I hate to fan the flames; but I have seen plenty of instances where 6 cops show up (and leave) in a blaze of sirens, and showmanship to haul away the “guilty” foreigner on minor issues. Are NJ so dangerous it warrants this type of action? or is this part of a larger “PR” job to show that crime is only caused by foreigners?

  • Oops, sorry about not noting the author, wish I could edit my post!

    — Edit it and repost. I’ll delete the old one.

  • Unless I’m mistaken the conclusion rests on the fact that 145,429/125,000,000 = 1.16% which is incorrect. It is off by a factor of 10 which means that even if you use these statistics the number of criminals is only 0.1% of the Japanese population.

  • Thanks Debito for sharing my comments on your blog and thank you all friends who put in very thoughtful comments.

    Even I had considered the logic that NOT ALL people who were arrested for these crimes stole all the goods worth 300 billion yen. In any country the crime busting rate (effectively) is far less than that those of the actual crimes reported. So I assume it should be at least 1 in 10. Let us see both-sided arguments for this.

    Argument A. If 10% or lesser arrest rate by any means, it may be due to effective counseling and overall cultural views that “shop lifting is a minor crime and at least first timers should be dealt with leniency”. Does it sound more logical now ? So let us safely assume that though 0.16 % is the absolute stats at hand, actually 1.16% could be criminals, 90% criminals in reported cases were either never caught or let loose with counseling.

    Now argument B, The arrest rate IS 100% vis a vis reported crimes (sound ideal) and/or (as an example) only 0.08 % of population have done these crime minimum two times a year. Fine, no issues. The issue still at hand is the thinking of NPA as it is thinking shoplifting is a minor crime. Why should one not argue that THIS very thinking and letting loose a first timer go, is in fact resulting in a repeat crime ?

    So, not delving much into the statistical jumbles here, (we also don’t have enough stats in the said JT report) the deeper issues that I wanted to bring to forum is “Mellowing on J crime reporting” and to do so “the methods used by NPA like Counseling J people, finding mental state et al”. Yes, there IS something behind it. Let them call it Preventive Strategy or anything. The same treatment will certainly not be given to an NJ who does similar crime.

    Lets collectively think of 2 issues, i.e, a. Tactical Reduction in No of crimes / criminals on paper (which is why average losses per arrest by any method is so high, viz. a few millions of yen) and b. stating that the crime itself is Minor, which will act in contradiction of preventive theories / process.

    And I have already said that stealing even 1 yen worth good/money is a crime. I think no one should have any issues wrt that.

    Thanks all !

  • what ever happened to the NJ university professor that was recently caught shoplifting? I wonder why there is no follow-up on this cases. Im sure that he was not given a slap on the wrist, and Im sure that hes still locked up and denied bail, unlike his japanese counterparts in crime. again all the double standards are just sickening..

    — Referential links to this case courtesy of FG:

  • >if there are 145,429 cases reported in last year in Japan which has a population of 125 million, it means that 1.16 percent of all the Japanese people (unless only NJ did all the said crimes) ARE Criminals.

    I doubt those 145.429 cases are separete incidents with all separete perpetrators.

    But what I don’t doubt is the irony in being followed around by the staff at convenient-stores, supermarkets and just about everywhere else, expecting me to shoplift since I’m a male foreigner.

  • Shopwatcher says:

    The police are fairly mellow about dealing with shoplifting full-stop.

    As in most developed countries, shoplifters are usually kids, the poor, the mentally disturbed – whether momentarily or otherwise – and professionals. The police are primarily interested in professionals.

    Until a few years ago, kids were fast growing in terms of individual incidents. They were nicking games and books and selling them to shops like Book Off for instant cash. The shops and police are generally lenient provided the parents make restitution and the kid apologizes. Anyone working with an international school has first hand experience of how this works with foreign kids and it is by-and-large the same. It can result in an expulsion but not usually in a conviction.

    It can get serious for kids if the offence is part of a pattern of delinquency or if they cross the line into professional shoplifting. That’s true for both Japanese and foreigners. In Aichi and Shizuoka and Gifu, some gangs of South American kids have gone on sprees and the ringleaders have ended up in detention centres. In theory, the same could happen to those three French kids apprehended in Akihabara last month. Reports say they stole goods on 18 separate occasions. If their parents are wealthy enough, and the school speaks up for them, they might have a better chance that if they were Brazilian.

    Police are also not much interested in the “mentally disturbed”. This would include borderline kleptomaniacs, someone undergoing a mental breakdown, a post-natal depressive etc. Some of these offenders do obviously go to court especially if their crime has caused considerable inconvenience or there is no-one to vouch for them. Of course the police won’t automatically turn a blind eye just because you do something out of character otherwise they’d hardly have cause to arrest anyone. The Finnish prof might fit into this category. If he did end up in court then it’s likely the judge would be lenient because the usually take account of the reputation damage an offender has already suffered.

    The reason for the survey mentioned in the OP is that the police suspect they are seeing more poor shoplifters and they want more guidance on how to treat them or else they want support for a course of action they have already decided. There is never any other reason for a police survey anywhere in the country.

    In our nearest city, there are cases of elderly shoplifters stealing onigiri who haven’t eaten in a couple of days. Should the police regard them as petty criminals or are they “mentally disturbed” on account of being in dire financial straits? This is an area where foreigners are likely to see some different treatment. A poor foreigner shoplifting is going to be a young foreigner. A “working poor” young Japanese might have some family to rally around to help mitigate the situation but this is less likely to be true for a young foreigner (except in a zainichi case) so that offence will often lead to a prosecution. If the foreigner isn’t a permanent resident or not on a spouse visa or nikkeijin visa, deportation is a possible outcome.

    Foreigners might also get the short end of the stick because there are known to be foreign shoplifting rings. A recent high profile bust involved cabin crew working for Vietnam Airlines while there have also been some Bonnie and Clyde-like crime sprees with couples driving around the country hitting supermarkets and shopping malls. These gangs either smuggle goods outside the country or sell them on to fences in Japan. As a consequence, when some local plod nabs a foreign shoplifter, especially a South East Asian, he might get overexcited and assume he’s broken a major racket. When he finds out he’s only got some poor schlub on his hands, he’ll still do the paperwork on the crime just so he can chalk up some accomplishment.


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