Foreign devils

Statistics on crime in a "mixed-residence society"

By William Wetherall

A version of this article appeared in
Mainichi Daily News, 26 September 1993, page 9

Note: Blue phrases were cut from article because of space.

The face of crime in Japan is changing, says the editorial spiel in all three issues of the recently-launched Hanzai geppo. Why, though, does a "monthly crimes file" that merely digests cases in calendar order, and serves up a few voyeuristic and alarmist articles? Because, Hanzai geppo says, crime in Japan is becoming more complex and confusing. One reason given for this is "the fact that crimes by foreign laborers are becoming conspicuous. " And "there is no end to cases in which Japanese become victims of crime overseas.

National Police Agency (NPA) "white papers" cite "facts" like these: In 1992, Immigration Bureau officials allowed 3.9 million foreign bodies (multiple entries by the same person equals multiple foreign bodies) into Japan through ports like Narita, while police investigated 7,457 Penal Code offense cases involving foreign suspects and arrested 5,961 foreigners. The figures for 1982 were 1.7 million foreign entries, 1,187 case investigations, and 1,031 arrests.

Even a constipated mathematician could work out that, during the past 10 years, a 2.3 fold rise in annual entries has been accompanied by a 6.3 fold increase in cases and a 5.8 fold increase in arrests.

NPA, like all bureaucratic organizations, is as complex and confusing as Japan's crime picture. Its criminal science is highly acclaimed. Its statistical analyses are primitive if not specious.

The "image" of increasing cases of crime by foreigners is factual enough. More warm bodies, more crime. But does more crime mean greater criminality among foreigners, or higher risks of Japanese becoming their victims--as a plethora of NPA-inspired media reports and editorials would have us believe? There is no simple answer.

Take the number of aliens who breathe Japanese air, whether for one day or all year. The number of aliens who pass through ports of entry is, at best, a shaky estimate of the "foreign" population that commits crimes in "our" country. For there is also a well-settled foreign population, which includes hundreds of thousands of "aliens" who have never either entered or set foot out of Japan. And this population also contributes to NPA's tally of foreign cases and arrests.

The age and sex composition of this settled foreign population is not radically different from that of the Japanese population, and it produces a similarly low crime rate. Bear in mind, however, that both of these populations are rapidly aging, and So their crude crime rates (total cases divided by total population) may appear to be falling even when rates of crime may be rising within their younger age groups.

In contrast, the highly transient alien population, as estimated by annual entries, is primarily young, single, and male - the group that commits most felonies in all countries, even Japan. Since the total alien population is being rapidly inflated by younger people, its crude crime rate would appear to increase even though criminality among, say, young single male foreigners may not be increasing.

Failure to account for such differences in demographic traits should itself be considered a felony abuse of statistics. The police bureaucracy does not, of course, compile statistics primarily for the purpose of telling the public the truth about crime in Japan-nor about traffic accidents or suicide for that matter--but are mainly intended to show annual police work loads (Gokurosama!), which in turn are used to justify budget requests--a universal bureaucratic malaise.

In any event, a more accurate profile of alien crime in Japan would reveal that the crime rates for the transient population are much higher than suggested even by the misleading mix of Immigration Bureau and NPA figures. Such a profile would also make clear that the settled population, with a more natural mix of sex and age, and a more normal proportion of people with families, is no more a threat to public safety in Japan than are Japanese citizens.

Most Japanese crimes are directed towards relatives, lovers, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and other people known to the criminal. Similarly, the victims of most crimes by foreigners are foreigners--and the victims of crimes committed by recent arrivals are likely to be other recent arrivals.

Some figures suggest that this pattern is changing because more foreigners may be coming to Japan with the intent to commit crime. Still, the probability that a Japanese in Japan will be a victim of a crime committed by a foreigner has not been increasing as fast as the foreign crime rate.

The alarm created by NPA's "white paper" profile is amplified by mass media reports like the "foreign crime black paper" featured in the Sept. 23 issue of Sapio. The introduction to seven articles wonders "who let Shinjuku and Ikebukuro become like New York?", and alludes to "the pitfalls of a 'mixed-residence society Nippon' that newspapers do not seriously discuss. "

"In a residential area of Metropolitan Tokyo, a young Japanese couple strolling in a park in the middle of the night was attacked by a group of foreigners, and before her watching husband, the wife was repeatedly raped."

Having grabbed the reader's attention with this lead, Sapio notes that the story is unfounded but that variations of it have spread through the country - proof, it says, of how lost and confused Japanese have become about the presence of foreign laborers and illegal stayers. No wonder, then, "when it is reported that backstage of the Kofu office-girl kidnap-murder case is a foreign hostess [we Japanese] are oddly convinced [as we say] say 'Yappari' ('Wouldn't you know it?')."

So why devote 17 pages to "true" stories about foreign crimes in Japan? Stories with headlines like these: "Iranians are definitely dealing in drugs, and are skillful at killing with knives!" "A 'foreign crime network' that targets northern Kanto cities within 80 kilometers of Tokyo has been set up." "Why has Kanazawa harbor refused entry to Russian ships for half a year?" "What's all this about arresting prostitutes for overstays, then immediately releasing them." "The selfishness of a '3K-[manual]-labor-craving Nippon' that issues Alien Registration Cards even when visas have expired." "Shutting Iranians out of Yoyogi Park and the like is totally useless! What is needed are legal provisions to prevent [their criminal] organization)."

Sapio asserts that such articles, which include a "Japanese are beginning to be targeted" dose of over-the-counter NPA statistics, are in the interest of getting at the truth of the matter, and that such understanding will prevent yesterday once more such as the rumor-driven massacre of Koreans (and, it might have added, Chinese) in the wake of the Great Kanto Earthquake of 70 years ago.

Meanwhile there are no analyses of Japanese monkey business against each other, much less against foreigners, in or outside their increasingly open-gated insular cage - save a 9-page article by "yellow cab" purveyor Ieda Soko, on Japanese shenanigans in Manila's dens of iniquity, which she observed undercover, dressed (and undressed) like her Filipina sisters. Who said participatory anthropology, or balance, was dead?