Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

What Is Happening In These "Safe" Islands???!?

When I first came to Japan back in 1990, there were many things that I came to love immediately. There were other things that drove me nuts. One of the things that irritated me the most was the firmly-ingrained notion the Japanese had in their heads that their country was so totally free of crime. Never mind the fact that two people were shot and killed at a pub near Kashima Central Hotel within two weeks of my arrival. It was just an established fact, known to everyone, that Japan was "safe", whereas the U.S. was a dangerous hell-hole in which even children were running around with guns. When a Japanese exchange student wound up getting shot in Baton Rouge in 1991, I wound up almost drowning in a flood of self-righteousness and patronizing nationalism.

I have to admit that the comparative safety here was one of this area's charms. I always thought it nice that I could leave my doors unlocked or, if I went off and left my wallet, I could find it again with its contents intact. It was definitely a place where, even if their morals seemed a bit iffy in certain areas, people had a reasonable sense of right and wrong.

Notice that I used past tense.

Here in the Land of the Rising Crime Rate we've had two more primary-school girls turn up dead after having been abducted and molested. Both of them turned up within the same week. (The perpetrator in one of those cases has been apprehended. Wouldn't you know it; he's a foreigner.) And now yet another child has disappeared while walking home from school.

On the home front, the wave of students being mugged seems to have ebbed, thank goodness. The rash of wallets being pilfered has also petered out. However, now girl students are being sexually harassed, physically as well as verbally, while walking home from school on a regular basis. We have also had a number of incidences of scary-looking guys accosting girls inside our school during class hours.

And then, about a week ago, we were contacted by the police and told to end our afterschool activities early and send the kids home during daylight hours because an armed robbery had occurred not far away. It happened twice in as many days.

We're at the point now where we have to keep the school buildings locked up during the day to keep the perverts out. (Most of the public schools in our area are shutting and locking their front gates so you can't even enter the campus without an appointment.) The teachers have to take turns patrolling the streets around the school while the students are heading home. Valuables are collected from the students in the morning and returned when they leave. Night lock-up duty now takes a special kind of courage as it requires walking around in all those darkened corridors with all those convenient hiding places.

People are getting scared, and it's easy to see why. Things like these are not supposed to happen, especially around here. Kashima has never seen the like at any time in its history. Politicians, the media, and right-wing groups are quick to blame "westernization" for the country's ills, saying young Japanese have lost their morals, their scruples, and their sense of right and wrong because they've become "too American". Such thinking is much too simplistic (no surprise there...) and it really misses the point by sidestepping it, perhaps intentionally. No, it is definitely a Japanese problem. This country's society is growing ill, no doubt about it, but looking beyond the borders instead of within them is a sad case of rose-colored glasses.

I have a feeling the real culprit is, ironically, the fact that this country is so materially wealthy and convenient. Life is too easy. Everything is readily available. Children grow up getting whatever they want whenever they want. Got an ache for something? No problem! There is a service not far away that will cater to your every whim! No one need suffer frustration! Unfortunately, the result is that young people in Japan now more or less consider it a given that their desires will be fulfilled at their convenience. In other words, they are spoiled rotten. Spoiled people rarely have much of a sense of right and wrong because, as far as they're concerned, the greatest "right" is their own satisfaction. There's not much chance of changing that, either. Somewhere along the line, parents got "love" confused with "indulgence", and now it is considered a matter of course (with increasing legal backing) that children are to be pampered.

Yes, people are getting scared here. So am I. I'm afraid for my children, I'm afraid for my wife, I'm afraid for myself, I'm afraid for my students, I'm afraid for my friends and colleagues, and, most of all, I'm afraid for this country's future.

After all, I know a lot more crime victims in this "safe" country than I have ever known in the "dangerous" U.S..


  • Thanks for sharing this post, Moody.

    I think in the end, the responsibility still goes back to people like you. Not only as a teacher, also as a parent, as part of the society.

    Things will be easier if everyone are aware of this problem, gather people, do the talking, organize, know your neighbour and people around you better. When i was a kid, i don't remember seeing anyone locked their door, back in my hometown.

    But things are changing now, even in the small towns. Have TV, less communications, bring in more foreign labours for new projects, hired cheaper foreign workers, etc. - - we all contribute bit by bit to current social problems.

    Sad things is, sometime people don't give a damn until their own daughter are kidnapped. If only we are less selfish, less busy, as we claimed.

    By Blogger @ロウ 。LOW@, at 1:15 AM  

  • This reminds me of a fortune cookie Ladybug opened one day. It said, "Society prepares the crime. The criminal commits it."

    As in America, it sounds like getting tough and beefing up security is good politico-talk but, at the end of the day, no one feels any safer.

    Unfortunately, solving social problems never makes it onto the radar.

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 9:16 AM  

  • I think Japan is still relatively safe compared to the USA as a whole (looking at the rates of incidents), but it is sad to see these problems increasing here, especially when victims are kids. There have been disturbing incidents in Japan in the year I've been here such as the recent case in which high school boy stole a girl's house key, then used it to gain entry to her home and murder her - over his unrequited love obsession.

    In USA things have devolved as well. I was contacted by a high school friend recently and he said the neighborhoods around where we grew up (San Fernando Valley in LA county) are now home to several gangs and my friend is looking to move as he fears for his young son.

    As a temporary resident in Japan, I am happy that there is not widespread gun ownership here. That would make things a lot worse in my opinion. I also question the accuracy of Japanese crime statistics, particularly with regard to sexual assault. It seems to be way under-reported.

    I think your analysis has merit, Moody. Especially the part about blaming other countries for influences as well as foreign residents. Crimes always get more press when the criminal is a foreigner. Yet if you look at the statistics such a focus is unwarranted.

    I don't pretend to know the roots of the problem or the solutions, but to find either requires looking at it and talking about it. Japan really needs to take a self-critical look at itself, something it is not very good at doing.

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 4:56 PM  

  • Well, the most common problem of most countries is to have a self-critical look at themselves. Blaming game is always easier to play than self-remorse, self-correction and self-reflection.

    I remembered in my high school times, there's a normal 'style' of writing essays regarding social problems - blame the parents, blame the school, blame the religion, blame the foreign influences, etc. I remembered I once wrote a style that is totally different from the normal ones, about inner self reflection and looking within instead of bashing out. I got super low marks for that.

    We are just too used to blaming others whenever problems arise, and the society encourages the culture. To change, people really needs to start from root, like what Low mentioned about fundamental responsibilities.

    My best wishes to Japan, and to many other countries who are still learning to look at the mirror at themselves.

    By Blogger YD, at 5:18 PM  

  • MM, thanks for the enlightenment. I've always had a positive view of Japan that everything is going well there, like a nation to be emulated. Yr story portrays otherwise somewhat. It even gave me shivers reading it.

    I think decadence sets in once a nation becomes too affluent. Sgp at one time was also cracking down on unruly juvenile behaviour. They found that parents were too busy to spend time with their children but instead shower them with gifts and cash to compensate for the lack of time-sharing.

    Crime rate in Malaysia is no better. Of late (this year or so) there has been a spate of handbag snatchings by motorcyclists. Victims have even died due to head injuries sustained from the fall. Burglaries and rapes are also common. People have to be constantly on the lookout to stay safe. This is really sad. Is this a universal problem I wonder.

    By Blogger Happysurfer, at 6:52 PM  

  • Low...
    That was a very good observation. You are good at those. It is often said that improvements in communication and information technology are making people more isolated and ignorant. Is that ironic, or what?

    Where on Earth did Ladybug find a fortune cookie like that? Any government is going to resort to a "patch it quick" solution to any problem because those are what keep the public's support.

    The gang problem in the U.S. seems to be worsening in some areas but getting better in others. Portland was officially the 10th most dangerous city in the country in terms of murders per capita, but now it doesn't even rank (and, not long ago, I walked down what used to be one of the most dangerous streets at night, and it seemed perfectly quiet). New York has also gone from one of the most dangerous major cities to one of the safest. Both of these cities benefitted from administrations that were determined to solve the problems at the root rather than settling for the propaganda patch.

    It doesn't surprise me that you got low marks for insisting on thinking rather than pointing fingers and ranting. Speaking as a teacher myself, I can vouch that many teachers tend to fall into the trap of "follow the pattern or else". They don't really want to think or make any effort that will take time, so they just give the points to the students that repeat back their own opinions. (As for me, I tend to give the higher scores to students that can disagree with me smartly!)

    I think decadence is an inevitable side effect of prosperity. On the other hand, historically, decadence has almost always meant the doom of the culture in question. Unfortunately, decadence is almost considered a virtue in many wealthy countries, and thus it is being emulated by others to the detriment of native cultures. A side effect of that is people venting their frustration against such things through extremist political and/or religious views.

    And then there was terrorism...

    Many Americans can't understand why there are so many people in the world that hate us so much. I think the answer is as plain as Barbie's bustline.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 8:44 PM  

  • This also brings to mind the blaming of immigrants, both legal and illegal, for crime in the USA.

    An excellent novel about the latter group is "Tortilla Curtain" by TC Boyle. A poigniant tale, not unlike Steinbeck's "Cannery Row". It takes place in my native southern California, which gave it all the more impact when I read it.

    As for terrorism, if I dare comment on that volitile issue, much of it is manufactured by the "victim" countries - not there is not potential reasons for real resentment. The book "1984" and the movie "Brazil" are instructive fiction which closely correlate to the reality and the reasons for it.

    blzihxds - a catagory of mind altering drugs approved by the CIA as an "enhanced interrogation technique".

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 10:05 PM  

  • Someone said,

    Security is a state of mind..

    and all this crimes are robbing us our sense of security.

    By Blogger Robin, at 12:49 PM  

  • This is a sad reflection of the state of the world at the moment and with globalisation - no man is an island anymore and its always a "me first" attitude.

    We can only find true peace, happiness and security when we look inside. Seems like the outside world is getting uglier and uglier by the day. Shocking news is getting less shocking everyday!

    By Blogger FH2O, at 5:59 PM  

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