Japan is often considered slightly odd compared to other countries. Its economic success, distinct culture and disciplined population has made Japan rather unique, and produced one of the lowest crime rates in the world. The country has 127 million people yet street crime is almost unheard of; the murder rate is only lower in tiny Monaco and Palau, and the use of drugs is minimal compared to other industrialized countries. The Japanese intolerance to illicit drugs – seen as evidence of bad personal character – were demonstrated with the national outrage the followed when two well-known sumo wrestlers tested positive for marijuana in 2008.
A Japanese friend of mine explained that going to prison would be an unimaginable social stigma for most people, leading to a widespread public perception that crimes are mostly committed by foreigners. The belief that almost all Japanese are law-abiding also creates a system that routinely treats suspects as guilty until proven otherwise. In such a hierarchical and deferential society, suspects face enormous pressure to cooperate with the investigators and admitting guilt, leading to a conviction rate in the courts of more than 99%. The criminal justice system is founded on a strong belief that the criminal must repent for his crime – not simply being punished the law – and Japanese prisons are well-known (or notorious) for their strict discipline and order.
It is a undisputed fact that Japan has achieved a remarkable
safe society compared to other industrialized countries, and they incarcerate far fewer than for instance the UK (with a prisoner rate 3 times higher) or the US (13 times higher). Yet it is also a carefully maintained image that ignores many darker aspect of the Japanese society. Its modern surface often doesn’t extend to social attitudes towards women in this male-dominated culture. Unlike the rare violent crimes, sexual assaults are said to be widespread and severely underreported. The existence of chikan (“perverts”, meaning men groping women in public) is a massive problem and has led to the creation of “women-only” carriages in most major cities. Japanese police are also criticized for failing to take victims of sexual crimes seriously time and again as a result of either chauvinist bias or an inability to investigate such crimes.
What are most disturbing are however arguments that the low crime is partially a result of a police culture that are obsessed with keeping crime statistics low. Former detectives claim that police is unwilling to investigate homicides unless there is a clear suspects and frequently labels unnatural deaths as suicides without performing autopsies. Coincidentally, Japan has one of the highest suicide rates in the world.