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ARTICLE: The Youth Crime Wave

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14 Mar 2002
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We just found a highly interesting web site offering an abundance of fabulous articles and features: insite Tokyo.

Here's one of their articles on juvenile crime in Japan (1997):

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The Youth Crime Wave

An apparently motiveless spate of teenage violent crime has shocked the nation - So who's to blame?

Japan has a reputation as being one of the safest countries in the world and it would seem a deserved one, boasting one of the lowest crime rates of any developed nation. A country that has achieved phenomenal economic success, provided a high standard of living for the majority of its population, and kept the unruly element relatively contained.

However, in 1997 the severed head of an 11-year-old boy was found outside the gates of a junior high school in Kobe. Earlier that week three primary school girls had been assaulted and a fourth beaten to death. It transpired to be the work of a 14-year-old student. The nation was in shock and the media in a frenzy. It seemed as if the Japanese youth, according to the media at least, had gone into a brutal and bloodthirsty rebellion.

The following five weeks saw no less than 37 violent crimes by minors, including murders and assaults. It wasn窶冲, unfortunately, a passing phase. Six weeks ago, a 17-year-old boy hijacks a bus, much to the media窶冱 prime-time delight, and fatally wounds an elderly woman. Quoted as saying his only motive was that he 窶忤anted to know what it was like to kill someone,窶 the nation once again was thrown into a bout of reflective soul-searching. In Oku-gun, Kazuko Oka, 42, is beaten to death by her 17-year-old son shortly before he attacks several of his schoolmates during baseball practice. At time of writing he is still at large. Described by his baseball coach as 窶徼oo timid窶 the boy it appeared was a helpful but quiet child. 窶廩e did not discuss his feelings. Never revealed is thoughts or problems,窶 a classmate and friend said of the boy. The perpetrators of these crimes, almost without exception, came from good, financially secure households, and appeared to have no specific motive.

As a consequence, the last few years has seen a period of deep introspection for the Japanese people. The worrying thing for Japan is that this type of crime, which was once thought of as a solely Western phenomenon, has now become a tragic domestic reality. The media fuels the budding obsession. Crimes are depicted in painful and painstaking reenactments and in this way the Japanese media resembles an American style of sensational news coverage. A million television talk shows focus on the causes of such crimes 窶 the education system, isolation from the family unit, the portrayal of violence in the media, graphic video games and the Internet to name but a few of the alleged culprits. An endless, and agonizing, cycle of analysis and diagnosis which will never lead to one satisfying, all-encompassing solution.

Although, the finger pointing may have some justification. Recent investigations into the bus hijacking case showed that the boy repeatedly visited certain web sites which post graphic images and provide network links for similar minded browsers. However, to place the blame solely on one source seems a little naテッve and perpetuates popular myths in much the same way as in the 70s when Led Zeppelin lyrics were blamed for Satanism or more recently icons like Marilyn Manson. In their urgency to saddle the blame, more often than not the media fails to examine the root of the problem or give a balanced view, leading to all manner of disproportional hysteria.

Despite what certain sections of the Japanese media may suggest it would be wrong to give the impression that the Japanese youth are collectively involved in bloody anarchy; as it would be to say the same of the American youth after the recent spate of tragic school shootings. Most Japanese high school children are impeccably well behaved. A recent survey by the Hakuhodo Institute of Life and Living found that 76.3% of children in grades four to eight actually enjoy going to school and take study seriously. However, all is obviously not well and the remaining 23.7% is worthy of concern.

Lulled into a false sense of security by comforting government statistics (gang violence down 75%, 76,453 less juvenile crimes last year than in 1986) there is a danger that people have become complacent. The reason the statistics appear so healthy is that there are far fewer juveniles now than ten years ago due to the substantial drop in the birth rate. The Ministry of Education figures are perhaps more accurate showing a proportional increase in violent crimes in schools over the last ten years of 400%. The most recent statistics published by the National Police Agency (NPA) showed that the total number of juveniles between the ages of 14 and 19 held for alleged violations over the last two years rose by 4.4%, the highest increase in seven years. More poignantly, the juveniles held for serious crimes, including robbery and murder rose by a significant 51.4% to 2,263.

As the statistics show youth and gang violence has been part of the Japanese legacy for many years but it is the nature of the crimes that has taken an alarming turn for the worse. One of the reasons for this may be the current law concerning crimes by minors. At present the minimum age that an offender can be tried as an adult in Japan is 20, regardless of the offence, and persecutors cannot contest the verdict. A minor accused of committing a crime is initially sent to a family court, which decides whether to give protective measures i.e. reform school or send the defendant back to prosecutors to face criminal proceedings. If then found guilty the charged is sent to a correctional facility for youths until he reaches the age of legal maturity where upon he is released back into society. As Koichiro (named changed), a former Bousouzoku gang member, extols 窶廬 was making between 400 -500,000 yen a month selling drugs and the worst I was going to get was a few of months in reform school.窶 Now, at 22, he works on a construction site, ironically making about the same amount of money. 窶廬 wouldn窶冲 sell drugs now, no. Some of my friends still do but I don窶冲 hang out with the younger crowd. I窶冦 an adult now. ##### I could go to prison! That窶冱 completely different.窶 It seems that a common perception of the current system is that if you are in your late teens in Japan you can get away with murder, literally.

During the recent election campaigns 窶徊uvenile law reform窶 was the key catch phrase banded around by everyone from Yuko Obuchi to Yoshiro Mori, highlighting voter concern. Due to public outcry, the re-elected Liberal Democratic Party, has promised to re-think Juvenile Law, proposing to lower the legal age a youth can be tried as an adult to 14-years-old. However this has been a 窶徘roposal窶 for over three years and without any other concession to simultaneously lowering other rights available to 窶和dults窶? such as voting. This type of duel standard will only go to isolate those teenagers further.

Measures implemented since the Kobe incident have only half-heartedly been put into effect. Scenes of violence, especially using knives, were cut from weekly TV dramas for all of about three weeks. Convenience chains that refused to stock Bubka, a popular teen magazine that contains photographs of violence and sex, soon restocked the shelves again with the same or similar publications. The NPA posted requests that newsagents display pornography and other potentially offensive literature in a separate 窶藁ature窶 section, another measure which never became common practice.

It seems as if the tendency of the media, and the politicians, of Japan to latch upon a current trend in public opinion only to then discard it in favor of the next fad has pervaded even into the most serious of national concerns. The proposed intentions of the government, and of the media in general, lack conviction. All out censorship of course is no solution but, like in other developed countries, media of a graphic nature should be only accessible to those deemed 窶和dult窶 by law and who are then responsible as an 窶和dult窶 for any crime they commit. It is then the responsibility of a mature society to set example and to police the law.

The responsibility, it could be argued, lies closer at home. When a father brings home manga depicting rape and murder, then it becomes an acceptable norm for a child. With communication routes strangled by lack of contact and misunderstanding between the generations, the gap continues to widen. The longer the quiet, 窶徼imid窶 teenage boy is unable to express his feelings, the longer the small pockets of psychosis all over the country are allowed to fester. Bombarded from all sides by frivolous but graphic portrayals of violence and sensational media coverage, an isolated teenager can manifest any fantasy they want to in the privacy of their 6 tatami mat room. If gone unnoticed it is only a matter of time until it happens again.

by Stephen Cotterill

Statistics for JUVENILE CRIME in JAPAN (1997~1998)

Total number of Juvenile
1997 133,581
1998 152,825
increase(%) 14.4%

Total number of Felonious crimes increase(%) 51.3%
Total number of violent crimes increase(%) 15.5%
Total number of intellectual crimes increase(%) 27.5
Total number of moral crimes increase(%) 6.1%

Copyright ツゥ insite-Tokyo 1997
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