No I haven’t been arrested. I tend to mind my matters in other countries for the most part. And in my experience, the police here are generally pretty nice and don’t like to harass us too much, except for the occasional bicycle registration checks here and there.
The closest I’ve been to being arrested is my friend. He was sent to jail for essentially being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Apparently somebody got punched in front of convenience store and he happened to be there at the time. He was an enormous guy so that might have factored into him being sent to prison.
He managed to get himself thrown in jail for a few months right in the middle of downtown Tokyo. He shared a cell with a murderer. It was a bit tough for a guy that just happened to be in the wrong place. But, he managed to reform himself afterwards.
And that was essentially my only experience with crime in Japan. I had no idea about what goes on in court or what the general flow of criminal cases at all. Despite even having a few lawyers as students, I was a bit lost.
Different Slices of Culture
For my over 12 years in Japan, I’ve mostly stuck to the same crowd. I was either with teachers and English students of some kind or, recently, I’ve been working with translators and programmers. I can say that I know a lot about the ins and outs of these environments. But, I don’t know about all the other nooks and crannies of Japan.
You can call this limited view of the culture a slice. I have no idea what it is like to grow up in Japan, or that much of what a typical Japanese household is like. I never had that experience, so I’m at a bit of a loss if somebody asks me about it. I just know what it is like to be an English teacher/translator/blogger/coder in Japan. That’s a lot of hats, but not all of them
And I think if you live in Japan you will notice that there more than a few people that will pass judgment on the whole population based on this very small slice of society. It is dangerous to make assumptions based on such thin evidence in my opinion. And it just keeps you narrow-minded. To get the full picture you really need to journey outside of your comfort zone and learn about a different slice.
The Ones you Don’t Hear About
Japan is world-renown for its utter lack of crime. I heard that during the Aichi Expo, an event that went on for 6 months in a field near Nagoya, there were only 5 wallets reported stolen. And they commented that even some of those might be from people simply misplacing them. I’ve heard that the only thing that gets stolen in Japan are umbrellas and bicycles (usually by drunken salary men).
But occasionally, here and there, you will see little snippets of crimes. Some quite banal, others quite gruesome like the case where a junior high school kid beheaded one of his classmates and left the remains in front of the school for his classmates to find. Or the story of the dead body that was left in a car in the parking lot of the grocery store where my wife usually does some of her shopping. There is still some crime that pops up every once in awhile.
And of course the nightly news just gives you some little snippet of information and sends you to commercial break. But, if you dig deeper and look for the root of some of these crimes, you can find some interesting stories. “True Crime Japan” (US) does a great job of showing you those stories and slices of life that linger down there in the criminal world.
I really enjoyed some of the interesting quirky tales from this book that provide some interesting anecdotes for some Japans recent social problems. For example, in recent times, there has been an uptick in elderly crime. Specifically, older adults seem to be doing a lot more shoplifting. In the book, the author follows a few cases of elderly pensioners and their ventures into shoplifting. These little insights tell a lot about the social problems that are becoming more prominent and the changing attitude of older adults.
There are also some tales of the changing face of the yakuza, an organization that used to be fairly powerful and flagrant. Now, the famous organization has been slowly being reduced by ever stricter rules that prevent them from operating in the ways they once did. These new rules come up a lot more often than you think. For instance, when I went to get my home loan, they were legally required to ask me if I was connected to any kind of organized crime.
As much of a joke as that was when he asked me and my wife that, I guess if we are a part of organized crime and lie about it, we can get arrested for perjury. And if we are a part of organized crime, we are not legible for the loan, so it is a bit of a catch-22 for the yakuza. They still operate though. There is a known home of one of the bosses about a 10 minute drive from where I live. It is very obvious that it is a house of yakuza too. It is 3 stories, takes up 4 times as much land as your typical Japanese home and is surrounded by not 1, not 2, but 3 fences.
True Crime Japan is a great read if you are looking for another slice of the culture, one that isn’t readily available in another format. So often you read blog posts detailing the craziness of Japan, and in reality it is a fairly normal place with normal people that commit somewhat normal crimes. I think this book does a fair job of explaining those.