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The National Police Agency divids crime into six main categories. Felonies--the most serious and carrying the stiffest penalties--includes murder and conspiracy to murder, robbery, rape, and arson. Violent offenses consist of unlawful assembly while possessing a dangerous weapon, simple and aggravated assault, extortion, and intimidation. Larceny encompasses burglary, vehicle theft, and shoplifting. Crimes classified as intellectual include fraud, embezzlement, counterfeiting, forgery, bribery, and breach of trust. Moral offenses include gambling, indecent exposure, and the distribution of obscene literature. Miscellaneous offenses frequently involve the obstruction of official duties, negligence with fire, unauthorized entry, negligent homicide or injury (often in traffic accidents), possession of stolen property, and destruction of property. Special laws define other criminal offenses, among them prostitution, illegal possession of swords and firearms, customs violations, and possession of controlled substances, including narcotics and marijuana.

In 1990 the police identified over 2.2 million Penal Code violations. Two types of violations--larceny (65.1 percent of total violations) and negligent homicide or injury as a result of accidents (26.2 percent)--accounted for over 90 percent of criminal offenses in Japan. Major crimes occur in Japan at a very low rate. In 1989 Japan experienced 1.3 robberies per 100,000 population, compared with 48.6 for West Germany, 65.8 for Britain, and 233.0 for the United States; and it experienced 1.1 murder per 100,000 population, compared with 3.9 for West Germany, 9.1 for Britain, and 8.7 for the United States that same year. Japanese authorities also solve a high percentage of robbery cases (75.9 percent, compared with 43.8 percent for West Germany, 26.5 percent for Britain, and 26.0 percent for the United States) and homicide cases (95.9 percent, compared with 94.4 percent for Germany, 78.0 percent for Britain, and 68.3 percent for the United States).

An important factor keeping crime low is the traditional emphasis on the individual as a member of groups to which he or she must not bring shame. Within these groups--family, friends, and associates at work or school--a Japanese citizen has social rights and obligations, derives valued emotional support, and meets powerful expectations to conform. These informal social sanctions display remarkable potency despite competing values in a changing society. Other important factors keeping the crime rate low are the prosperous economy and a strict and effective weapons control law. Ownership of handguns is forbidden to the public, hunting rifles and ceremonial swords are registered with the police, and the manufacture and sale of firearms are regulated. The production and sale of live and blank ammunition are also controlled, as are the transportation and importation of all weapons. Crimes are seldom committed with firearms.

Despite Japan's status as a modern, urban nation--a condition linked by many criminologists to growing rates of crime--the nation does not suffer from steadily rising levels of criminal activity. Although crime continues to be higher in urban areas, rates of crime remain relatively constant nationwide, and rates of violent crime continue to decrease.

The nation is not problem free, however; of particular concern to the police are crimes associated with modernization. Increased wealth and technological sophistication has brought new whitecollar crimes, such as computer and credit card fraud, larceny involving coin dispensers, and insurance falsification. Incidence of drug abuse is minuscule, compared with other industrialized nations and limited mainly to stimulants. Japanese law enforcement authorities endeavor to control this problem by extensive coordination with international investigative organizations and stringent punishment of Japanese and foreign offenders. Traffic accidents and fatalities consume substantial law enforcement resources.

Juvenile delinquency, although not nearly as serious as in most industrialized nations, is of great concern to the authorities. In 1990 over 52 percent of persons arrested for criminal offenses (other than negligent homicide or injuries) were juveniles. Over 70 percent of the juveniles arrested were charged with larceny, mainly shoplifting and theft of motorcycles and bicycles. The failure of the Japanese education system to address the concerns of nonuniversity-bound students is cited as an important factor in the rise of juvenile crime (see Primary and Secondary Education , ch. 3).

The yakuza (underworld) had existed in Japan well before the 1800s and followed codes based on bushido. Their early operations were usually close-knit, and the leader and gang members had father-son relationships. Although this traditional arrangement continues to exist, yakuza activities are increasingly replaced by modern types of gangs that depend on force and money as organizing concepts. Nonetheless, yakuza often picture themselves as saviors of traditional Japanese virtues in a postwar society, sometimes forming ties with right-wing groups espousing the same views and attracting dissatisfied youths to their ranks.

Yakuza groups in 1990 were estimated to number more than 3,300 and together contained more than 88,000 members. Although concentrated in the largest urban prefectures, yakuza operate in most cities and often receive protection from highranking officials in exchange for their assistance in keeping the crime rate low by discouraging criminals operating individually or in small groups. Following concerted police pressure in the 1960s, smaller gangs either disappeared or began to consolidate in syndicate-type organizations. In 1990, three large syndicates dominated underworld crime in the nation and controlled more than 1,600 gangs and 42,000 gangsters.

Data as of January 1994

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Japan Table of Contents