Monday, August 11, 2008

Follow-Up on Gaijin Crime

Yesterday, I wrote a post trying to explain how the Tokyo bid for the 2016 Olympics is making Governor Shintaro Ishihara less emotionally distressful to behold for non-Japanese in Japan and elsewhere. I received several interesting comments, to which I wound up writing in effect two rather long responses. Since this effort took up so much of my time and goes well beyond the scope of the original post, I’ve decided to exercise my prerogative as the blogger and post it separately. That way, I can satisfy my bloglust for the day without thinking up a completely new one. But you'll have to read the comments to the original post to fully understand what I'm talking about. I’m sorry about that. It won’t happen very often.

So here you are:

Darin, Janne, Michael:

The FY2007 Annual Criminal Statistics lists the criminal violations which are included in its statistics. It does not include visa and other immigration law violations. (It also excludes traffic violation-related crimes under the Criminal Code.) According to the FY2007 Annual Criminal Statistics on Crime, which I linked to, 365,577 criminals were apprehended, who committed a total of 605,358 between them in FY2007 (table 5-7). The numbers for gaijin are 7,528 and 25,730 respectively (table 5-17). In other words, gaijin accounted for 2.1% of criminals apprehended and 4.3% of crimes attributable to apprehended criminals. Since the number of gaijin crime has been going down in recent years, the “2-3%” range cited in the article appears to be reasonable. Sorry, I don’t have conviction figures, but I understand that it is in the high 90-percentile range overall, and have no reason to think that it is otherwise for gaijin defendants.

There’s more. The Annual Criminal Statistics notes on page 112 that of the crimes attributable to gaijin criminals, 63.3% were committed by two or more criminals, in contrast to 16.5% for crimes where Japanese criminals were apprehended. This is particularly true in the case of theft, which comprise an astonishing 83% of gaijin crime. In contrast, the overall figures are more or less uniform across the categories of crimes, with slight variations. It is interesting that the respective percentages for violent crimes excluding forcible burglary are very similar. The Annual Criminal Statistics does not give statistical figures for crimes committed jointly by Japanese and gaijin, but it is nevertheless clear from this and the figures in the previous paragraph that statistically speaking gaijin are not only twice as more prone to being apprehended for crimes but to do so in groups (or at least pairs) to commit crimes for economic gain. This indicates a higher level of professionalism among gaijin criminals than the criminal population in general. Given the relative ease for gaijin criminals to slip in and out of the country—the example of South Korean pickpocket groups come to mind—there was some justification beyond the public clamor over highly-celebrated cases to focus on this specific category from time to time as one of maybe a dozen issues in drafting a White Paper on Crime.

The lower rates cited by Janne are likely the result of taking the overall number of crimes reported—1,908,836—as the denominator. Since it is reasonable to assume that a proportionate number of those crimes to gaijin criminals (unless one assumes that gaijin criminals are stupider than Japanese criminals and are thus more prone to be apprehended), such lower rates are meaningless. But yes, age and gender also matter too. That was what I was referring to when I wrote of the demographics.

The gaijin numbers have not been inflated by the disproportionate representation (if Robert Whiting’s Tokyo Underworld, for example, is to be believed) of permanent-resident Koreans among yakuza members. Permanent residents as well as the U.S. military and related personnel have been excluded from the Annual Criminal Statistics statistics as far as gaijin crimes are concerned. Note though that any yakuza-zainichi relationship has nothing to do with any criminal tendencies among the zainichi, and everything to do with the fact, which I believe that I’ve noted elsewhere, that the yakuza industry was one of the few categories of Japanese businesses that were equal-opportunity employers throughout the post-WW II years.

Finally, I don’t think that Governor Ishihara was talking about all this for electoral purposes. In any case, you won’t hear him talking about it while the Tokyo bid for the 2016 Olympics is alive. He may be ornery, but he ain’t dumb. So root for Tokyo, hear?

I hope that I’ve covered all your points, Darin, Janne, Michael.

Now it’s your turn, anonymous. Sorry about that. Your anonymity, that is. You sound reasonably intelligent and are obviously able to read Japanese. Moreover, I've seen views similar to yours expressed elsewhere, so I see no reason for you to hide behind the cloak of anonymity, unless you want to avoid defending your anecdotes with facts.

Let’s take you seriously though and consider what appears to be the main thrust of your arguments, that “racist ‘J cops’ (is that ‘g slang’?)” are the reason for the higher gaijin crime rate. You say:

“Crime stats show gaijin are arrested for violent crime at a rate proportionate to the population, EVEN THOUGH the racist J cops pay extra special attention to us. I assume that if we all looked Japanese, the rate would be significantly lower.”

Let me elaborate your assertion as follows: the crime statistics greatly exaggerate the magnitude of gaijin crime because it includes “resolved cases”, i.e. criminal cases that have been found to lack the necessary conditions to constitute crimes, but excludes the people apprehended with regard to those “resolved cases”. To back up your assertion, you should have referred to the low number of apprehended gaijin relative to the number of apprehended crimes attributed to gaijin in comparison to the overall statistics. This is a plausible argument; but convincing? I think not. As I’ve already pointed out in my response to the first three comments, the vast majority of gaijin crimes appear to have been committed by professional criminal groups seeking economic gain. That, and not handcuff-happy “racist J cops”, accounts for the disproportionately large number of “g crimes” relative to the number of apprehended gaijin.

Your anecdote regarding a friend of a friend is just that: an anecdote regarding a friend of a friend. Disregarding the inevitable ambiguities in hearsay once removed for the moment, I never accept claims from one side of a criminal case as the irrefutable truth. Not only do otherwise upright citizens lie or omit some relevant facts to protect themselves or put themselves in a better light, they also genuinely misremember.

As for the bar fight anecdotes, has anyone bothered to put the stories together in a verifiable manner and plead the case in public? Note though that the gaijin/general-population discrepancy in crimes/criminals ratio does not exist for violent non-economic crime.

Something similar must be said for the atariya anecdotes. Do you know of any comparisons between the overall success rate of the atariya? I can give you accounts of how the police are believed to come down harshly on drivers in general, but pitting anecdotes against anecdotes is meaningless, and will more often than not wind up in putting the antagonists back in their respective echo chambers.

As for hiding inconvenient evidence, I assume that it happens, though how large a problem it is, or whether it is any more serious than it is Stateside (where I assume you come from), I do not know. I say this because there have been documented cases to that effect.

Finally, and this is my personal observation: The police do go by looks. They will react to your manner of speech, your body language, your clothes, and presumably other clues about your past actions or future intent. I’ve noticed this same phenomenon among taxi drivers. I think that the common thread between the two occupations is that the professionals must make split-second decisions regarding people they come into contact with that may have life-or-death implications. I assume that this is the same the world over. Moreover, in the case of policemen, Japanese public opinion comes down harshly on any use of guns. I try to keep these things in mind when I deal with the police. I assure you, it makes my experience in asking for directions that much more pleasant. I know that none of what I’ve written here is likely to serve in any way to induce you to reconsider your preconceptions, but I do think that I owe you this practical tip of sorts as a token of appreciation for your comment.


Janne Morén said...

Jun, I stand corrected. Thanks for the info - and I really ought to know by now that the Japan Times and similar sources should never be taken at face value. It would be interesting to see the statistics corrected for age. The difference ought to be less, though still exist is my guess.

As for police, to some degree you are indeed correct. I know Swedish police has a strong culture of dividing everybody between ordinary, middle-class normal people ("folk"), and everybody else ("buset"). And everybody else - whether 19 year old anarchist; or homeless; or drunk; or wearing strange or unusual clothes; or simply being dark-skinned and not speaking Swedish very well - are automatically on the suspect list until they've been cleared. Policemen everywhere probably do this, since trouble tends to come from people sticking out, not those fitting in.

But it does mean that the natural, rational, reaction of everybody being part of "buset" is to not see anything, not hear anything and not cooperate or volunteer anything in any way. The rough split of people into "harmless" and "troublemakers" based on surface characteristics is understandable, perhaps even inevitable, but it does create an adversarial relationship that makes the split self-reinforcing.

Japanese police' reputation for brutality is strong and persistent enough that you are often given semi-official advice (from your employer or other contacts) to try to avoid the police whenever possible. Whether the reputation is truly deserved is in a way beside the point, since the antagonistic and adversarial relationship that ensues is well-fed from the reputation only.

Jun Okumura said...

I'm doubly gratified, Janne, because I know how strongly you defend your statements and also how strongly you believe in the empirical approach.

I agree with your point about the "buset". It must be a universal phenomenon. In this regard, it may interest you to know that there is an extremely powerful streak in Japanese popular culture of the rogue-hero law-enforcement-officer/vigilante who remains true to his "buset" roots and uses that to fight for justice within and if necessary above that system. I'm aware that a variation of this meme also prevails in American comic books. There are differences, which I'd like to explore in detail one of these

As for the Japanese police, it's interesting to hear that about their reputation. Competence varies widely from individual to individual and some of them can be easily flustered when confronted with unusual situations. That's when it can get scary. My advice is, always seek out older policemen when you can. They have better communication skills. Also, be polite.

Mary Witzl said...

I've been following this discussion with interest.

Having spent almost two decades in Japan, I had a few encounters with the police during my time there, and while I too have heard stories and had a few negative experiences, by and large the police I had to deal with were decent and no more racist than the ones I have met in the U.K. and U.S. (though I realize that may be damning with faint praise).

Having said that, I am not a great fan of Governor Ishihara's (to put it mildly) and resent his assertions that non-Japanese are responsible for rising crime rates in Japan. I suspect that the picture is far more complex than mere statistics might suggest. Nevertheless, I think Tokyo would be a great place for the next Olympics, and I don't mind agreeing with the governor on this issue.

Janne Morén said...

I'm basically believe holding the Olympics in Tokyo is a bad idea for the city. Hosting the Olympics are probably a good thing for the host country, but the event has grown so large, complex, intrusive and expensive that it is a net negative for the host city. They're just like summit meetings - great that they're being held; just don't hold them around here. Best thing that has happened to Osaka lately is not getting this years Olympics.

Jun Okumura said...

The Olympics are an opportunity to remodel the city and its environs in ways that piecemeal improvements may not get it done, at least in terms of speed. The downside is that it is disruptive in the short run and you might not like the results anyway. Massive, underused sports facilities that are very expensive to maintain is as obvious outcome.

I count Osaka as one of my places of origin, so it's hard for me to say this, but I think that Nagoya (loser, 1988) would have been a much better venue. Tokyo does have much of the infrastructure (transportation, hotels, etc.) in place. That will keep costs, financial or otherwise , down. And Mr. Ishihara is being nice to our neighbors. That has to count.

Jun Okumura said...


So you're that Scottish dot on my Clustrmap.

You obviously had this in mind as you followed this thread. My guess is, the yakuza are much less conspicuous today and have less of a day-to-day presence in the mainstream media and popular culture. With every cellphone a potential surveillance camera, an assault like the one that you relate or the policeman's treatment of it would be harder to escape public notice. On other hand, widespread reports that the yakuza have moved into mainstream business lines as the noose has tightened on traditional sources of revenue suggest that the problem may have merely changed its guise.

Mary Witzl said...

Thank you, Jun -- yes, that is certainly one of the things I had in mind. To this day, I can't figure out just what happened there. At the time, I did not understand much Japanese, but whatever the woman said should not have precipitated such a savage attack.