Law & order, Japanese style (updated)

Thomas Lifson
Bruce Wallace of the Los Angeles Times writes an amusing story of his experience in Tokyo when his clunky, cheap bicycle was stolen. When a drunk stole his bike, the police took the crime seriously. Very seriously indeed; up to and including staking out the bicycle when spotted at a railway station, on the suspicion that the thief might return to use it again. This for a rusty, creaky bike worth less than $50.

This is the famous broken window theory of law enforcement on steroids. And it works. Japanese cities remain incredibly safe by the standards of the West. In all my years of living in Tokyo and Osaka, I never once felt afraid walking through parks in the middle of the night, and never lost anything to thieves.

It may help that Japan has a past that featured draconian punishments for miscreants. And that until World War II the concept of rights for the accused was almost unknown. But still, the Japanese know that the cost of vigorous law enforcement is far lower than the cost of crime.

One of the rituals of childhood in Japan is that when a child finds a lost coin, even a one yen (roughly a penny) coin, parents dutifully take him to the police, to register it as recovered property, to be held for an owner to claim for a specified period (ninety days, I think). After this period passes, the recovered property goes to the finder. The child is notified by mail, comes to the police station, fills out some paperwork (with the help of the cops if young), and receives the coin.

Far from regarding this as a waste of time, the police regard the filling in paperwork, the questioning of the child, and the effort to keep track of everything, as an investment in education of the citizenry on the meaning of respect for the property of others. As a result, property that is left on trains, in taxis, and in other public spaces is usually returned. I have heard stories from many friends about taxi drivers going out of their way to discover where the owner of a wallet lives, and then bringing the wallet to their residence. And refusing any reward.

One my old friends in Japan recently retired from a career in the police. With his help, I once spent some time visiting a Japanese prison, an experience that left a lasting impression. I would not want to be a prisoner there. Every aspect of your life is observed and controlled. Even the way you sit in your cell. There is not enough leeway for gang rape or violence, so in many ways it is better than American prison. But those who break the rules are constantly reminded during their incarceration that they have lost all freedom.

All in all, I think that we have a lot to learn from the Japanese in the realm of criminal justice. I can tell you that the absence of serious crime makes a huge difference in terms of the livability of cities. It is something I really miss.

Update:

A reader pointed out that the British press is currently preoccupied with the case of a young English woman teaching in Tokyo, who was raped and murdered.
Clutching a final photograph of the 22-year-old, Bill Hawker said he believed trusting Lindsay was lured to her death by a crazed loner who claimed he wanted language lessons.

He spoke as police confirmed the kind-hearted young teacher had been badly beaten and probably strangled or suffocated before her naked body was dumped in a bathtub full of sand at suspect Tatsuya Ichihashi's Tokyo apartment.

With tears streaming down his face, Mr Hawker said: "I'll carry this picture of my daughter for ever and I will not rest until the man who killed my daughter is caught.

"I believe my daughter was tricked into going to this man's apartment on the pretext of giving him an English lesson.

"My daughter didn't come to Japan to be murdered. She came here to help and she came here to teach.
Crimes of deranged passion are not at all absent from Japan, despite the widespread respect for private property and the general safety of the streets. And property crime rates, while still low, are rising. The manga (generic name for comic books) mentioned in the article, full of graphic depictions of violence often against women, are a common feature of daily life. One can see otherwise respectable looking men reading them on the trains, something which often shocks western visitors. But violent crime against women is probably less of a problem than in New York, London, or Paris. Certainly random violence by strangers is.

If the murderer of Lindsay Hawker is caught and convicted, he will most likely be hanged. The Japanese method of hanging is to let the prisoner stew on death row for an indeterminate period of time. The date of hanging is not specified. One early morning, without warning, he will be taken from his cell and hanged. That would seem to make each night full of dread.

The next time someone tells you that the entire civilized industrial world has rejected capital punishment, except for America, remind that person that Japanis both civilized and industrial. And lower in crime than Western Europe.
Bruce Wallace of the Los Angeles Times writes an amusing story of his experience in Tokyo when his clunky, cheap bicycle was stolen. When a drunk stole his bike, the police took the crime seriously. Very seriously indeed; up to and including staking out the bicycle when spotted at a railway station, on the suspicion that the thief might return to use it again. This for a rusty, creaky bike worth less than $50.

This is the famous broken window theory of law enforcement on steroids. And it works. Japanese cities remain incredibly safe by the standards of the West. In all my years of living in Tokyo and Osaka, I never once felt afraid walking through parks in the middle of the night, and never lost anything to thieves.

It may help that Japan has a past that featured draconian punishments for miscreants. And that until World War II the concept of rights for the accused was almost unknown. But still, the Japanese know that the cost of vigorous law enforcement is far lower than the cost of crime.

One of the rituals of childhood in Japan is that when a child finds a lost coin, even a one yen (roughly a penny) coin, parents dutifully take him to the police, to register it as recovered property, to be held for an owner to claim for a specified period (ninety days, I think). After this period passes, the recovered property goes to the finder. The child is notified by mail, comes to the police station, fills out some paperwork (with the help of the cops if young), and receives the coin.

Far from regarding this as a waste of time, the police regard the filling in paperwork, the questioning of the child, and the effort to keep track of everything, as an investment in education of the citizenry on the meaning of respect for the property of others. As a result, property that is left on trains, in taxis, and in other public spaces is usually returned. I have heard stories from many friends about taxi drivers going out of their way to discover where the owner of a wallet lives, and then bringing the wallet to their residence. And refusing any reward.

One my old friends in Japan recently retired from a career in the police. With his help, I once spent some time visiting a Japanese prison, an experience that left a lasting impression. I would not want to be a prisoner there. Every aspect of your life is observed and controlled. Even the way you sit in your cell. There is not enough leeway for gang rape or violence, so in many ways it is better than American prison. But those who break the rules are constantly reminded during their incarceration that they have lost all freedom.

All in all, I think that we have a lot to learn from the Japanese in the realm of criminal justice. I can tell you that the absence of serious crime makes a huge difference in terms of the livability of cities. It is something I really miss.

Update:

A reader pointed out that the British press is currently preoccupied with the case of a young English woman teaching in Tokyo, who was raped and murdered.
Clutching a final photograph of the 22-year-old, Bill Hawker said he believed trusting Lindsay was lured to her death by a crazed loner who claimed he wanted language lessons.

He spoke as police confirmed the kind-hearted young teacher had been badly beaten and probably strangled or suffocated before her naked body was dumped in a bathtub full of sand at suspect Tatsuya Ichihashi's Tokyo apartment.

With tears streaming down his face, Mr Hawker said: "I'll carry this picture of my daughter for ever and I will not rest until the man who killed my daughter is caught.

"I believe my daughter was tricked into going to this man's apartment on the pretext of giving him an English lesson.

"My daughter didn't come to Japan to be murdered. She came here to help and she came here to teach.
Crimes of deranged passion are not at all absent from Japan, despite the widespread respect for private property and the general safety of the streets. And property crime rates, while still low, are rising. The manga (generic name for comic books) mentioned in the article, full of graphic depictions of violence often against women, are a common feature of daily life. One can see otherwise respectable looking men reading them on the trains, something which often shocks western visitors. But violent crime against women is probably less of a problem than in New York, London, or Paris. Certainly random violence by strangers is.

If the murderer of Lindsay Hawker is caught and convicted, he will most likely be hanged. The Japanese method of hanging is to let the prisoner stew on death row for an indeterminate period of time. The date of hanging is not specified. One early morning, without warning, he will be taken from his cell and hanged. That would seem to make each night full of dread.

The next time someone tells you that the entire civilized industrial world has rejected capital punishment, except for America, remind that person that Japanis both civilized and industrial. And lower in crime than Western Europe.