Being good has never been easy. And it’s not getting easier — unlike many things in this age of mass technological empowerment. If it were, presumably, there would be more good and less evil — unless evil is more attractive?
The monthly Sapio has dire fears on that score. Japan, it says, is being “swallowed up” by a “black society” — “black” in the sense of good people’s worst nightmares come horrifyingly to life. You wonder as you read why civilization after thousands of years, or science after hundreds, or hyper-technology after tens, has failed to speed our evolution past this ugly and primeval stage.
“Good” and “evil,” of course, are elastic terms. One age’s good can be another’s evil. An example fresh in the collective memory is this month’s Supreme Court ruling striking down a Civil Code provision denying full inheritance rights to heirs born out of wedlock. The rank injustice of discriminating against children born, quite unwittingly, to parents not legally married seems glaringly clear, and in fact the ruling was unanimous; yet in 1995, less than 20 years ago, the same Supreme Court ruled the discrimination was right and just, a necessary protection of the institution of marriage, without which society might descend into a state of feral chaos.
In cases of that sort, morality seems to change with time and place; in others — violence against the unoffending and helpless, sexual exploitation, abuse of children and so on — the standards are absolute, and even criminals, if they are sane and honest, will admit, or boast, that their acts are evil as society understands the word.
Sapio makes its case at some length, and only a bare summary can be attempted here. It begins by noting that the arrest rate for criminal offenses has plunged to an abysmal 31.3 percent — so much for Japan being a safe and well-policed country. How did that happen? Not so much police incompetence as the changing nature of crime itself seems the key point. Once upon a time criminals were either professionals (yakuza) or, if not, at least they had a clear motive: debts, a grudge, something you could put your finger on. Police knew what and often who to look for. Now, the magazine says, “we’re seeing a sinister society in which anyone can suddenly turn criminal.”
The rough draft of an explanation, which will do until the subtleties are worked out, is a crazy confluence of opposites. On the one hand, a decades-long economic downturn has shrunk conventional opportunities; on the other, the Internet has so vastly enlarged the realm of the possible that, quite literally, the impossible or unthinkable has vanished into the ether.
Here, for example, is a business anyone with an entrepreneurial spirit can plunge into; no need of start-up capital or bank loans or anything like that. All you need is a cell phone and a few underage (better yet, underage-looking) girls. The name of the business is enderi — a fusion of enjo kōsai (teen prostitution) and “delivery health” (order-in sex). Both components have been around for a while; it’s the fusion that’s new. It started, writes freelance journalist Daisuke Suzuki in Sapio, around 2006, and is “the most ‘underground’ form of organized prostitution.” The novelty lies in the level of organization and in the increasing cyberization, which makes street-walking, with all its perils and tedium, unnecessary.
An entrepreneur runs the show behind the scenes, trolling Net encounter sites for clients. Next level down are a handful of young den mothers, so to speak (the one Suzuki speaks to is all of 17), each one handing out assignments to her own little cohort of sex providers, some younger than herself, some not. The ideal sex provider is legally of age but looks like a child. They’re the ones who command the highest rates (¥50,000 plus room expenses if any). And their handlers don’t risk jail time for forcing minors into prostitution.
With so much money to be made, moral values inevitably totter. The apparent murder last month in Kure, Hiroshima Prefecture, of a 16-year-old girl, with seven suspects now in custody, looks to police like an extreme instance of what this sort of thing can lead to. Some enderi prostitutes, Suzuki says, are being run by their own mothers.
Murder is as old as resentment; surrogate homicide isn’t new either; but Internet anonymity and “black sites” operated by people ready to do anything for a price make access to such services so easy that moral scruples scarcely have a chance sometimes against temptation. Journalist Tetsuya Shibui, exploring the “black sites” for Sapio, cites several apparent cases over the years of Net-contracted murders, then himself briefly turns “client,” applying to a site for a fixer to humiliate a (fictitious) woman he said had dumped him. No problem, came the prompt reply; “just tell us where she works; we’ll spread such noxious rumors about her that her life at the company will become impossible.” The fee? Anywhere from ¥300,000 to ¥700,000, depending on the degree of difficulty involved.
“Anyone can suddenly turn criminal,” says Sapio — without, however, mentioning the elderly and a new social problem with few if any historical precedents. The women’s weekly Shukan Josei finds that lately 1 in 4 shoplifters is 65 or over. Time was, shoplifting was a predominantly juvenile offense. No longer. Elderly offenders now outnumber youngsters. This is not “evil,” of course, in the feral sense of the word. It is merely very, very sad. One shoplifter, well-known in her rural Gumma Prefecture community, is 86 and living alone. She is perky and alert. Shoplifting she has apparently taken up as a hobby, or a challenge. She makes the rounds of the supermarkets and local kitchen gardens. When confronted, she pretends to be senile. No one knows what to do with her. No one knows what to do with a great many people as they slip through society’s widening cracks.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5