National / Crime & Legal

Japan's crime rate hits postwar low, but child abuse, domestic violence and offenses by elderly on rise

by Magdalena Osumi

Staff Writer

The transition from Heisei to Reiwa came at a relatively peaceful time, with the nation’s crime rate falling to a postwar low in 2018, an annual white paper released Friday by the Justice Ministry has shown.

But the paper also said the 30-year Heisei Era saw a rise in domestic violence, child abuse and — amid a rapidly graying population — crime by the elderly.

The total number of criminal acts committed in 2018 dropped to 817,338, declining for the 16th consecutive year. The figure is roughly a quarter of the number logged in the peak year of 2002, the report said.

The statistics summarizing crime trends in the Heisei Era, which ran from Jan. 8, 1989 through April 30, 2019, were released as a special edition of the white paper.

Officials said the total number of violations in 2018, including reckless driving, amounted to some 1.23 million, compared with 1.67 million in 1989. The number steadily rose until 2002, when it peaked at 2.79 million.

But despite the overall decrease in crime, statistics show an increase in domestic violence targeting spouses since 1999, with the number of people apprehended for such allegations totaling 8,229 in 2018. The figure was nearly 12 times higher than in 1989.

Moreover, the report said the problem of child abuse has grown since 2014, with high-profile fatalities coming to light in recent years. The number of people arrested over child abuse stood at 1,149 in 2018, rising from 242 in 1989.

Ministry officials also highlighted sexual offenses as a pressing problem. In 2018, 1,307 such cases were reported to police, up 17.9 percent from the previous year, reflecting a 2017 revision to the Penal Code that eliminated a requirement for a victim to file a criminal complaint before a case can be prosecuted.

The officials explained, however, that actual figures could be much higher given that such offenses often go unreported, citing a survey conducted on a randomly selected group of 6,000 people age 16 or older. Of 3,500 respondents, 35 said they had been sexually assaulted within the past five years, but 80 percent of them didn’t report the crimes.

The figures also showed that 21,556 people suspected they were being stalked and sought legal advice or protection in 2018 alone.

Despite the recent rise in the number of foreign visitors and residents in Japan, the number of crimes by foreign nationals peaked in 2005, with 43,622 such offenses. Since then, the number has been dropping, sliding to 10,065 in 2018. Theft made up the highest percentage of such crimes at 60.2 percent, followed by assault at 11.4 percent.

The number of foreign nationals staying in Japan illegally peaked in 1993 with 298,646 cases. In 2018, 4,744 such cases were reported.

The report shows that theft was the most common crime overall in Japan throughout the Heisei Era, with such violations accounting for about 70 percent of crimes. In 1989, the number of such cases stood at 1.48 million, while in 2003 it slightly exceeded 2.23 million. In 2018, police reported 582,141 such violations.

The report also pointed to a spike in crime by the elderly in line with the nation’s graying population. Theft, especially shoplifting, was the most common crime among people age 65 or older during the Heisei Era. Elderly women accounted for 90 percent of shoplifting offenders.

The number of elderly inmates serving prison terms grew throughout Heisei, from 1.3 percent of all people imprisoned in 1989 to 12.2 percent in 2018.