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Crime was very much on people’s minds during this year’s Golden Week holiday period. While the calendar made it possible for record numbers of Japanese to travel abroad, those who stayed behind for whatever reason were transfixed by news of two appalling crimes one day apart, each allegedly committed by a 17-year-old youth. A nation increasingly concerned about violent crime was stunned by the arrests of an Aichi Prefecture high school student for allegedly stabbing to death a 65-year-old woman because he “wanted the experience of killing someone” and of another youth with a troubled past from Saga Prefecture for a 151/2-hour bus hijacking in northern Kyushu that resulted in the death of a 68-year-old woman passenger and injuries to several others.

The question is whether the two incidents, which received almost saturation media coverage, will focus public attention on a realistic appraisal of what many agree is Japan’s growing crime problem. Realism is essential at a time when some politicians and social commentators, not to mention more sensational elements in the media, appear eager to find scapegoats among foreign residents of this country, legal and illegal alike, for the escalating crime rate. The facts convey a serious enough picture without resorting to scare tactics that prey on not-so-dormant ethnic stereotypes.

People must be warned about any real growth in violent crime by foreign nationals, but the effort to do this should include a public information program on the basic precautions to ensure safety of life and security of property. It would be erroneous and unfair to suggest that most crime victims somehow invite their fates, but it is equally wrong to pretend that, for example, unlocked vehicles — often with the key still in the ignition — and flagrant displays of large amounts of cash and other signs of apparent wealth do not offer great temptations to those least likely to be able to resist.

According to a report just released by the National Police Agency, the total number of crimes committed by foreign nationals in Japan last year reached the all-time high of 34,398. The figure represents a rise of 8.2 percent from the previous year, which is sufficient cause for concern without being the “soaring” increase that it was labeled in one press report. It is serious, however, that the agency noted “marked” increases in incidents of murder, robbery, arson and rape allegedly perpetrated by non-Japanese and that slightly over half the total were committed by two or more persons, an increase of 22.1 percent over the previous year. By contrast, among crimes committed by Japanese, less than one-fourth, or 23.8 percent, were the work of more that one person.

The NPA only began collecting statistics on criminal acts by non-Japanese in 1980. In the subsequent two decades, the number of such crimes increased more than 25 times. As important as it is for the agency to alert the law-abiding public to the growing threat posed by international criminal gangs, it would seem worthwhile for its reports to provide more information on the extent to which the Japanese underworld collaborates with such foreign groups, as well as to offer detailed comparisons between crimes committed by Japanese and those for which non-Japanese were responsible.

The NPA report indicates that 58.3 percent of all reported crimes by foreigners in 1999 were committed by illegal residents. These are the people that Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara says he had in mind when he delivered his recent “misreported” controversial remarks accusing them of “heinous” crimes. The problem with such inflammatory statements, and with police statistics that offer insufficient explanatory details, is that they encourage discriminatory treatment — and worse — of all illegal foreigners, including those visa overstayers who were welcomed during times of labor shortage and now are treated as discards.

As almost every day’s news makes clear enough, crime makes no distinctions among nationalities. Combating it in all its forms is a task for the entire society, as well as the police. Name-calling and citing narrow prejudices contribute nothing to the effort in the face of the host society’s own lawbreaking. The police last year confiscated 2 tons of illegal stimulant drugs, a record. It has just been revealed by an institute affiliated with the Education Ministry that nearly 20 tons of such drugs, with a street value of 1 trillion yen, are consumed in this country every year. It is pertinent to ask: What is the nationality of the users?

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