More seniors taking to crime in Japan

Guards escorting inmates of Sasebo Prison in Japan. In its annual White Paper on crime, the Justice Ministry noted that the ratio of seniors arrested last year had risen above 20 per cent of the total for the first time. Also, 2,500 pensioners were j
Guards escorting inmates of Sasebo Prison in Japan. In its annual White Paper on crime, the Justice Ministry noted that the ratio of seniors arrested last year had risen above 20 per cent of the total for the first time. Also, 2,500 pensioners were jailed - a fourfold increase from a decade ago.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Poverty, loneliness said to be behind trend, even as overall crime rate in country drops

Clad in black like an ancient-day ronin or samurai, a man scales walls and squeezes into tight spaces in the dark - but in the name of crime.

His agility eluded the Osaka police for over eight years, during which more than 29 million yen (S$345,000) was stolen in some 250 crimes.

But Mitsuaki Tanigawa, dubbed the "Heisei Ninja" - named after the current imperial era - is 74 and, by police accounts, a doddering old man in the day.

His identity was finally revealed on camera after his neck-warmer, which was pulled up to his nose, slipped during a break-in.

Tanigawa, who was arrested in October, said he was "defeated" when confessing to his crimes, adding that he chose to steal because he did not want to work.

Weeks after his arrest, the Justice Ministry released its annual White Paper on crime, which cast a spotlight on how Japan's ageing population has sparked a geriatric crime wave, besides a demographic crisis.

Economic hardship and loneliness among poor elderly who have fallen through the cracks in the world's third-largest economy have often been cited as reasons behind this trend.

  • 47k

    Criminal suspects in Japan last year who were 65 years or older - 20.8 per cent of the total arrests.

    100k

    Number of juvenile cases in 2015, an increase of 1,000 cases from the year before.

Some 46,977 senior citizens, defined by Japan as those aged 65 and above, were named criminal suspects last year, the White Paper said. This accounted for 20.8 per cent of the total arrests - and the first time the ratio was above 20 per cent.

Also, about 2,500 pensioners were jailed - a fourfold increase from 1997. Of these, 70.2 per cent had previously spent time in jail.

This spate of elderly crimes came amid an overall drop in Japan's crime rate, which has long been the envy of many societies.

The report highlights how the total number of reported penal-code offences last year fell below a million for the first time since World War II, in a country of 126.9 million.

A calculation by The Sunday Times shows there were 785 cases per 100,000 people last year, down from 865 cases in 2015.

Yet despite this decreasing crime rate, sensational cases have come to dominate headlines time and again.

The report does not dwell on specific cases, but among the 895 murders last year was one committed by former United States Marine Kenneth Franklin Shinzato, 33, who was jailed for life on Dec 1 for the rape and murder of a 20-year-old Okinawan woman in April last year.

July last year also saw Japan's bloodiest crime since World War II - the Sagamihara nursing home massacre, where Hitler-influenced Satoshi Uematsu, 27, went on a stabbing rampage at a home for the disabled in an attack that left 19 dead and 26 others injured. His case is pending.

In another horrific case, obsessive stalker Tomohiro Iwazaki, 28, stabbed pop idol Mayu Tomita dozens of times in May last year after she spurned his repeated advances on social media. She survived the savage attack, and he has been jailed for 14 1/2 years.

Sociologist Emi Kataoka of Komazawa University said she was concerned by the rise in heinous crimes by disenfranchised young people who have not reaped the benefits of a recovering economy.

Uematsu and Iwazaki were unemployed, as was Takahiro Shiraishi, who confessed to killing and dismembering eight females and one male aged between 15 and 26, between August and October this year. Dubbed the "Twitter killer", the 27-year-old used the social media platform to bait his life-weary victims with suicide pacts before killing them.

Dr Kataoka said these cases suggest there is insufficient help - economic or psychiatric - for these at-risk young people who are living on the fringes of society.

She said beneath Japan's rosy jobs figures and decades-low unemployment rates is a generation struggling under the weight of "irregular" contractual employment.

For every 100 employees, nearly 40 hold temporary jobs with lower pay and fewer benefits than their full-time peers.

Economic stress, Dr Kataoka said, was one reason behind the increasing numbers of domestic violence. Observers believe this could also be because over-policed Japan, with 15,000 more officers today than a decade ago, has directed more attention to such cases.

Juvenile consultation centres saw 103,286 cases in 2015, an increase of more than 1,000 cases from the year before. The total number comprises 28,621 complaints of bodily harm, 24,444 of neglect, 48,700 of psychological abuse, and 1,521 of sexual abuse.

There were also 7,450 arrests for cases related to spousal violence last year, amounting to 2.7 times the number a decade ago.

The Justice Ministry has singled out domestic brutality and recidivism as issues that require urgent attention, saying that child abuse and spousal violence must be appropriately dealt with, while "more effective measures" are required to curtail re-offending.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 10, 2017, with the headline 'More seniors taking to crime in Japan'. Print Edition | Subscribe