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How Safe is Japan?
[2014.09.05] Read in: 日本語 | 简体字 | 繁體字 | FRANÇAIS | ESPAÑOL | العربية | Русский |

In 2013, the number of foreign visitors to Japan topped 10 million for the first time. The government has set a target of 20 million visitors for 2020, when the Summer Olympics come to Tokyo. With safety a primary concern for international travelers, how safe is Japan compared with other countries?

Japan’s Crime Rate Falling

The number of reported crimes in Japan peaked at 3.69 million in 2002 and has since been on the decline, according to the Ministry of Justice’s 2012 white paper on crime. A major contributing factor is the ongoing reduction in thefts, which account for over half of reported crimes. Meanwhile, the National Police Agency announced that reported crimes in 2013 totaled 1.32 million, as figures dropped for an eleventh consecutive year.

However, the 2001 clearance rate—calculated by dividing crimes where a charge is made by total crimes reported—was at a postwar record low of 38.8% for all crimes and just 19.8% for non-traffic offenses. This rate began to rise in 2002, steadily leveled off after 2006, and reached 53.1% overall and 31.7% for nontraffic offenses in 2012. Clearance rates remain high for such serious or violent crimes as murder, robbery, assault, and physical intimidation, but commonly occurring everyday crimes like vehicle theft and property damage have a correspondingly low clearance rate.

Crimes like murders by stalkers and child kidnapping cases receive sensational media coverage, but many smaller crimes remain unreported and unresolved. So even if the reported crime rate is falling, this does not mean that ordinary citizens feel safer. Some crimes, including bank transfer scams targeting the elderly and drug offenses, have grown more frequent in recent years. Cybercrime is also growing in frequency and scale.

Low by OECD Standards

It is not possible to make a simple comparison between crime statistics in Japan and elsewhere, as different countries define crimes in different ways and the proportion of crimes that are reported to the police varies depending on local conditions. Although a little old, one report that does allow for international comparison for set crimes within a set period is the United Nations International Crime Victims Survey.(*1)

Looking at the victim rates for 10 common crimes(*2) including robbery, extortion, and theft, Japan’s 2005 rate was 9.9%, the second lowest for any OECD country, behind Spain. For serious crimes (murder, robbery, rape, and assault) it consistently had the lowest rate. Japan’s victim rate rose from 8.5% in 1990 to 11.9% in 2000, but fell again to 9.9% in 2005.

Even for relatively minor offenses like bicycle theft, which represents more than half of all theft, Japan’s police make a vigorous response. According to annual statistics from the government’s white papers on crime, such minor offenses are decreasing in frequency. These various figures show that Japan is one of the safest countries in the world. Nonetheless, even with a low crime rate, many people feel uneasy about personal safety.

The Global Peace Index

The Global Peace Index is another yardstick for measuring safety that takes into account 24 different factors, including civil and external wars, relations with neighboring countries, and the potential for future conflict as well as standard crime statistics. The Economist Intelligence Unit, part of the same group as the Economist magazine, analyzes these factors for countries and regions, quantifying relative levels of peace. In these lists, Japan was ranked fifth out of 158 countries in 2012 and sixth in 2013. Having previously remained around fifth to seventh from 2007 until 2009 and risen to third from 2010 until 2011, Japan has continually ranked highly in the lists.

Praise from the World

After the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011, the international media presented stories of people in affected areas waiting in line for relief supplies and the absence of violence or looting of stores. The Japanese were praised for the peace and order of their response, as well as their calm in a situation when it would be normal to panic.

Foreign tourists also regularly hail the safety and low crime rate of Japan. Overseas visitors are commonly surprised that a camera or phone was returned safely after being forgotten in a restaurant or café, that it is safe for a young woman to walk alone at night, or that Japanese women walk around holding bags that are not fully closed. Despite the perception of many who live here, for tourists making comparisons with their own countries, Japan really is one of the safest places in the world.

(*1) ^ Conducted in 26 OECD countries by the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

(*2) ^ The 10 crimes for which the survey was conducted were: car theft, theft from cars, motorcycle theft, bicycle theft, burglary with entry, attempted burglary, theft of personal property and pickpocketing, robbery, sexual offenses, and assaults and threats.

  • [2014.09.05]
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