Saturday, March 19, 2011
Low Crime in Japan: A Comparative Look
When you first look at Japan and try to get an understanding as to why their criminal justice system is so effective it is a daunting task. After all, many aspects of Japan’s social institutions have been heavily influenced, borrowed if you will, from other countries. The Japanese Navy was modeled after British; their army was modeled after the French and then the German; their educational system modeled on the French, American, and German; and their banking system on the American; their religion from China; and their political structure from Germany. Even more deceiving, when looking directly at their justice system, is the fact that 99 percent of offenders coming before a judge are convicted. So what factors might contribute to their low crime rate? Plain and simple: cultural factors.
Japanese culture is rich in tradition and group ties are strong. The Japanese believe that things borrowed must be adapted rather than adopted. Although the Japanese have borrowed many structural ideas from other countries, they have molded these ideas delicately around the “Japanese Spirit,” which they have protected dearly. The Japanese believe that standards of morality and ethics should be determined collectively (by a group) rather than through inflexible legal codes or universal principles. This belief is at the core of their thinking and breads their contextualist and collectivist practices.
Looking at Japan’s outlook and strong belief in harmony, we can appreciate some of the informal control mechanisms in Japan; such mechanisms that show that a 99 percent conviction rate hides the fact that over half those sentences are suspended. Being part of a group in Japan is everything (collectivism). Children in America are usually punished by being confined to their rooms or staying in with their families. The Japanese believe in “child-rearing,” which is quite the opposite of Americans. When a child misbehaves in Japan parents put the misbehaving child outside of the house until the child begs to get back in. “American mothers chase their children; Japanese mothers are chased by their children.” It is this instilled need and longing to be part of the group that defines the Japanese people, and they often are ashamed and feel a sense of worthlessness if discouraged by or banished from the group.
Americans have a strong sense of distrust in their social institutions; however, the Japanese do not, and it is their attraction to an orderly, hierarchal society that allows them to thrive in this area. Yet, still there are other factors that contribute to the low crime rate in Japan. For instance, gun control in Japan is the most stringent in the democratic world. The gun law begins by stating, “No one shall possess a fire-arm…and very few exceptions are allowed.” It should be no wonder why gun crime is so low in Japan.
In an international study between gun ownership and homicide and suicide, Professor Martin Killias (1993) determined that there was a strong correlation between the three, with those countries having higher gun ownership showing more homicides and suicides. The United States was miles above second place Switzerland in gun ownership; Japan was at the bottom of the list. Not surprisingly then (in 2001), the U.S. had 3.98 gun homicides and 5.92 gun suicides per 100,000 people; while in 2002, Japan had 0.02 gun homicides and 0.04 gun suicides per 100,000 people. Yet even this, I believe, is the result of cultural and societal phenomena—because any society’s laws are created out of cultural and social needs and wants.
*Tribute to Japan (May they rebuild quickly)
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