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Japanese TV treats us almost daily with reports of terrifying crimes that make you check your locks three more times. If we are to believe the Japanese media, we now live in very dangerous times and Japan is far less safe than it ever was in the past. Most Japanese, if not all, believe that the country has become unsafe. Society is falling apart, many think. Oh, those good old times, when you could trust your neighbor and walk the streets safely. Here is some data about those good old days:
In 1954 (Showa 29), some 3,081 people were murdered. For 1955 (Showa 30) the figure came to 3,066 murders. That comes to 1 murder per 28,640 and 29,379 inhabitants respectively.
Let’s go back a little more in time. In 1933 (Taisho 8) no fewer than 2,713 murders were committed in Japan. Or 1 for every 24,855 inhabitants. In other words, even worse than the figures for 1954 and 1955.
Compare that with the murder rate today. A total of 1,309 murders took place in 2006, the last year for which there is accurate data. That is about one for every 97,000 inhabitants. That is clearly far safer than the situation during the safe Taisho (1912-1926) and Showa (1926-1989) periods.
Admittedly, the above three years represent peak years. But they were not that exceptional. Between the 1920s and 1970s, murder rates usually hovered around 1 per 25,000-50,000 inhabitants (pdf file with murder rates in Japan between 1924 and 2002). After that, murder rates dived. The safest period was the 1990s, but murder rates are still low, and as the table below shows, they are once again falling.
When it comes to murder, we live in very safe and comfortable times, and many don’t realize it. They tremble with worry and fear. What a waste!
There are things that we can justifiably worry about, though. Considering the fact that most rapes go unreported, the high number of reported rapes is sickening. Also worrisome is the large number of robberies. Although recent years have seen a decrease.
According to the statistics, violence and bodily injury have increased significantly in the past ten years. But it is not clear if that is because of an actual increase of cases, because police has become stricter, or because of another reason. A murder is a murder, you just need a dead body. But what is violence? Something that in the past may not have been seen as violent behavior could perhaps now be designated as such. It is very well possible that the line has moved.
However, murders are definitely not as serious a problem as the news media and the police would like us to believe. Fear has traditionally been used to control people, so this is extremely important data.
Crime rates in Japan:
Source: Japan Statistical Yearbook 2009