English articles / Likestilling og ikke-diskriminering

Racial Profiling in Japan: Why do Japanese Fear Foreign Crimes?

<Posted by Kiki A. Japutra, Editor/Redaktør>

On 26 May 2013, a large mass demonstration demanding the eradication of foreign crimes and the expulsion of illegal immigrants was commenced in Tokyo. The demonstration ran for approximately two hours (between 11:00 – 13:00) starting from Shinjuku Park. In a statement calling for participation of the Japanese public, it was noted that «this demonstration is not a demonstration against foreign crime specific. It is a demonstration for the expulsion of all bad foreigners» [translated]. The procession of the demonstration can be viewed here. This is not the first time such mass distress against foreign crimes occured. So the question that should be asked is, is foreign crimes really a problem in Japan? What may have caused Japanese to fear foreign criminals?

Japan has been known for its media frenzy that focuses on the rising number of crimes committed by foreigners coming into the country. Some have argued that the phenomenon occurred due to the fact that the number of crimes committed by foreigners have been disproportionately higher than those committed by Japanese nationals. This has resulted in the stereotyping, criminalisation of certain nationalities, and countless acts of discrimination against non-Japanese nationals.

Photo: Lee Chapman (Tokyo Times)

The increase of crime reporting in the news media is argued to be one reason for the growth of public anxiety and the fear of crime, and the Japanese media plays a central role in creating the image of a “sick society”. Japan Today, for example, writes that:

[b]efore 1989, foreigners tended to be convicted at the rate of about 100 per year. But from the 1990s, the figure showed a marked rise and from 1997 onwards, posting consecutive year-on increases. By 2003, Japanese prisons held some 1,600 foreign inmates, making up roughly 5% of the total prison population. […] In 2010, foreigners were said to account for 3,786, or 4.4% of the total prison population. New arrivals that year included 195 Chinese nationals, followed in descending order (figures not shown) by Brazilians, Iranians, Koreans (both north and south) and Vietnamese.

Such a report in the news media is not uncommon in Japan. Some have argued that how the public reacts towards an incident is entirely shaped by their perspective and attitude towards a certain issue. In the case of Japan, the discrimination, and later criminalisation, of non-japanese nationals are influenced by the image incubated by the Japanese media about how foreigners are the cause of the constant raising of crime in Japan, and that certain nationalities are responsible for certain types of crimes. Such stereotyping of crime is also known as racial profiling.

How can we explain the hostility of the Japanese media towards foreign crime and foreigners in general? Mary Gibson explains in her book Born to Crime (2002) that “[a] succession of ‘Moral Panics’ offered opportunities for interest groups to shape criminal justice policy”. Citizens are more likely to support government’s means of social control (including laws and policies) if and when the government successfully soothes public’s anxieties and insecurities about crime. In other words, media acts as a tool to build public’s confidence in and support to the government.

Japan still maintains its status as a low-crime nation. A large portion of the crimes is still dominated by minor crimes, such as theft and traffic violations. According to the Japan Statistical Yearbook 2012, in 2000, there were 1391 reported murder cases known to police and 44,384 cases of fraud. The number continued to decrease, with only 1094 reported murder cases and 45,162 cases of fraud in 2009.

It should also be noted that some of the most recorded cases of foreign crimes are minor offences, such as visa overstay – committed mostly by short term visitors.

Numbers of Cases and Persons Cleaderd for Non-Traffic Penal Code Offences
Committed by Foreign Nationals (1980-2009)

Foreign Crime Figure 1

According to 2010 White Paper on Crime (as seen from the figure above), the number of cases committed by mere visiting foreign nationals far surpassed those committed by other foreign nationals, which in this case includes long term residents. The White Paper further notes that the number of visa overstay cases reached the record high of 298,646 in 1993, but then decreased significantly to 91,778 cases (as of January 2010). Additionally, many crimes were committed by illegal immigrants who came into the country unregistered, while the crime statistics were built in comparison to the actual registered foreign residence.

It is evident that in addition to the gradually decreasing crime rate, most crimes recorded as foreign crimes are minor offences. Despite all these, the media identification of foreigners as a major threat to an otherwise harmonious society has raised public fear and created moral panic, which further lead to discrimination of foreign residence living in Japan.

10 thoughts on “Racial Profiling in Japan: Why do Japanese Fear Foreign Crimes?

  1. Look japanese want to cleanse there land and ensure it doesnt become another western hell hole like france or london. Deal with it.

    Lik

  2. You nip a problem in the bud before it becomes out of hand while its still relatively easy to do so, you dont wait 50 years — look at the UK if they had simply listend to Enoch Powell back in 1968 then they never would ran into the problems.

    Lik

  3. Racism is certainly an issue here in Japan, but it is a bit rich to have Japan called out by the Norwegians…

    Lik

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