Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
5-4 Shibaura 4-chome,
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023
When I wrote my letter about the incident involving an argument over cigarette smoking and violence on the Hibiya Line that was reported on April 7 (“Smokers are hazardous,” April 11), I figured that my letter had at least two, and maybe three weak points liable for contention. Takeshi Suzuki, whose remarks I enjoyed reading (“Stabbing reflects declining values,” April 14), hit at least one of them squarely: the point about the legality of smoking on trains in Japan.
Although I wrote in my letter that smoking on trains was illegal in Japan, and that, therefore, the 51-year-old culprit of the April 7 story, “Smoker hits commuter with ice pick,” was already a criminal even before he attacked his victim, the fact is I was only guessing. At the time it sounded good rhetorically, and I am not surprised that, as Suzuki points out, not smoking on commuter trains is railway company policy, not a point of law.
The argument that we frequently hear from many Japanese is that social problems like rising crime, school violence, teenage parenthood, drug abuse, etc., stem from the decay of traditional Japanese family values and structure. They speak of the erosion of a more peaceful, harmonious, consensus society that existed before the intrusion of selfish, contentious, Western individualism. This argument is a red herring and I am tired of hearing it.
Every society haw “myths” (by which, I mean popularly accepted lies) about itself that it refuses to dispel, perceiving its self-defining myths as evident. Views like those written by Suzuki, of course, are among Japan’s primary cultural myths. But putting that aside for the moment, I want to look at the title of his letter, “Stabbing reflects declining values.” Perhaps so, but for reasons other than what Takeshi Suzuki writes. I think the stabbing - and all violence - reflects declining intelligence (which is the same thing as a decline in values, if it is intelligence that one values). And, not to be overly general, the perpetrator of the stabbing in the April 7 report in particular seems to reflect a condition of diminished mental sophistication, to say the least.
Published on Sunday, April 18, 1999 as “Low intelligence, high crime.”
Basically, I think that committing crime is stupid and criminals - however clever they may be - are really pretty stupid in the end. Going against the law is usually like gambling: in the end the House always wins.
The behavior of the smoker in this case, who hit a fellow commuter with an ice pick before fleeing, is so typically Japanese. I mean, so stupidly immature. It reminded me of the observation credited to General Douglas McArthur that the mental age of the average Japanese is about 12-years-old. It’s a harsh things to say, not necessarily a racists thing - with which I can easily agree when I feel annoyed. One thing this story did was annoy the hell out of me. The suspect’s actions speak against the common myths of Japanese harmony and law obedience. So the perpetrator is not just a bad man, he is a stupid man.