Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
5-4 Shibaura 4-chome,
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023
There is a tendency in Japan, perpetrated by the media and politicians and then internalized and reflected by the public at large, to frame the issue of foreigners residing here as a crime issue. This accounts for the zealously detailed reports of crime statistics involving foreigners collected by the Prime Minister’s Office, which duly appear in the media. These include the number of arrests by crime; the rate of increase of arrests over previous years; the incarcerated foreign population and its rate of increase, etc.
Even visiting Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji, when he appeared on a TV show, was asked by an audience member for his reaction to information that crimes committed by Chinese in Japan are on the increase. The premier replied that he was unaware of the statistic, which seemed to me to be just set5tting aside the question. But so what? No matter what the number of crimes committed by foreigners is, and no matter what the rate of increase (or decrease), it does nothing t change the ignored fact that most crimes in Japan, including most atrocious crimes, are committed by Japanese themselves someone ought to tell Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara! Japanese jails and prisons are filled with Japanese.
To ignore that and to talk of crime primarily as it is engaged in by foreigners living here is to frame the social matter of resident foreigners as a crime-and-police-control matter. It might be done accidentally or deliberately, but either way it is a zany, delusional and wrong perspective. Crime prevention and control should be a domestic social issue, not an immigration issue.
Published on Wednesday, November 8, 2000 as “Of crime and foreigners.”
The conviction that foreigners are criminals, or more prone to crime than Japanese, is more widespread than we imagine, and it occasionally pops out into the open. Shintaro Ishihara is a particular embarrassment and many foreign residents cannot understand how or why he keeps getting re-elected to public office. But the truth must be that a majority of the public - the voting public anyway - agree with him, or think that he speaks their convictions. It’s infuriating.
Certainly Japanese do indeed have a fetish about the Law, about rules and regulations and obedience. If resident foreigners cannot or do not properly follow the rules - even to the extent of violating laws - we face the problem of the Japanese propensity to reside to what is called Group Accountability. Group accountability synchronizes with Japanese culture’s sense of group identity and dynamics, but it never ceases to grate against foreigners - especially more individualistic Westerners.