There are many different explanations as to why Japan has low rates of recorded crime compared to that other developed countries around the globe; such as the United States of America and the United Kingdom. Many of these explanations are drawn primarily from a historical context and over time have set a place in Japanese culture and are still practiced today. An example of this is the strong family values and loyalty that is expressed especially from a younger to an elder person; and the respect that is shown from an individual to the rest of the community and the wider society.
This essay will attempt to critically assess explanations for the lower rates of recorded crime in Japan. It is argued that Japan's low crime rates can not be compared to other countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom because Japan is an exceptional case. The crime rates and patterns in Japan are not of the same level as they are in the USA and the UK. The International Criminological Victimisation Survey (ICVS) has proven that Japan's crime rates are 1/5 of that in the USA.
This figure is influenced by many factors, one of which is the size of the countries. Japan, although well populated is considerably a much smaller country than America, and as the ICVS shows Japanese crime rates reflect this. Another reason is due to the historical backgrounds of the countries and the different ways in which crimes are policed. In the past, history books and teachings have shown that America has had a violent society. Still remembered today are the crimes against the Native Americans and the idea behind the Wild West and gun slinging.
From this early date to recent times, American citizens have a constitutional right within the legal requirement to own and carry guns. It is argued that this is the reason as to why gun crime levels are so high in the States, although the opposition argue, that Switzerland has similar gun laws and allowances, but gun crime is not one of their largest problems. Japan however, does not have laws allowing the ownership and free carrying of arms. In the past Samurai soldiers were able to carry the Samurai swords nevertheless this was outlawed in the 16th Century.
Although studies and reports praise the Japanese for their low crime rates, the role that is played by the media in recent years has shown the negative influences of the relationship between the Japanese culture and the martial arts; mainly through the filming industries. As in many countries racial tensions were at a very high level. The Japanese have also had some racial tensions, but non have been to the extent of America. As previously mentioned the Americans have had a tense relationship with the Natives and Slavery has and always will be a key part history.
These past racial tensions have had a great impact on how ethnic minorities are treated and how they feel that they are being treated. More importantly tensions between races have led to the increase of violence and with the United States being as multi cultural as it currently is the figures are very high; however this can be argued for any, and most multicultural societies. With the early migration of the Italians and the Sicilians the growth of the Mafia and other organised crime groups increased the level of crime within the USA.
During the 1950's and around this time, crimes of both America and Japan had similar rates, it has only been since this time that America's crime rates have risen to the levels that they are today, especially in violent crimes. Individual states have their own crime levels which affect the country as a whole. For example violent crimes in New York can decrease sufficiently however, crimes of the same nature can increase in California and as California is a much larger state than New York, the growth in California outweighs the fall in New York therefore resulting in an increase overall.
Also, the notion of the 'American Dream' and the belief that material success is a goal in achieving the Dream was a theory that Merton (1938) developed. His theory of Anomie was that people wanted to succeed and achieve in life, but the severe wanting of this goal caused social strain and stresses. He explains that there is a 'cultural imbalance that leads to people being prepared to use any means, regardless of their legality, to achieve that goal' (Merton, 1938; p674).
This theory can help understand and partially explain the reasons as to why America has high crime rates. Japanese crime rates are low by an international standard however, as shown in the International Comparisons in Criminal Justice statistics 2001 (Barclay, Tavares 2003) Japan has experienced a 16% increase in crime from 2000 to 2001. Japan has had its own share of organised crime groups, the main one of which being the Yakuza group.
Yakuza have been fully operational until recently in 1992, however before this they were very well known all over the country and globally for their political networking and other influences they had on large corporate companies and industries. To the large companies and businesses they were a form of protection if anything were to go wrong, and received great sums of money for their service. They were also involved in bribery to get what is was they wanted, and due to this were able to use many political figures for their own gain; also political figures used the Yakuza for their influencing powers to get the outcome they wanted.
Historically, the Yakuza was seen as a positive part of Japanese culture, they were easily accessible for townspeople, and their services were often used as an aid very much like the police. They were a group who were set to help the weak against the Samurai. In more recent times, as mentioned the Yakuza are often dealing with corrupt businesses and politicians and handling in drug and arms trafficking. It has also been reported that they were involved in prostitution and forms of pornography.