Tokyo Notes

New Japan Stabbing Spree

A stabbing spree in Toride that injured 14 people overshadows Japan’s low and falling crime rate.

The streets aren’t as safe as they used to be. Or at least expect that to be a common sentiment here as details emerge of another slashing rampage, an incident likely to fuel the general perception that crime in Japan is on the rise.

The statistics, though, paint a much more reassuring picture.

On Friday morning, a 27-year-old man boarded a bus packed with school children at a train station in Toride, a commuter town about 40 kilometres north-east of Tokyo. According to media reports, just as the bus was about to depart, he stabbed passengers onboard with a kitchen knife, alighted, attacked several more bystanders, boarded another bus and slashed more people. The man, who was quoted as saying he was suicidal, was eventually restrained by passengers, before being taken away by police and arrested on suspicion of attempted murder. Fourteen people, mostly high school students, were injured. Thankfully, no one was killed.

Comparisons are understandably already being drawn to similar incidents in 2008—an indiscriminate random stabbing spree in the nearby city of Tsuchiura that left two people dead, and an attack in the otaku mecca of Akihabara, in which seven people were killed.

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Such horrific crimes inevitably grab the headlines, but they should be put into perspective.

Japan is rightly proud of its low crime rate (although some critics accuse the police of chronic under-reporting). And National Police Agency crime data released Thursday for the 11 months from January to November shows an improving situation, with the number of crimes detected by police set to reach a 23-year low in 2010. It would be the eighth consecutive annual fall.

Compared with the same period last year, the overall number of cases fell 6.9 percent to 1,465,223. Cases of heinous crimes (which include murder, robbery, arson and rape) fell 9.2 percent and the figure for fraud dropped 17.1 percent (perhaps due to the media here constantly providing explicit details of hot scamming methods).

The only major category of crime that saw a rise (7 percent) was for ‘moral’ offences such as illegal gambling and indecency. The data didn’t include statistics for crimes committed by foreigners (who nationalists, unsurprisingly, see as the cause of Japan’s criminal woes).

While people will point out the failings in society that may have prompted the man to carry out the Toride attacks, they should also try and rest assured that they are statistically extremely unlikely to be on the receiving end of any such act of violence.