If a guy somewhere in Asia makes a blog and no one reads it, does it really exist?

Tuesday, June 1

City of love and lava

Saw a show the other night about the soaring crime rate in Japan. The show started off talking about security cameras installed on the streets of the UK. Those bloody Brits have been installing cameras like mad for the past decade or so in a full-on effort to discourage street crimes. There are now some 4,000,000 security cameras installed in public areas across the UK, and in a typical day, a Londoner can expect to be photographed around 300 times by just walking around outside. (Kinda like in Minority Report, huh?) The cameras have proven reasonably successful as a deterrent, with some areas experiencing a 14% decline in crime over the past six years. However, the show pointed out that a certain London district lacking such cameras - which is incidentally right next to an area that experienced a 14% decline - saw a 7% rise in crime. The bad guys just moved down a couple streets, and the ones who didn't want to go through the trouble just put on face-concealing hoods and went back to work.

They also talked about some other stuff, like the work of the LAPD, but the main focus of the show was crime in Japan. As you may know, Japan's crime rate has soared over the past decade. In fact, since 1985, crime has risen in every single prefecture and city district - except for one: Kagoshima. Check this out, dude: over the past 20 years, the crime rate has dropped an astounding 18% in Kagoshima City. The show went on to say that this decline can be attributed to the introduction of a citizen police force - guys that walk around the streets at night to keep kids in line - and the establishment of community centers (kominkan) near each public school.

Anyway, I guess the point of the program was that crime issues won't be solved by cops and cameras; you need to have community involvement to address problems at their source.

When the World Cup came to Oita in 2002, the local government was so paranoid about hooliganism that they called in cops from all over the prefecture, and maybe even from Miyazaki, to patrol the streets. With the high concentration of cops in Oita City, I imagine it would have been an opportune time to steal a new plasma-screen TV set from anywhere else in the prefecture. (I really want one of those.) When the games actually happened, however, the streets were pretty much deserted. I remember driving through Oita and seeing both sides of the street lined with cops, kind of like that scene in Matrix 3 with all the Agent Smiths lining the street during the big showdown. The cops peered into my windows to make sure I wasn't a hooligan, and then went back to picking the lint off their uniforms. My quatra-lingual friend John was working the emergency hotline for foreigners throughout the event. I don't think he received more than five calls, and none of those were true emergencies. He said that one guy rang to ask how to make a long distance call to Mexico. Another was a case of dangerous loitering by scary foreigners with facial hair. They cops asked them to move along. They did.

So crime isn't that bad in Japan. Not yet. Anyway, most of the crimes committed here are like breaking and entering, bag snatching, car theft and that kind of thing. You can call me crazy if you want, but I'd much rather get my wallet stolen than get shot by an assault rifle. (That's American crime for ya. Yeeehaw!!) But maybe that's just me.

But then again, Kagoshima has that smoldering volcano, Sakurajima... (Which friggin erupted when I was riding my bicycle across it, by the way.) Maybe the fear of the volcano god keeps the youth in line. Heck, maybe that's what keeps the entire nation in line! With so many earthquakes and volcanoes that could demolish a city in seconds, the Japanese don't need crime to spice up their lives. They're too busy praying to the gods, or repairing the damage caused by the gods. Look at the Kobe earthquake of 1995. It killed 5,500 in one fell swoop. Who needs violent crime when you've got nature to contend with.

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