Although low by American standards juvenile crime is considered a problem in Japan. Half of all the people arrested in Japan are under 20. Most of the crimes are committed by criminals "with no criminal past.” Many youth that are arrested come from middle-class families. About a quarter are girls.

Juvenile crimes in Japan have included slashings, assaults, attacks with knife-like objects and bloody gang battles that have left young people dead or with smashed bodies and faces.

Juvenile crime rose to record levels in the early 2000s. Incidents of violence on school grounds has increased fivefold in the last decade, with 29,300 incidents in 2002. The number if violent crimes involving children 14 and under increased 47 percent in 2003 from the previous year.

Juvenile arrests for serious crimes such as murder, robbery, rape and arson nearly doubled between in 1988 and 1998 and by half between 1996 and 1997. The number of juveniles interned at reform schools rose from 3,800 in 1995 to 5,500 in 1998.

Researcher Daniel Dolan found that in the media people who are under 20 who are charged with crimes are called “shonen”, meaning minors with no name included. Adults are called “yogisha” as suspects and “hikoku” when accused of a crime both with and without their names being used.

Websites and Resources

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bosuzuka-style bike
Good Websites and Sources: Creating Problem Kids, Juvenile Crime in Japan law.usyd.edu.au ; Violent Juvenile Crime (2000) wsws.org ; Making Sense of Juvenile Crime Statistics pdf file radstats.org.uk ; Juvenile Deliquency in Japan in 2006 npa.go.jp/english ; Laws and Youth Crime reuters.com ; Google e-book: Juvenile Deliquency in Japan, Reconsidering the Crisis (2003) books.google.com/books ;

Links in this Website: CRIME IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; THEFTS AND ROBBERIES IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JUVENILE CRIME IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; FAMOUS MURDERS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; FAMOUS MURDERS IN JAPAN INVOLVING CHILDREN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; YAKUZA AND ORGANIZED CRIME IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; YAKUZA ACTIVITIES AND VIOLENCE Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; AUM SHINROKYO CULT AND THE TOKYO SUBWAY SARIN GAS ATTACK Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; SECURITY, GUNS AND POLICE IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; LEGAL SYSTEM IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; DEATH PENALTY AND PRISON IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; BULLYING AND SCHOOL PROBLEMS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ;

Good Websites and Sources: Statistical Handbook of Japan Crime Section stat.go.jp/english/data/handbook ; 2010 Edition stat.go.jp/english/data/nenkan ; News stat.go.jp ; Nationmaster Japanese Crime Statistics nationmaster.com/country/ja-japan/cri-crime ; Murder in Japan globalpost.com ; Cultural Study of Low Crime Rate in Japan (have to pay to see) oxfordjournals.org ; Bookmice Summary on Crime in Japan bookmice.net ; Books “Tokyo Underworld” by Robert Whiting (Pantheon), describes of world of street pimps, ambitious gangsters and corrupt politicians; “Tabloid Tokyo” volumes 1 and 2 (Kodansha International), tales of sex, crime and the bizarre.

Some Highly-Publicized Juvenile Crimes in Japan

In July 2008, a 14-year-old, second-year middle school student hijacked a long-distance Tokyo-bound bus by holding the driver at knife-point. When asked why he did it the youth said, “I wanted to cause trouble for my parents because I was scolded by them. I wanted to cause a great sensation.”

In July 2007, 42 teenagers were arrested on assault charges for engaging in a fight with steel weapons in Osaka Prefecture. According to police two gangs of 16- and 17-year-old boys — one with 22 members and another with 20 — fought each in a restaurant parking lot with steel pipes, metal bats and other weapons. Seven boys sustained broken bones. Others had minor injuries.

In December 2008, two teenagers were arrested in Minami-Ashigra, Kanagawa Prefecture on assault charge for beating up a policeman and stealing his gun. The police had stopped the youths for hot rodding around on their motorcycle

In December 2008 it was revealed that 15-year-old boy scammed an unemployed 60-year-old man out of $5,000 by saying, “I’m a soccer player about to join a professional team for a contract worth $600,000. My father is doing business in the United States. If you lend me $5,000, my father with thank you by repaying you $100,000.” Under police questioning the boy said he “used the money to pay for video games.”

Motorcycle Gangs in Japan

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Bosozuka Leon Borensztein
Tribe BornBikers
“Bosozoku” (literally "speed tribes)" are members of teen motorcycle gangs who have died hair, wear orange and red boiler suits with obscure Chinese characters painted on them. They like to race through the streets making as much noise as the can at 3:00am. Their idea of a good time is challenging the police and then making an escape (they rarely get caught).

Even though they have names like the "Death Squadron" and "Black Emperor, they are much tamer than their Western counterparts. Most of the members are in their late teens and early twenties. Bosozuku are fiercely loyal to the local chapters, which have initiation rites, membership fees, hierarchal structures and rules. They sometimes engage in petty crime.

Typical bosozuku hang out at the local Mister Donut. Boys wear ripped blue jeans and faded bomber jackets, while the girls sport aviator sunglasses and tattered T-shirts. At night they carouse video game parlors, bowling alleys and local night club and race around town on their bikes making lots of noise and waking up entire neighborhoods.

A survey found the number of bosozuka deceased from 15,086 in 956 groups to 13,677 in 847 groups between 2005 and 2006. They survey also found that members of the groups are getting older with adults making up more than half the membership.

Motorcycle Gangs and Crime in Japan

According to the National Police Agency in 2002, there were 24,669 bosozoku Bosozoku member were charged with 78,752 traffic violations, a 7.5 drop from the year before, and 5,376 criminal violations

Describing one group in Sendai, Akira Minami wrote in the Asahi Shimbun, “Revving their engines to red-line howls and moving at a snowman’s pace, the motley crew of “rodents? made its way down main thoroughfares — making a point of passing a police station — running red lights and hindering the flow of traffic.”

In 1999, members of hot-rod gangs clashed with police during the Ebisuko Festival held in November in Hiroshima. Police, with shields, confronted a group of about 50 youths after they prevented pedestrians from moving on a sidewalk. The youths began throwing bottles. Fights between police and youths broke out. Eighty youths were arrested. Later, laws were passed in Hiroshima that banned meetings of hot rodders and motorcycle riders.

In Sendai, many Bosozuku are connected with local yakuza groups. In some cases they pay the yakuza groups protection money so they can ride around unmolested by other gangs.

Dad Hunting in Japan

Oyaji-gari ("dad hunting") is crime that appeared in the mid 1990s in which gangs of teenagers boys ambushed, assaulted and robbed older men or drunken middle-aged salary men, often using pretty young girls as bait. Similar attacks without the girls have been made on housewives returning home from the supermarket on bicycles and pizza delivery guys. Youth gangs also go after middle school and high school students on school trips (shugakauryoko-sei gari) and nerds (otaku gari) more for the fun of it than the money.

One gang with 11 members, including four middle and high school students, told the Yomiuri Shimbun that they got to together every Saturday with the goal of making off with ¥100,000 and said the had committed more than 100 street robberies. Another gang told the newspaper they specialized in "Rolex hunting." One unemployed 20-year-old attacked 30 people with sticks, bricks and knives from a bicycle.

In October 2001, a 43-year-old salarymen scolded a bunch of young toughs for stepping on his foot and not apologizing. The man got off the train a couple of stops later and was followed by the youths who beat the man to death on a train station platform. Some months later a similar incident happened. A salarymen on a crowded train complained that he was being squashed and asked the other passengers if they could move a bit. One young passenger took offense and followed the salaryman when he got off the train and struck him on the head so severely that the salaryman went into a coma and never recovered.

Attacks on Homeless People in Japan

One of the greatest fears that the homeless have is not lack of money or cold weather but attacks by youths. After 10 boys aged 10 to 16 was arrested for attacking three homeless men they were asked why did it. They said “killing time,” “getting rid of stress,” and “getting rid of society’s trash.” The boys were from normal homes and had normal grades in school.

In August 2008, eight youths aged 14 to 16 were arrested for assaulting and robbing a mentally disabled man. The group was reportedly involved in several incidents targeting disabled people.

In August 2007, five teenagers were arrested on charges of attempted murdered after they set fire to a man while he slept in a park in Kita Ward, Tokyo. The man suffered serious burns and was hospitalized. The boys describe their actions as “sweeping away rubbish.” The boys poured lighter fluid on the man — a 52-year-old sanitary worker who had run away from home and was sleeping on a park bench — and set him ablaze. The man doused the fire by jumping into a park fountain.

In March 2006, four teenagers in Himeji in Hyogo Prefecture were arrested in connection with killing a 60-year-old homeless man in October 2005 by throwing a Molotov cocktail on the man as he slept in a box under a bridge. Before the incident the youth threw bottles and rocks at other homeless men in the area. One youth who was a third year high school student when the crime was committed was sentenced five to eight years in prison.

In July 2004, a 20-year-old man and 19-year-old youth were arrested for kicking to death a homeless man in a park in Sumida ward in Tokyo. The 19-year-old said, “I got carried away after drinking alcohol. I didn’t mean to kill him, but I kicked the man’s head.”

In August 2002, three young men in their late teens beat to death two homeless men — one 54 and the other 60 — who were sleeping in front of a gymnasium in Chuo Ward, Chiba. In 2005, the three were given sentences of 12 to 14 years un prison.

In January 2002, three 14-year-old boys were arrested in the beating death of a 54-year-old homeless man in Tokyo. The boys dragged the man from a public rest room where he was sleeping to a vacant lot where they beat him. The boys said they beat the man because he had scolded the boys in a library for making too much noise. In 2005, the three were given sentences of 12 to 14 years un prison. A few years earlier a homeless man was killed in Osaka after being tossed from a bridge into a river.

Murders by Juveniles in Japan

See Famous Crimes

High rates of juvenile crime have been blamed on economic hard times, absent fathers, lack of supervision by hardworking parents, school stress, the pressure from university exams, isolation caused by lack of time for play and socializing, a break down in discipline, and pessimism about the future based on the difficulty in getting into a good university and finding a good job. Some blame the increase of juvenile crime on junk food and the influence of anti-social, violent video games such as “Battle Royale” and violent manga anime such as “Gunslinger Girls” — about murderous cyborg schoolgirls in plaid miniskirts.

Studies have shown that many juvenile criminals have attempted suicide or thought about killing themselves, have repressed feeling of aggression and have a sense of inferiority based in part of their family situation. Criminal psychologist Akira Sakuta told the Washington Post: “In Japan, youth crime is not a problem relates to poverty. But rather you can say it’s more related to stress and developmental problems from children feeling they are not wanted or are lacking attention.”

A child development expert told the New York Times, "Children have no time to play, they have no kids to play with, and they have no place to play...The result is that kids play alone, and this lack of socialization has a lot to do with the rise in crime by youth...It is becoming more and more difficult for kids to live socially, understanding the feelings of others, so they turn inward. At some point though, society makes it impossible for them to preserve their isolation and the result is a sudden show of emotions and eruptions of violence either verbal or physical."

One socialist told AP, "Young people are feeling increasing disenfranchised by society. Any tiny thing like being asked to give up a seat on a train, can lit a fire under that anger." One detainee at a juvenile detention center told the New York Times, "I used to try to force people to do things according to my will. When people would answer me back, I couldn't stand it. Sometimes I would respond by trying to scare people, or even hurting them.... I started to reject contact with my family. I never used to express my true feelings to other people. Until I got in trouble I would either keep them to myself or tell straight-faced lies."

See Living, Society, Social Problems, Hikikomori,

Tokyo Student Arrested Girl for Confining 12-year-old Girl in a Duffel Bag

In September 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “A Tokyo university student was arrested in Hiroshima on suspicion of confining a 12-year-old girl in a duffel bag, after his apparent kidnapping attempt was thwarted by a taxi driver, police said. The taxi driver who picked up the man heard a girl's voice coming from the bag in the trunk when he stopped at a traffic light, according to the police. The driver, Toshiyuki Hoshiyama, asked a passerby to call the police, and the man was arrested. The girl was physically unharmed. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, September 6, 2012]

Tomohiro Kodama, 20, a sophomore at Seijo University, allegedly threatened the sixth-grader with a fruit knife and ordered her to get into the bag. The bag was 70 centimeters long, and 30 centimeters tall and wide, according to the police. Kodama, a resident of Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, allegedly approached the girl, who was waiting for her mother on her way home from a cram school, at about 8:50 p.m. at a bus stop in Nishi Ward, about three kilometers west of where he was arrested, the police said.

The man showed her the knife, told her to be quiet and took her to a nearby alley. He then told her to kneel inside the bag. After zipping the girl into the bag, he stopped the taxi, police said. Kodama reportedly told the driver to go to JR Hiroshima Station, but the driver noticed something strange about the man and the bag, which led to the arrest. Kodama was holding the girl's cell phone when he was arrested, police said, which he likely took so she could not contact anyone.

According to Seijo University, Kodama enrolled in the university's social innovation department in April 2010. He failed his sophomore year and was repeating it. He belonged to the university's iaido club, a Japanese sword-based martial art. "He was a tall, quiet, skinny guy. He didn't seem like the kind of person who could commit such a crime," an assistant instructor of the club said.

The taxi driver became suspicious when he felt how warm Kodama's bag was when he helped him put in the trunk, and realized he was witnessing a crime when he later heard a voice from the bag. "I clearly heard somebody in the bag shouting, 'Get me out!' when the taxi stopped at a traffic light," Hoshiyama told The Yomiuri Shimbun on Wednesday. Hoshiyama said Kodama stopped the taxi at about 8:50 p.m. in Nishi Ward. Since the bag he was carrying looked heavy, Hoshiyama helped him put it into the trunk. He was surprised at how warm it was. "I wondered what was inside," said Hoshiyama, 63. Kodama told Hoshiyama to head to Fukuya, a department store in front of JR Hiroshima Station, and drove on in silence. Soon, however, Hoshiyama started hearing noises coming from the bag. "Do you have a dog or something in there?" Hoshiyama asked Kodama, who he said was looking around restlessly and did not reply.

After driving for about 10 minutes, the taxi stopped at the traffic light. It was then that Hoshiyama heard someone shout, "Get me out!" "Did you put a person in there?" Hoshiyama asked. Kodama said, "I'm getting off here," opened the door and tried to flee.Hoshiyama quickly got out of the car and held the man's arms, putting him back into the backseat of the taxi. He asked a passerby to call the police, saying, "Somebody's trapped inside." "Get me out! Get me out!" the voice from the trunk kept yelling, gradually getting louder, Hoshiyama said. The man who contacted the police opened the bag and found the girl. The girl was thin, about 1.5 meters tall, and appeared to weigh about 30 kilograms. She could not say anything and appeared to be crying. During all this, Kodama remained silent and looked like he had given up, Hoshiyama said.

Fourteen-Year-Old Boy Arrested for Stabbing a Bus Driver

In April 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “A 14-year-old student was arrested on suspicion of assault for stabbing a bus driver in the chest in Hachioji, western Tokyo. According to police, the third-year middle school student has confessed to the charge. He was quoted by the police as saying, "I intended to confine myself on the bus to show up my friends who had ridiculed me." [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, April 24, 2012]

According to a senior MPD official, the student shouted, "Close the front door and [passengers] move to the back!" on a bus that had just arrived at JR Nishi-Hachioji Station's north exit at 3:10 p.m.. The bus driver, 37, was struck with what appeared to be a fruit knife. He sustained a 5-millimeter cut.

The student was at the end of a line of passengers waiting in line to pay the fare for the bus. Evidently because he thought an elderly couple was taking too long to pay, the student suddenly took out a knife and started yelling loudly, the police said. Immediately after that, the student allegedly stabbed the bus driver, who had grabbed the student's arm in an attempt to wrestle away the knife. No passengers, including the elderly couple, were injured.

The student fled the scene, leaving a sports bag labeled with his name that contained items such as his cell phone, bank book and the knife sheath on the bus, police said. The MPD tried locating the student and dispatched investigators to his house in Hachioji. The student returned home shortly after 7:30 p.m., about 4½ hours after the incident. The student was quoted by the police as saying: "When I went to school for club activities, I was ridiculed by my friends. I wanted to show them up." Regarding the knife, the student reportedly said he bought it at a convenience store near the school and had discarded it after the attack. The police are looking for the knife.

Juvenile Laws in Japan

The legal age for a juvenile is 20. Until recently children under 14 could not be arrested according to the Japanese penal code. For juvenile criminals under 18, no matter how horrendous the crime they committed, they were set free as adults when they were 20 and their identity was kept hidden (See Kobe Killer, Famous Crimes).

Some 18- and 19-year-old minors, however, have been executed. In April 2008 a death sentence as given to a man who committed a rape and double murder when he was a minor. The man raped and killed a woman and strangled the woman’s baby daughter. In Japan there have been nine other cases of minors being sentenced to death. All were sentenced for murder; seven were 19; two were 18. Three murdered four people each; one murdered three, one murdered two; a and three murdered one person. One of the latter killed a policeman, took his gun and injured 16 others.

In April 2001, a revised Juvenile Law went into effect. It stated that teenagers 14 and older could be tried and penalized under adult criminal law and given more severe punishments. New rules were passed in 1997 allowed youth with "uncorrected criminal tendencies" to be held until 23 and those with mental disturbances until 26.

The revised Juvenile Law stipulates that when a person aged 16 or older intentionally causes the death of someone he or she can be tried as an adult. Change to the law in 2007 lowered the age to 14 in which minors can be sent to reformatories.

A 19-year-old was sentenced to death for murdering for members of a family in Chiba Prefecture in 1992 in a robbery in which he stole about $3,000 and various items. See People Sentenced to Death Above.

In January 2007, a court ruled that a boy who killed his mother when he was 16 would be sent to a juvenile facility for four years rather than jail. Prosecutor had sought prison time.

Crimes involving juveniles have traditionally been tried in family courts under a single judge not in criminal or juvenile courts. The punishment are usually not very severe. In the worst cases the children are put on a kind of probation or sent to reform school or youth rehabilitation facility. Juveniles convicted of violent crimes are detained on average for only 1.2 years.

Inmates at Japan's 57 juvenile detention centers get up at 7:00am every morning. scrub their spartan dormitories, sing in a chorus and then do exercises led by a drill master. In the afternoon there is counseling, vocational training and little private time.

The detention centers generally don't have fences and are easy to escape from. When young people do escape they are punished after they are caught with things like cleaning the dormitory floors and jumping rope to the point of exhaustion

Female police have been assigned to write “love letters” to delinquent boys and girls to encourage them to open up and spill out their feelings.

There is a problem with what to do with around 2,500 juvenile delinquents , about 10 percent of those released from juvenile reformatories, who have been released but are not wanted by their families.

Image Sources: Ray Kinnane; Wiki Commons; Bosozuka Leon Borensztein Tribe BornBikers

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated January 2013

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