Declining Crime in Postwar Japan

Aki Roberts, University of New Mexico

The most popular explanations for both the low and falling Japanese crime rates have emphasized the unique ability of traditional Japanese culture to maintain low crime rates through strong informal social control mechanisms. But while this is a plausible explanation for Japan's generally low crime rates compared to other nations, it is much less persuasive as an account for Japan's steady crime decreases. Although Japan has shown a remarkable ability to preserve its traditional culture, a "traditional culture" explanation for the crime decrease would require that traditional Japanese culture be stronger than it was half a century ago. The social transitions and Western influence that Japan has undergone since World War II make this unlikely. I argue that a more plausible explanation for steadily declining Japanese crime rates is declining economic stress due to the strong economy enjoyed by Japan for much of the past fifty years. This explanation seems to also apply to the recent sudden increase in Japanese crime rates, as this increase has followed Japan's recession. Based on postwar Japanese data, I found that economic stress variables such as poverty, income inequality, and unemployment have consistent effects on Japanese crime trends.

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Updated 05/20/2006