Japanese Crime Rate Rising

T O K Y O, June 8, 2001 -- Ask people to come up with three words to describe Japan, and you'd probably get ... expensive, modern, and safe.

Expensive? Absolutely.

Modern? Well... relatively.

And Safe? Not necessarily.

In this trusting country, where people once left their doors and windows open and their car keys in the ignition, things have changed.

Break-ins are up, but more disturbing to most Japanese is the increase in break-ins involving violence. Earlier this year a family of four was murdered during a break-in.

National Police Agency figures show that the number of break-ins this year were two-and-a-half times more than last year. In the greater Tokyo area, there were 32,000 reported breaking and entering cases.

Car thefts have also been on the rise. Last year, 56,000 cars were stolen, up from 43,000 in 1999.

Economic Factors

Japanese media reports generally connect rising crime with a decade of stagnant economic conditions and poor employment prospects.

Crime in the past had traditionally been confined to Japanese crime gangs who rarely involved outsiders.

But the enactment of anti-gang legislation in 1992 has forced gangs to seek new sources of income, leading to a rise in turf wars among Japan's organized crime syndicates.

It is difficult to describe just how shocking this change is to the average Japanese citizen.

Personal safety is something people here have taken for granted for centuries, and it's still true that in most parts of Tokyo, people can walk about day and night without fear of being harmed.

But Japan's famous wa, or harmony, is under attack.

One telling measure of how things have changed; sales of locks and security devices are booming.

Do-It-Yourself Safety

Tokyu Hands Shibuya, a popular and always packed do-it-yourself store in a trendy district of Tokyo, was selling 10 times as many security devices so far this year than they did last year, and since a special home security section opened last November, business had soared.

"People are trying to upgrade their old locks to new ones which are stronger and better," Spokeswoman Saho Iwao told ABCNEWS.com. "But demand is now so high, for cylinder locks, customers actually have to wait for a month."

Other big sellers include security cameras, bugging devices, concealed cameras, window opening alarms and anti-car theft devices. Some specialty items even have a waiting list that sometimes takes months to service.

But while the rest of the world may be well accustomed to locks and bolts and battening down the hatches at night, the Japanese are not. For them, this change is both a reality check, and an end of innocence.

Asae Ijima contributed to this report.