Herskovitz, J. (2001, January 28). Violent crimes by teens becoming Japan’s top worry. The Sunday Oklahoman, p. 34D.
According to Kyodo news agency, Japan’s top story of 2000 was teenage crime:
One 17-year-old boy bludgeoned passengers at a Tokyo subway station with a baseball bat after a fight with his father, another hurled a bomb into a video store just to see people torn apart and a third stabbed an elderly neighbor to death because he wanted to know what it felt like to kill.
A recent, sharp increase in violent youth crime is troubling the country and the national media. The criminal acts, notably cruel and senseless, are oddly motivated. There are, unfortunately, many similar stories. One young man, after a fight with members of his baseball club, killed his mother with a baseball bat because she refused to give him spending money. Two 16-year-old lovers fatally stabbed a taxi driver, allegedly because they wanted to steal the driver’s cash so that they could start a life together. A 17-year-old boy, wielding a knife, took helm of a bus, stabbed a 68-year-old woman to death and kept a 6-year-old girl as a "human shield" during a 15-hour live broadcast standoff. Pacing the aisle, he photographed the hostages, and threatened to carve circles around their necks. The young school dropout had previously been bullied and treated for mental illness.
Why are these crimes happening? Many in Japan are frustrated by the trend. While the overall juvenile crime numbers only slightly increased between the first six months of 1999 and first six months of 2000 (1,042 to 1,063), the number of murders doubled to 53. Keigo Okonogi, professor of psychiatric medicine at Tokyo International University, attempted to shed light on the inexplicable crimes:
‘In today’s society, with its stress on everyone following the same course and pursuing the same goals, there are so few chances to recover your footing once you’ve stumbled—if you’ve been bullied, for example, or if you’ve failed an entrance exam…Young people today…recognize no controlling principle beyond themselves. Desire is to be satisfied, not controlled, and nowadays the urge to fill any desire finds external support, either from friends or from the media.’
There is one large group of youngsters that may be to blame for these crimes: the 500,000 to 1 million " ‘hikikomori,’ " or " ‘those who shut themselves in.’ " These youth have "fallen through the cracks" of society, and they literally shut themselves away in their rooms. They have often been harrassed or bullied, and criminal experts believe that these crimes could be the venting of deeply suppressed anger against society.
Lawmakers have responded by revising the 1949 Juvenile Law. Family courts now have the option of sending 14- and 15-year-olds to public prosecution. In the past, youth under 15 have been prohibited from prosecution, and have instead been sent to juvenile rehabilitation institutions.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION
- Can you make any sense of these crimes? Explain.
- Have you ever been so angry that you felt that you could do something especially evil? What situations can make you so frustrated? How do you vent your feelings?
- What is important about this article?
- What can be done to eliminate these types of vicious crimes?
- What do you think about the new law revision? Is incarceration a better answer than rehabilitation? Why or why not?
Japan’s epidemic of teen violence seems similar to American youth violence. The motivations of anger and revenge are also very much alike. Teens worldwide are hurting. Music, movies, television—all kinds of media are adding unnecessary pressures and expectations to young people. Parents, teachers, social workers, youth pastors all need to reach troubled kids. No young person should slip "through the cracks."
Kathryn Q. Powers cCYS