Looking from abroad Japan is known as a country of politeness, almost no existing crime allowing residents even to keep their front door unlocked or then a common respect for seniority and tradition. I fully agree that Japan is a safe country, but recently it seems some societal changes caused a shift in the behavior of the Japanese seniors. Actually the total number of crimes is declining according to “The Japan Times” to 1.7 million in 2009 from a peak of 2.85 million in 2002, but recently ambivalent news about grey haired population is found more often in the media.
The first topic was the fake centenarians, when now shoplifting done by elderly is in the news. Although in general the number of reported shoplifting cases is decreasing (now yearly about 140,000 cases), more and more elderly people are reported to be shoplifting. For example in 2009 the number of people aged 65 or older committing a crime has jumped 7.5 times to 27,000 compared to 20 years ago.
So far I believed that shoplifting is done by attention deprived juveniles, but looking at the actual figures for young people (14 to 19 years old) shoplifting is on the decline in Japan. Recently seniors need to be watched closely. First I had assumed that the in comparison low Japanese social security or pension forces the elderly to steal, but the reason is for me more terrifying. It seems that loneliness and being cut off from society caused a rise in crime. According to the Japan Times in 2009, the Metropolitan Police Department of Tokyo studied the motives and lifestyle of 1,050 shoplifting suspects (428 minors, 418 adults and 204 elderly people). Looking now solely at the responses of these mature Japanese, 55.4 percent were single and 40.2 percent were living alone. Of these shoplifters sadly almost 90% reported to have few friends, if any at all. Further 48 percent said they had no one to consult in case of any problems. Half of the elderly suspects seem rather depressed to me, because they stated that they had nothing to live for. Furthermore about a quarter of the questioned described themselves as very lonely. For sure these shoplifting seniors had no intention to indulge themselves, because 80 percent of articles shoplifted were food items, half of which were each priced at ¥1,000 or less.
So what is the point of this article: We all have busy lives, but how about greeting or at least smiling next time to a Japanese senior? Or even better to start some small talk with the next elderly person you meet? There is no disadvantage in remembering to be polite.
Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (シビル伊藤)