Japan's pensioners embark on 'grey crime' wave

At 70, Yasumasa Matsuzaki did not look especially dangerous. He was just a nuisance to the workers at a convenience store because of his habit of reading magazines without ever buying anything.

So after one marathon three-hour session, the manager of the shop in Bando, Ibaraki Prefecture, snapped and threw him out.

Five minutes later, Mr Matsuzaki returned with a chainsaw and threatened the staff before returning to the magazine rack.

"He was absorbed in reading even after we called the police," said the manager after Mr Matsuzaki had been charged with forcible disruption of business. "He was very scary."

The incident last week is part of a wave of so-called grey crime in Japan. The percentage of over-65s in prison has trebled in the past decade and exceeds 10 per cent of the total prison population - four times the UK figure. Japan has the highest rate of incarceration for pensioners in the industrialised world.

While most are in prison for theft, there are a number of convictions for violent crime. Among the 141 pensioners arrested for murder last year were an 81-year-old man who strangled his spouse after they bickered over her cooking and an 87-year-old man who strangled his bed-ridden wife in a hospital in Nagano.

Many offenders will end up at Onomichi prison in Hiroshima, a special facility for elderly prisoners equipped with handrails, pushcarts and walking aids. The inmates include a pensioner who beat up his care worker after he threatened to resign and an elderly married couple who held up a convenience store.

More than 80 per cent will return within a year of release. "There are not too many companies that will hire an 83-year-old ex-con," one former inmate recently told a weekly magazine.

"Prison in Japan is becoming a place for the old and the disabled who have slipped through the cracks of the welfare system," said a former politician, Joji Yamamoto, who was "outraged" by what he saw behind bars after being convicted of fraud. "Many end up dying on the streets or committing another crime and landing back in jail."

The Japanese Justice Ministry is so alarmed by the rise in geriatric crime that it has started a research project into its causes. Police departments have devised questionnaires for elderly prisoners in an attempt to find out what makes them tick. Among the factors they are exploring are fear of the future, poverty and loneliness. "We have no idea what is causing the rise in the elderly crime rate," said Yoshihiro Ono, a ministry of justice researcher.

Some commentators say there is no mystery. In addition to having the world's longest life expectancy at 85 for women and 78 for men, Japan's welfare system is struggling with a rising pension burden. Nearly nine million elderly people live on pensions, of which just under half are less than 40,000 yen (£194) a month.

The pressure of poverty, the burden of caring for infirm spouses and the lack of professional back-up appear to be driving some to crime and the government has been slow to move on an issue involving welfare.

In the meantime, some people are taking the law into their own hands. When a man described by police as "in his eighties" broke into a Tokyo home and stole 50,000 yen, he was confronted by the female owner who fended him off with a glass ashtray. "I tried as best I could to strike back," said the woman, who was 79.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
people
News
A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
News
politicsIs David Cameron trying to prove he's down with the kids?
News
Businessman at desk circa 1950s
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Linux Systems Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of UK Magento hosting so...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Development Manager - North Kent - OTE £19K

£16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A unique opportunity has arisen...

Tradewind Recruitment: Maths Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Tradewind are working with this secondary s...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: We are working with a school that needs a t...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea