Japan's gun-free society under fire

VIOLENT crime involving shootouts, helicopter chases and police stakeouts used only to be seen on television in Japan. But these days the country's image as a relatively safe and gun-free society is taking a battering as three real-life crimes dominate newspapers and the television news. In all three incidents guns were used, despite a law banning any civilian from owning handguns.

Last Wednesday a 23-year-old man wanted in connection with a series of offences was cornered by police in a love hotel outside Tokyo. The police went to arrest the man, not expecting him to be armed.

But the man, who was on amphetamines, suddenly produced a gun and started shooting. One policeman was killed and another seriously wounded. The suspect escaped and was only captured the next day, after a massive police manhunt, but not before he had taken two hostages and injured a housewife.

No sooner was the man behind bars than police were called out on another manhunt, this time in Chiba prefecture just east of Tokyo. Two men had stolen the relatively small sum of 570,000 yen (less than pounds 2,500) from a pinball parlour, but again they were both carrying guns. After a seven-hour chase, in which the police called in a helicopter, the two men escaped.

On Friday the calm of a small town in the southern prefecture of Okayama was shattered when three men involved in the building trade were shot dead. The 48- year-old head of a small tiling company was arrested for allegedly shooting the men in what police described as a business feud.

These three incidents have shocked Japan, and at a cabinet meeting Kiichi Miyazawa, the Prime Minister, said strong action should be taken to stop the smuggling and distribution of handguns in Japan. 'I would like to see the sense of unease among the people eliminated with progress on anti-handgun measures,' he said.

Until recently, the only people regularly carrying firearms in Japan were members of the yakuza underworld gangs, and shootings usually were confined to inter-gang conflicts. But none of last week's killings were directly related to yakuza affairs.

Paradoxically, one of the reasons for the spread of handguns seems to be an ongoing police crackdown on the yakuza. Since a law targeting organised crime went into effect in March, many yakuza members - who are usually known to the police - are thought to have sold their weapons to petty criminals to avoid the police dragnet. Since March, one quarter of the guns confiscated by the police belonged to non-yakuza members.

Statistically, Japan is still much safer than most other countries in the world - per capita, Western Europe has four times as many murders as Japan, and in the US the murder rate is eight times higher. But the incidence of murder and armed robbery is going up in Japan.

Some commentators blame US influence for the rise in violent crime. 'Criminal use of guns and cars strikes us as a growing Americanisation of crime in this country,' said the daily Mainichi newspaper on Sunday. 'Perhaps this is inevitable, given the increasing assimilation of that life-style across the Pacific into our own.'

Much has been made of Japan's total ban on private ownership of firearms, compared to the legal right to bear arms enjoyed by most Americans. But there is no evidence that Americans are actively importing guns into Japan.

On the contrary, the appetite for guns seems to originate from Japan's own criminals, who are becoming increasingly international in their outlook. Last year, about one third of the guns confiscated by police were smuggled in from Russia.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
news
News
The cartoon depicts the UK (far left) walking around a Syrian child refugee
newsIn an exclusive artwork for The Independent, Ali Ferzat attacks Britain's lack of 'humanity'
Arts and Entertainment
British author Helen Macdonald, pictured with Costa book of the year, 'H is for Hawk'
booksPanel hail Helen Macdonald's 'brilliantly written, muscular prose' in memoir of a grief-stricken daughter who became obsessed with training a goshawk
Sport
footballDefender's extra-time header in Capital One Cup semi-final sends Blues to Wembley
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: Digital Account Manager - OTE £40,000

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This web-based lead generation ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Intervention Teacher Required To Start ASAP.

£125 - £150 per day + Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: A 'wonderful primary ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Maths Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Our client is an 11-16 mixed commun...

Recruitment Genius: PHP / Drupal / SaaS Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly developing company in...

Day In a Page

Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
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