Out of Japan: Happy to pay for the safest streets in the world

TOKYO - A first-time visitor to the capital in the run-up to the Imperial wedding two weeks ago might have been forgiven for thinking that the city was in the throes of a military coup: helicopters circled overhead; roadblocks with armed police choked traffic throughout the centre of the city; and, on almost every street, policemen with stern faces patrolled with truncheons drawn. All that was missing was the martial music on the radio.

But no takeover was happening. This was just the normal show of force of Tokyo's Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), famed for making the streets of the Japanese capital the safest in the world.

In the past nine months the city's police have been more evident than ever, with a couple of sensitive visits by the Emperor to China and Okinawa, followed by the Crown Prince's wedding of last week, and the forthcoming summit of the Group of Seven leading industrial nations in Tokyo next month. In each case extreme left- and right- wing terrorists have threatened to let off bombs and rockets in the capital, keeping the police on their toes - and visible on the streets. Last week the police announced they had found material for eight bombs stored in a greengrocer's shop linked with a left-wing group.

There are sporadic complaints that the efforts of Tokyo's finest to provide security are sometimes excessive and intrude on individual liberty. But, in general, Tokyo residents are prepared to tolerate a certain level of intrusiveness from the police in exchange for the feeling of safety that has long since disappeared from the streets of Western capital cities.

The real value of Tokyo's security sinks in when one travels from Tokyo to London to find friends who are afraid to go anywhere at night, who have bars on all their windows, who tell stories of pensioners being beaten for a few pounds of savings, and whose lives are severely compromised by the real threat of mugging or rape in the streets ouside their houses.

Tokyo is not like this. 'People from overseas often praise us for being the safest city in the world,' said Tadao Ando, the superintendent general of Tokyo Metropolitan Police. 'From the statistics, you can see it is the kind of city where you can walk alone at night.'

According to the National Police Agency, for every 100,000 inhabitants, Japan has 1.1 murders, 1.3 (reported) rapes, and 1,203 incidents of theft. The comparable figures for England and Wales are 9.1 murders, 12.1 rapes, and 5,544 incidents of theft. And if a crime is committed, the chances are much higher that the police will make an arrest in Japan than in the UK.

While some overworked policemen in London might resign themselves to just signing-off a burglary report for insurance purposes, for his counterpart in Tokyo it is almost a matter of personal honour to make an arrest. Seventy-seven per cent of burglars and 93 per cent of murderers are caught. 'Our men have high morale and high capability,' Mr Ando said. 'I do not think I am bragging about this.'

On top of this, Mr Ando has a co- operative public. 'Citizens in general consider discipline as part of the Japanese nature. They are highly law- abiding and trust the police force.'

Vandalised telephone boxes are unknown in Japan. As Sir John Whitehead, a former British ambassador to Japan put it, with 2 per cent unemployment, 'the real achievement of the Japanese system is that people feel they have something at stake in their society'. There is virtually no alienated underclass.

There is a cost for Tokyo's safe streets. Policemen visit every home on their beat at least once a year - more often if they have suspicions about the residents - to keep tabs on what everyone is doing. If an arrest is made, the suspect can be detained for questioning at the police station for three weeks; two days is normal for most developed countries. Stories of beatings, sleep deprivation and forced confessions are common: Japanese citizens know that if they fall out of the system, they will be treated with little compassion.

But with a continual stream of horror stories of Japanese being attacked or robbed while abroad being relayed by television and newspapers, most Japanese are grateful for their domestic security.

There has been criticism within Japan of the heavy police presence on the streets at this year's big events, and the police have acknowledged this. But Mr Ando is unapologetic for carrying out his duty. 'When I wake up in the morning my first question is: 'Has anything happened last night?' When I hear nothing has happened I am very relieved.'

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
footballHe started just four months ago
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
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

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect