Complete article available at http://www.crosswalk.com/news/commentary/11597904/
Japan: Attack of the Senior Citizens
January 9, 2008
Japan has a well-earned reputation as one of the most orderly societies on earth. Its crime rate, while rising in recent years, is still low by Western standards. When crime does spike, many Japanese are quick to blame foreigners.
But a recent crime wave is undeniably home grown—in more ways than one.
The surge in lawlessness involves not only property crime such as shoplifting, pick pocketing, and embezzlement, but also a rise in violent crime. In response, the government is planning three new prison wards—complete with “metal walkers and support rails.”
Metal walkers and support rails? Oh, did I mention that the new “usual suspects” are Japanese senior citizens?
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If more senior citizens don’t explain the phenomenon, what does? A popular explanation is “financial hardship.” Koichi Hama of Ryukoku University spoke for many experts when he said that “it’s very difficult to live on their small pensions.” They shoplift to make ends meet, and then it escalates.
While this may be part of the explanation, Japanese elderly are hardly unique in their economic vulnerability. Around the world, economic downturns hit pensioners living on fixed incomes especially hard. Yet we don’t read about crime waves among European and North American elderly.
An important part of the explanation lies in the increasing isolation of Japan’s elderly. Japan’s microscopic birthrate has produced an aging population with no one to care for it, whether children or paid caretakers. Japanese elderly are so starved for companionship that they buy talking dolls they think “are actual grandsons and granddaughters,” according to the manufacturer. [See Erich's post related to this phenomenon below.]
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No society that devalues marriage, that ignores the importance of child rearing, and that rejects the foundational role of families can sustain itself over time.
While we may not experience a geriatric crime wave like Japan’s, unless we change our ways, our future will be just as bleak—and lonely.