by Robert Moorehead
Arudō Debito posted the above picture on his blog, debito.org, as another example of the persistent stereotype that connects foreigners with crime. As other posts on my blog have shown, this stereotype is not unique to Japan and is inaccurate. Simply put, foreigners are no more likely to commit crime than the native-born are. Debito’s blog points out that instances of shoplifting are increasing in one demographic group: elderly Japanese are committing shoplifting in increasing numbers. However, their crimes are often depicted in much nicer ways, as crimes of loneliness.
As a foreign resident of Japan, shouldn’t I also be on the lookout for crime? And shouldn’t I be looking out for all crime, and not just the tiny percentage committed by the country’s tiny foreign population? If non-Japanese are less than two percent of the population, shouldn’t we really be focusing on the other 98 percent? Something tells me they’re committing way more crime. Drawing on the Occupy Movement, maybe foreigners’ rallying cry should be “We are the 98 percent.”
When I lived in the city of Kasugai, in Aichi prefecture, most homes in my quiet suburban neighborhood were decorated with crime-watch signs in Chinese. The fact that there was no crime wave, Chinese or otherwise, was irrelevant, as was the fact that this supposed threat made up only 0.5 percent of the city population. Rumor had it that years earlier, someone had their home had broken into, and the alleged perpetrator was Chinese.
Following the logic that if one is guilty, all must be guilty, many homes in Kozoji New Town were festooned with signs in Chinese from their neighborhood associations, warning that residents would report anyone who looked suspicious (and Chinese) to the police. While an occasional sign was in Japanese, most were not. The enterprising neighborhood association of Iwanaridai cast a broad net over most foreigners in the area, putting up crime multilingual watch signs in Portuguese, Spanish, Chinese, and English.
Beyond perpetuating stereotypes that foreigners are somehow more likely to commit crime, these signs equate not being Japanese with crime and being Japanese with being law-abiding. They warn Japanese to be on the lookout for foreigners, and they warn foreigners that they’re being watched. They’re also an affront to our (shared?) humanity.
Update: The issue has prompted a video response on YouTube: