MELBOURNE (4,400,000 RESIDENTS) CRIMES PER 100,000 RESIDENTS
Imagine a city one-sixth the size of Sydney, but so crowded that it’s home to the equivalent of 50% of Australia’s population. A city containing a sea of people, hemmed in between the ocean and high mountains. A city with skyscrapers up to 634 metres high, most of which are shaken by tremors at least once a month. A city with streets so packed it can take three hours to drive from one side to the other. A city that’s regularly flooded by typhoons in the summer. A city that stands where four seismic plates meet. Where the ocean can unleash a tsunami at any moment. The residents of Tokyo have plenty of things to worry about – but crime isn’t one of them. How is this possible?
WHY DOES A CITY REFUSE TO LOOT?
Tokyo holds three notable records: with a population of 40 million, there’s no bigger metropolitan area on Earth. At the same time no urban sprawl is safer: there are just 0.4 murders per 100,000 inhabitants each year – and that number is decreasing. Sydney’s murder rate is one per 100,000; St Louis, the most dangerous city in the USA, clocks in at 7.3 and Caracas in Venezuela, with its political and economic chaos, a frightening 122. On the other hand, according to estimates from insurers Swiss Re, no other major city has a greater risk of falling victim to a natural disaster than Tokyo: the amount of time between
an underwater earthquake and powerful, 15-metre high waves striking land could be as little as 15 minutes, while for a more localised earthquake residents would get just 80 seconds’ warning.
Millions of people live here in the face of total disaster – and yet no one panicked when three nuclear reactors exploded just 150 kilometres away in Fukushima following the 2011 tsunami. In contrast to cities like New Orleans, where Hurricane Katrina triggered mass civil disobedience and lootings in 2005, the people of Tokyo continued calmly about their business, taking their morning commute to work after disaster struck. “Looting simply does not take place in Japan. I’m not even sure if they have a word for it,” explains Gregory Pflugfelder, a professor of Japanese history at Columbia University in New York.
WHAT MAKES JAPANESE SOCIETY SO ORDERED?
Behind this lies a fundamental difference between Japan and the West: “You do everything you can to protect your own interests with the understanding that, in a rather free-market way, everybody else is going to do the same. And that order will come out of this sort of invisible hand,” says Pflugfelder. “The Japanese don’t function that way. Order is seen as coming from the group and from the community as a sort of evening out of various individual needs.” Discipline, cohesion and community values have been the survival strategies of the Japanese for millennia – there’s no room for outsiders, in the most literal sense: around a fifth of the country’s land area is too mountainous to be built on. For centuries, Japan’s 130 million residents have lived cheek by jowl behind paper-thin walls, particularly in Tokyo. This breeds courtesy and consideration from a young age. Everyone knows the rules of society. There are no ghettos and only 1% of the population has an immigrant background.
What there are, of course, are natural disasters. Tokyo’s citizens live with the ever-present threat of earthquakes or eruptions from 60 active volcanoes. In these situations the support of the family unit is vital. Families also help discipline the biggest city on Earth in times of peace, too, far more effectively than the police would ever be able to. But what happens when discipline breaks down? Does society fall apart? Quite the opposite…
WHY ARE THERE VIRTUALLY NO WEAPONS IN TOKYO?
Looting Tokyo would be extremely difficult. The reason: there’s hardly any means of demanding respect by brandishing a weapon. With the
THE SAFEST CITIES IN THE WORLD
According to the EIU Safe Cities Index 2015 (based on aspects of safety) exception of shotguns and air rifles, both of which are strictly regulated, civilians are forbidden from owning firearms. Statistics show only one in 175 households owns a gun – unlike in America, where there are more guns than people (see the US militias feature on page 48). The last mass shooting in Tokyo took place in 1923, almost 100 years ago. Throughout Japan only a dozen murders are committed using a firearm each year. In Australia the number is closer to 230; in the US it’s more like 12,000.
“Some shootings in the US claim more victims than all the shooting victims in Japan in a whole year,” explains American weapons expert David Kopel. Weapons are frowned upon in Japan – being caught with a knife in public can land you in prison. And if that weren’t enough…
DOES EVERY FAMILY HAVE A POLICE OFFICER?
On almost every third street corner you’ll find a koban – there are over 800 in Tokyo’s inner city alone. Basically a small neighbourhood police station, kobans are as intrinsic a part of city life as trams are in Melbourne. They’re staffed by a small number of community policemen whose job it is to oversee their local patch. As officials are often stationed there for their entire service life, they know their beat inside out.
Such is the respect for law and order, they also have help from thousands of other unpaid patrolling residents. To them the police are not snoopers, they’re
trusted pillars of the community who will even offer advice about personal problems. “We look out for people. No street is ever dark here,” says the mayor of Tokyo, Yoichi Masuzoe.
The police don’t shy away from involving themselves in private matters, and regularly visit known weapons owners at home to check that they are ‘emotionally stable’. This extensive monitoring network has led to one of the world’s most impressive crime detection rates – 97.7% of murders are solved. A third of all murders in the USA remain unsolved.
WILL THE OLYMPIC GAMES CHANGE TOKYO?
The individual is nothing, the community is everything: that’s how things work in Japan, and nowhere exemplifies this better than Tokyo. There’s little social deprivation: the country divides its wealth as the fourth largest national economy on Earth relatively equally among its inhabitants. The most well-paid company CEO only earns a tenth of what his or her counterpart in the US would bank. “It’s this unshakeable trust in science, employer and government that allows the Japanese to keep their cool in times of crisis. It is better when everybody acts together,” says Misaki Hatori about her compatriots who, at 84, have the highest life expectancy in the world.
This attitude is also reflected in everyday life: in stark contrast to most places on the planet, Tokyo has hardly any garbage bins – yet there’s no litter lying around. People take their trash home with them. Japanese people accord little trust to those outside their own cultural circle, reasoning that they could raise the crime rate on the 421 inhabited islands that make up the country. Of the 5,000 asylum applications it received last year, Japan approved just 11. It’s not another tsunami, then, that could prove to be the real test of Tokyo’s safety, but a wave of visitors. Ten million are expected to visit the city when it hosts the Olympic Games in 2020.
“CRIMES TARNISH THE FAMILY NAME. ANYONE COMMITTING A CRIME WILL BE THROWN OUT OF THE FAMILY – FOREVER. FEW PEOPLE WANT THAT.” KENJI OHNO, TOKYO METROPOLITAN POLICE
Melbourne’s pretty laneways belie a soaring crime rate that amounts to one crime for every four residents. Robbery, assault and theft are the most common misdemeanours, with Melbourne’s assault rate of 344 per 100,000 residents being six times the state average.