Following the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, Japanese in the disaster-stricken areas were praised in the foreign media for their sang froid and sense of decorum. Unfortunately, reports Shukan Gendai (Nov 26), not everyone was so noble. In fact, crimes did occur. We know this because the culprits have been apprehended and prosecuted for their misdeeds. The following are just a few of the cases introduced in the article.
In late March, a group of six young males set off in Sendai’s Wakabayashi-ku around three in the morning. Holding flashlights, they broke into an abandoned two-story residential building in an area that had been hit by the tsunami. In addition to 12,000 yen in cash, they made off with a TV set, snowboard, and other items that could be easily sold for cash.
The thieves, realizing their car had been spotted by a neighborhood patrol traveling in the opposite direction, attempted to discard their booty by throwing it from the car window. It was later learned that the leader himself had lost his home to the disaster and his family members had been dispersed to various evacuation centers.
“As a victim yourself, surely you must have known what it felt like,” the prosecutor chided him. “As the oldest in the group, you could have discouraged the others.”
“To be frank, I didn’t think about other victims,” he is said to have responded. “I was living all by myself and felt that it would be nice to have a TV to watch. I’m sorry.”
Last July, the trial convened in the Sendai District Court, in which three men were prosecuted for stealing electric power cables and fixtures. According to the charges, following the destructive tsunami, the men had knocked down utility poles along the coast near Ishinomaki City, and made off with sections of cable and several small power transformers.
Anticipating a rise in the price of copper, they had planned to sell their booty to scrap dealers. To avoid being spotted, they wore clothes resembling the volunteers who were beginning to merge on the area. Their mistake was to be out stealing cables at 5 a.m.—a time when real volunteers were still in the sack. A policeman caught them red-handed.
“Since there were so many people involved in cleaning up the rubble, we thought the police wouldn’t take any notice,” the 66-year-old felon was quoted as saying.
Ishinomaki accounted for nearly one fourth of the total fatalities, and the court was disinclined to show leniency. The man was sentenced to four years in prison.
Another crime that occurred soon after the disaster was a variation of the old “it’s me, send money” scam. Around March 18, a 45-year-old man in Tokyo, claiming to be a tsunami victim, contacted some 40,000 people via the Internet under his real name asking for donations. Despite his piteous pleas, not a single person appears to have taken the bait.
Around the beginning of April, a Tokyo man, upset over rumors that the capital would be hit by a major aftershock, became so anxiety ridden he was afraid to sleep at night. To prevent drowsiness, he obtained some stimulant drugs, which he injected. The drug served its purpose of keeping him alert, but no aftershock occurred. However, a policeman noticed the man behaving suspiciously on the street near Shinjuku’s Kabukicho entertainment zone, and attempted to question him. Suspecting stimulant abuse, the officers requested the man to voluntarily give a urine sample, but he refused, and they wound up pinning him down on a table while attaching a catheter to his urethra and extracting the specimen by force. It tested positive for drugs.
The man’s defense at the trial was that he had begun taking the stimulants out of “anxieties caused by the aftershocks.”
But a veteran judge, noting his record of prior abuse, said to him, “It seems you always claim some special reason every time you take drugs.”