Many policing agencies around the world deal with crime in various ways, some adopting community based policing techniques while others may adopt a militaristic approach. In the case of Japanese policing however some researchers believe that their methods are the most effective or considered to be the best. This paper will document why these methods are considered to be the best in the world with a reference to Japan’s historical origins, the use of kobans and why they are seen as effective and ineffective. As well as taking note of the disadvantages in this positive argument about the methods of the Japanese.
A reference also to Japanese culture and its effects on crime rates and the general public and why this effective method relies on both police and citizens respectively. This paper may also mention some aspects of the US methods past and present for comparison only to establish the need for the Japanese model. The origins of Japanese police began with a centralised command of the Tokugawa shogunate (1600-1867) this was made of heads of government and were all a part of the Shogunate clan. This period of isolation administered policing through the form of samurais, the ruling class (Leishman, 1999).
Samurai and officials of the Tokugawa period issued out the acts and precedents laid out in the osadamegaki (rulebook) with much discretion, restraint and leniency (Hiramatsu 1989, p. 123). Moreover the individualistic sovereign nation of Japan soon realised that areas of economic, military and political matters had to change in order to keep up with the rest of the world, despite the nation being extremely isolated. The shogunate collapsed and the dominance of the Meiji (Emperor) gave way (Westney, 1982 & Mitchell, 1992). In ummary, the Edo/shogunate era (1600-1867) had established a system in which leniency and restraint reigned in the distribution of justice. Japanese policing became even better as time went on. Firstly, the establishment of the Meiji in 1868 resulted in the gathering of alternative policing methods from the West and the introduction of a new system of policing. The samurai had been abolished with the rise of the Meiji, however many of them became members of Tokyo’s Metropolitan police force which was formed in 1874 and headed by Kawaji Toshiyoshi. Toshiyoshi is regarded as the ‘founding father of Japanese policing’ (Leishman, 1999, p. 11).
Earlier, Toshiyoshi had been tasked to explore Europe and the police structures that were in force, this lead to the establishment of a Home Ministry which could command activities of the police. (Leishman, 1999, p. 111 & Reichel, 2008, p. 198). By 1912 the Meiji was abolished, however this period lead to the implementation of over 15,000 rural residential posts and urban police boxes, this system was under the recommendation of German police advisors (Yoshida & Leishman, 2006, p. 222. The establishment of these police boxes is another reason why Japanese policing is the best in the world.
These police boxes, or ‘kobans’, are occupied by community police officers on a shift rotation, there are around 1,200 police divisions for the whole of Japan. These kobans are assigned with similar departments to that of the main headquarters, for these community safety officers they work in conjunction with those in kobans and chuzaisho (the residential posts) as well as being in touch with patrol cars (Kawamura & Shirakawa, 2008). The duties performed by the Kobans across Japan vary from routine visits to houses in respective areas, frequent patrols and constant vigilance.
Additionally, these house visits give residents the opportunity to voice opinions and requests on how the operation of the police can be improved, however a disadvantage to this as outlined by Aldous and Leishman (2000) detail the koban as a ‘system of state surveillance and can be seen as intrusive. Just as Van Wolfren (1989) subscribes to Toshiyoshi view that ‘government should be seen as the parent, the people as the children and the policemen as the nurses of those children’thus enforcing the need for state surveillance.
The kobans also conduct patrols on foot and on bike, by doing this, officers get a better idea of crime hot spots and mesmerize maps of the area. Community officers are always vigilant from there kobans, many of these boxes are situated in busy areas; this allows for more public reassurance for safety (Kawamura & Shirakawa, 2008), p. 162. This structure and system of community policing is another reason why Japanese policing is the best in the world. However nothing is without its disadvantages. Despite having all these advantages, the Koban system has its flaws.
According to a survey conducted by the National Police Agency one in seven (14%) of the respondents did not know where the nearest Koban was in the area with only a 23% satisfaction rate with the Koban service. Another flaw discovered by Yoshida (2006, p. 222) was that too much time was wasted on non- crime matters; such as ‘asking for directions and cancelling credit cards on one’s behalf. This however is all to keep up with the ‘people friendly’ image. Even with the low satisfaction rate, Japan has continued to conduct many reports and studies into how they deal with crime.
For example Japanese police reported in the 70 percent range of crime clearance, unlike the decline of this rate in the mid-1990s (Reichel, 2008, p. 396-397). As well as noting another National Police Agency Survey (2004) 26% of all crimes reported were cleared, homicide at 95% to robbery at 50%. In the year 2002 over 2 million penal code offences were outlined, whereas this same data 10 years ago in 1993 was at 1,801,150; this was a 63% increase in crime over this period (Kawamura & Shirakawa, 2008, p. 166).
Another reason why Japanese police is considered the best is due to the society of the Japanese people. It tends to be the case that Japanese culture displays a high level of ethnic homogeneity, thus the majority of people in Japan are Japanese with a small Korean minority (Palmiotto & Unnithan, 2011, p. 29). Despite this small minority, people in Japan tend to feel less separated from the mainstream culture and in turn lowers crime rates. As well as fewer hate crimes against marginalized groups (Westermann and Burfeind, 1991, p. 52).
This culture enforces the need for duty and responsibility to a group, meaning that influences such as parents, relatives and teachers can shame those that commit deviance acts and hence is a deterrent (Palmiotto & Unnithan, 2011, p. 30); in ancient times of the samurai this was usually in the form of bending the knee to the emperor. These customs of the Japanese reflect on the people and hence allow society to be a safer place for all, reinforcing the idea that Japan’s police are effective and the best in their duties.
This model of policing relies on both officers and the citizens in those respective areas, this final reason will be argued last. To insure that police are observed, a method of communication was established, this problem first arose in mid-18th century England. An officer by the name of Henry Fielding created designated patrol areas to better supervise his men (Reichel, 2008, p. 388). Reichel (2008) also notes that Boston had revaluated this similar problem in the 1870s with upgraded telegraph systems, however the Japanese people felt a static method of deployment was needed; this was introduced in the form of kobans and chuzaishos.
The police rely on the participation of its citizens for crime prevention and keeping the area safe with the use of activities, such as communities and councils (Bayley, 1991; Kim, 1987; National Police Agency, 2005). Associations set up ranging from government to public levels corporate with the police; these may be in the forms of civilian watches to assist in preventing juvenile crimes. The dependence on police and citizens to actively work close together reinforces the idea that this method of policing is the best in the world. The police anywhere around the world should be involved in society ot just for enforcement of law, but for service.
The police in Japan also provide a service as well as enforcement of the law, unlike the US in the 1890s to 1920s, involvement with citizens were extremely decreased (Monkkonen, 1981). Whereas the Japanese model of police service rather than enforcement began with Kawaji Toshiyoshi. To quote Van Wolfren (1989) once again, Toshiyoshi’s view stated that’government should be seen as the parent, the people as the children and the policemen as the nurses of those children’, meaning police should not be isolated from the community and guide citizens on the right path to being law abiding.
Unlike the US being disconnected from the people (Reichel, 2008 p. 391). The Japanese are considered the most effective because of their use of kobans and the general customs that are supported through their culture and through the participation of the society to assist police in making the streets and surrounding areas safer. As well as the use of police as a service to others rather than just enforcers. Although some statistics show that the Kobans are not the best method, crime is still low against the data from other countries. This system is not perfect however we can use this system to better our policing methods for the future.