The Mainichi News is one of several news outlets running a report (J) on a recent crackdown on vegetable thefts in Kouchi City, Kouchi Prefecture.
Small farms across Japan have a sort of do-it-yourself farmers’ market system—an unmanned stand beside the road with their produce and a box to deposit money. Although the potential for carrying off veggies without paying is obvious, it is not a major problem in most areas, perhaps an indication of the harmony valued by Japanese society.
Kouchi City’s own roadside stands, however, appropriately called “ryoushin-ichi” (“Conscience Markets”), have recently fallen victim to a string of dishonest “customers.” The problem got serious enough that the local police started cracking down, and in a 30 day period arrested 16 different people. The suspects range in age from 47 to an impressive 86; the thefts ranged between 200 and 2600 yen (approximately US$2-22) in value of everything from potatoes to peas.
Since most of the produce is already in pre-packed 100 yen (roughly US$1) bags, it’s rather impressive that one particularly shameless 63 year old woman is accused of hauling off 2600 yen worth of veggies—a trunkload full, at least—while only leaving 110 yen in the box. 30% of the accused thieves didn’t leave any money at all, with the rest leaving between 1 (less than a penny) and a few hundred yen. They all claimed something to the effect of “I thought that I wasn’t taking enough for it to matter.” They also denied that they were repeat offenders, although given the ongoing rash of thefts, this is unlikely to be true.
After complaints from the farmers, the local police sent regular patrols to check on the stands. This didn’t help at all, so the police took more drastic action, sending a team of 10 officers to stakeout two stands, which lead to the 16 arrests. Mainichi quotes a couple of farmers on past rates of theft; one who’s been at it for over a decade said there was a spike about five years ago, up to 10,000-20,000 yen ($82-$165) per month.
As for the police, the article quotes one as being disgusted by the poor morals of adults who should know better.
Here is an FNN video of the story, complete with dramatic music, with English subtitles added: