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Rash of Thefts Plagues Unmanned Vegetable Stands

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:

Senseless Mother-Killing Shocks Nation

Among the top stories this week in Japan is the tragedy of a disturbed high school boy who decapitated his mother and then turned himself in to police.

The story is still unfolding, and due to Japan’s laws protecting the identity of criminal suspects under the age of twenty there are no names or images of killer or victim, but the media coverage has picked apart every detail available so far. The Asashi Shimbun’s initial report (E), and a follow-up report (E) are two English-language examples describing the gruesome crime.

According to Asahi’s account, the unnamed 17-year-old boy may have been suffering from psychological problems, although the family wasn’t known to have any significant problems. The boy and his younger brother were living together in an apartment some distance from their parents so they could attend a prestigious high school.

Early Tuesday morning, while his mother was visiting, something apparently drove the boy to cut her throat as she slept. Media reports say that he then sawed off her right arm, painted it white, and “planted” it in a flower pot. Later, he put her head in his school bag, spent a couple of hours in an Internet cafe, and finally went to the police station to turn himself in for the crime. His brother, sleeping in another room, apparently was unaware that anything was wrong.

The senseless crime—there was no apparent motive, and the boy is being quoted as saying that it didn’t matter who he killed—is the latest in a string of shocking murders that are perceived to be on the rise in a nation where violent crime rates are extraordinarily low. This Mainichi report (E) is one example of the public perception and associated statistics.

The actual number of crimes of this sort are by almost any account quite low in Japan, which makes the public scrutiny of the incidents all the more intense, and contributes to the perception that the sense of harmony and order that has ruled Japanese society for decades is eroding.

Heroes and Villains on the Trains of Osaka

Two unrelated incidents on the trains of the Osaka area that are being reported this week show the worst and the best parts of humanity.

Accused Serial Rapist Allegedly Victimizes Woman While Bystanders Do Nothing

Takamitsu Uezono being taken into custody.

The Mainichi Newspaper (J) is reporting (as is NNN (J)) that on April 21st Takamitsu Uezono, a 36-year-old demolition worker, was charged with rape and re-arrested by the Yodogawa Police in Osaka.

Uezono was already arrested once this January by the Shiga Prefectural Police for an entirely different sexual assault, for which he is currently on trial. He is accused of sexually assaulting a 27-year-old woman in a train on the JR Kosai Line, as well as a second assault on a 20-year-old college student in a bathroom at the Otsu station when he got off the train. Both of these incidents occurred on December 21st, but police are now saying that this wasn’t the first time he had preyed on unsuspecting commuters.

The second set of charges accuses Uezono of sexually assaulting a 21-year-old office worker last August on the “Thunderbird” express train on the lengthy Hokuriku Line running between Toyama and Osaka.

The attack allegedly occurred at around 9:20pm right after the train left Fukui station. According to reports, Uezono took a seat next to the woman and threatened her, saying “I’m going to kill you if you escape.” and “I will stalk you as long as you live.” After molesting her in her seat, he allegedly took her to the bathroom on the train about an hour later and raped her for 30 minutes. His victim was apparently too afraid to cry out for help, but was weeping.

If the Mainichi Newspaper’s report of the incident (J) is to be believed, Uezono wasn’t the only criminal on this train, however. According to the newspaper, there were about 40 passengers on the same car in which the attack occurred, at least some of whom noticed that something was amiss. None of them, however, did anything at all to help. Uezono is alleged to have threatened the passengers around him, but none of the silent enablers so much as alerted a conductor.

According to JR Western Japan, who runs the train, almost all of their cars have an emergency buzzer near the connection between cars that alerts the conductor, and the bathrooms also have a buzzer for ill passengers to request aid. Additionally, on routes with a long distance between stops, the conductors periodically patrol the trains.

Why none of these safety features were used to help the woman is unclear. For its part, the JR Western Japan press office said “We are going to enhance conductor’s patrols, and try to provide passengers with safety and anticrime measures. If you see an incident, we would like you to use the emergency buzzer.”

These criminally unhelpful passengers could learn a lesson from a group of six schoolboys in the same area.

Sextet of High School Heroes

The Sankei Newspaper is reporting (J) that on April 18th at Izumitottori Station on the JR Hanwa Line, six first-year students of Osaka Prefectural Izumitottori High School saved a 19-year-old man who fell off of the platform.

According to the man’s mother, he was on his way home from work when he suffered a seizure, stumbled, and fell onto the tracks. The students, who were nearby, leapt into action when they saw the man fall. One boy ran to push the emergency stop switch, three of them leapt down onto the tracks, and the remaining two stayed on the platform to pull the man up. The group called 119 (the Japanese emergency number) after pulling him up to safety. He was taken to a hospital and escaped with only minor injuries.

More impressive still, the group of quick-thinking schoolboys wasted no time making plans or splitting up responsibility, although each filled his role marvelously.

JR Western Japan is considering presenting the boys with letters of commendation for their bravery, and the Osaka Prefecture Board of Education is also going to honor them sometime soon. The man’s mother visited their school on the 19th to express her appreciation. She was quoted as saying “There are still young people like this in these savage times. I am eternally grateful.”