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A 1980s study on juvenile crime in Japan sheds light on American gun culture (qz.com)
101 points by curtis 7 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 91 comments

Interesting fact:

Firearms were present in Japan beginning in the 13th century, but saw little adoption. In 1543, the Portuguese introduced matchlock firearms, a much more impressive weapon, and Japan embraced them. They began manufacturing them in great numbers, researching firearms technology, and fielding armies equipped with firearms, which they used to great effect. In 1592 a Japanese force invaded Korea and rapidly captured Seoul, in large part due to the presence of an estimated 40k gunners in the force. It's estimated Japan may have led the world during this period in firearm production, and surviving written records suggest they saw firearms very positively.

...then, they stopped. There's an excellent book about it called "Giving Up The Gun" (https://www.amazon.com/Giving-Up-Gun-Reversion-1543-1879/dp/...) There's no super clear explanation; the answer mostly seems to be a vague hand-wavy nod towards "cultural reasons".

But, obviously, those cultural reasons didn't seem to apply prior to the Edo period, when Japan went all-in on firearms, arguably more so than any European country. Odd.

There's an interesting side note from the other side of the Korean invasions. Korea at the time possessed a much different firearms technology and had gone all in canon and other propelled missile technologies (like the Hwacha). The Japanese invading fleets had more numerous firearms, but not the large cannons the Koreans were fielding (a weapon they'd had in force since 14th century about two hundred years before Japan).

Some historians partially credit the victories by noted Admiral Yi Sun-sin to both use of local terrain and waterway lore and the asymmetric fielding of battlefield weaponry. There's a recent movie (The Admiral:Roaring Currents) retelling of the battle that, despite lots of historical liberties and national rah-rah bits, has some interesting visuals on the different dispositions of the opposing fleets.

The rest of the invasion seemed to not go as well where the better trained and more mobile Japanese army had control of much of the peninsula off and on.





I'm not a historian, but I think "the period of war" is a nice explanation:

> The Sengoku period (戦国時代 Sengoku Jidai, "Age of Warring States"; c. 1467 – c. 1603) is a period in Japanese history marked by social upheaval, political intrigue and near-constant military conflict. Japanese historians named it after the otherwise unrelated Warring States period in China. It was initiated by the Ōnin War, which collapsed the Japanese feudal system under the Ashikaga shogunate, and came to an end when the system was re-established under the Tokugawa shogunate by Tokugawa Ieyasu.

So, after the period of war ended and the Tokugawa Shogunate was established, the "Bakufu" clearly did not want millions of unemployed soldiers hanging around with guns. (I heard even the invasion on Korea was conceived as a means of keeping soldiers and lesser feudal lords busy, though I'm not sure how widely it is believed.)

It's a plausible argument I suppose. And Europe never went through a comparable period of peace and unification (at any rate prior to the present day), so it sort of makes sense that Europe stuck with its guns and Japan did not.

And yet it still raises questions. It happened very suddenly as these things go (over a few years or decades, rather than centuries), and seems to have been accompanied by a deep, long-lasting cultural shift. Even after Japanese isolation ended in the mid 19th century, there didn't seem to be any real reversion (hence, indirectly, the originally linked article). If the establishment of the Tokugawa Shogunate was enough to make Japan give up the gun, why was it's collapse not enough to make Japan re-embrace it? If the answer is "unique Japanese culture", why was it not present at the start of the Sengoku period? It's not like the Sengoku period was just way more violent than the 1850-1950 period.

Anyhow, the book I linked (which I last read over 10 years ago, so I'm a bit fuzzy on some of the details) goes into a lot more detail, digging through historical records and evaluating most of the obvious theories. I highly recommend it!

Japan didn't embrace gun culture but certainly built up its military after being forced to abandon isolationism by (literal) threats of destruction from western powers.

Quite right. The question is why? If culture is driven by events, it feels like they should have embraced gun culture given how huge that event was. If it's not, then when triggered the earlier abandonment?

The abandonment was triggered by the shogunate having a large amount of control over anyone wealthy enough to own a gun. Afterwards, the military certainly embraced gun culture, but civilian gun culture largely rises from colonialism.

> the answer mostly seems to be a vague hand-wavy nod towards "cultural reasons".

I'd imagine during that time in Japan cultural reasons was a big enough reason. Edo period was characterized by isolationism. It was trade, religion (Christian converts were heavily persecuted at that time) and social structures were become more rigid https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edo_society. There was finally the travel restriction https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sakoku_Edict_of_1635. Perhaps guns were seen as something foreign they went away with all the other "foreign" things.

The retired cop then noted that even the yakuza don’t like to use guns these days — because the penalties are too high...One mid-level yakuza boss told me, “Having a gun now is like having a time bomb. Do you think any sane person wants to keep one around the house?”


One friend got beaten up by Yakuza because he banged up a Russian prostitute that 'belonged' to them. No guns, just golf club beatings, and of course they didn't get carried away (no broken bones, just bruises).

One hopes this person was no longer your friend after doing so.

Such enlightened and thoughtful thugs.

See, coming from a culture were people kill each other because of traffic misunderstandings, domestic violence being incredibly common, etc. it's really a surprise.

As much as I want to believe this is true, I can't help but question the accuracy of the japan times reporting on Japan. In my mind, it's like RT reporting on Russia

I don't believe the Japan Times is a propaganda arm of the Japanese government in the same way as RT. They aren't as old an organization as Mainichi Shimbun for example, but I wouldn't group them with RT or Sputnik. Television news organizations in the country have to tread lightly, since they have to come hat in hand to the government when they need to renew their broadcasting licenses, but I don't believe other news organizations have that kind of power exercised over them by the national government.

You meant 'wouldn't group them with RT or Sputnik', right?

Yes, fixed

Huh? Japan Times isn't state media, it's a regular private newspaper. Japan Times reporting on Japan is akin to the New York Times reporting on New York.

So highly biased and lapdogs of the ruling elite then?

If you're the sort of person who feels better thinking such things, sure. The point is that any biases are the paper's biases, not (necessarily) the state's.

This seems like a bit of an odd complaint, do you think journalism has to be done by foreigners?

Or if your comparison to RT is about them being owned/heavily influenced by the government, they're not: the NHK is the quasi-governmental news org in Japan.

In fact, this particular article is by a foreigner - Jake Adelstein, an American who has been reporting on the yakuza and Japanese police for a long time now. He’s written for a lot more outlets than just the Japan Times as well.

Can't be any worse than any news outlet in America reporting on America.

In certain cities in the United States going to jail for shooting and killing someone is something of a networking retreat for criminals. You plead down to manslaughter and may serve less than 3 years. Great way to jumpstart your career and gain credibility on the streets.

I need to see some evidence of these claims. I doubt that prison is materially similar to a "networking retreat". Are people really pleading down to manslaughter, after literally shooting and killing someone, and serving less than 3 years?

The large numbers of prison gangs is evidence of the networking function. And in gang ridden neighborhoods most murders aren’t even solved, and 3 years happens regularly, because of the low evidence an lack of witness cooperation causing prosecutors to cut plea bargains.

I agree with the GP; I'd need to see some evidence.

> in gang ridden neighborhoods

Gangs are no longer a problem in most American cities, afaik. It's a obsolete myth in the minds of people who never step foot in poor and working-class urban neighborhoods, but they see lots of TV and movies.

You don't see Crips and Bloods wearing colors but in the several cities I've spent significant time in, there are organized drug-dealing operations with management hierarchy. That, to me, is a gang.

How would you know those things without being in that 'business'? The current drug problem is disproportionately rural, as far as I know. Crime in cities is at lows going back decades. Again, gang-ridden, drug-dealer filled cities is an obsolete notion among those who don't live in them.

3 years for manslaughter ? That seems a very, very low sentence for taking a life.

Be careful when you react this way. This kind of thinking leads to mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenses, shoplifting, and all kinds of petty crimes that aren't typically perpetrated by hardened criminals with violent tendencies. It's the kind of thinking that fills our prisons with people who really belong in therapy or a psych ward.

Killing someone is bad, very bad. But murder charges should be reserved for people who planned to kill someone that day versus being driven to do so in the moment. On its face it might not seem like there's a difference, but there is. It's like the difference between yelling at someone for cutting you off in traffic versus planning exactly how you're going to yell at your boss when you quit in pique. It's the heat of the moment versus the calculation of premeditation.

People do take advantage of the way our justice system judges you partly on intent, but I think that's an essential part of a humane justice system, and some people will always take advantage of our humanity. And I think if we look at the mechanics of plea bargains, this kind of abuse is probably rife. But I don't think the answer is to raise the minimum sentence. I think the answer is to prosecute the correct charges and to prove intent and planning. Or to accept that many of the killings in question really are perpetrated in the heat of the moment and not out of some cunning plan on the part of the killer.

Let's say it this way: imagine it was not prison, but a full therapy treatment and rehabilitation. Do you think that 3 years is enough to rehabilitate an adult that all the events in life lead him or her to kill somebody ?

Some people take 10 years to quit smoking.

Also, while I agree with your point on abusing the justice system and not using it for revenge, you must not forget that:

- currently we also use it as a deterrent system. Even if it doesn't work very well. If somebody is capable of killing someone else, there is a huge different between knowing you will pay 3 years or 10 for it. 3 years to get a reputation or get rid of a life road block could be calculated as an acceptable price.

- there is also the way the non-killers will see the system. If people are being honest, and they witness more and more than being a criminal has not the consequences they though is should have, then people will loose any trust they have in the system. It's a very bad long term side effect to have for a society. Really, really bad.

A murderer will murder, regardless of whether they are in prison for 1 year or 100 years afterward, they are not apt to estimate what a judge will give them for a particular crime. Deterrence for higher level crimes through harsher sentencing is ineffective.

You are talking in absolute, and this is rarely true.

What's "a murderer" ? Are all of them equals ?

Do you think a Yakuza and a an person wanting an inheritance have the same views on violence ?

And what if you have a one year sentence ? One month ? One week ? None ? Do you think there would be no difference ?

It would be great if we had some evidence to back this up.

The victim sees no difference in either of your examples, so I'm having a hard time agreeing fully.

Scenario A: you are at a bar and someone starts a fight with you. You fight back and due to unfortunate circumstances they fall and hit their head in such a way that they die.

Scenario B: you are angry at your neighbor for always taking your parking lot. So you acquire a gun, and in the middle of the night you sneak over to his house, break in, and shoot him while he's sleeping.

Two dead victims, two very different sets of circumstances. Should both those cases be prosecuted as murder? Given the same sentence?

I was imagining a scenario of "crime of passion" e.g. when someone catches their wife in bed with another man. Murder is murder.

Self-defense obviously changes that paradigm completely, and because of that, I'd consider that example moving the goalposts of this discussion

Crimes of passion aren't prosecuted as murder in many jurisdictions. They're prosecuted as manslaughter. The killer didn't plan to kill anyone, but they were provoked to do so by the other parties.

That's why we have judges.

Here we are talking about yakuza, organized crime, not Joe or Jane having one bad moment in life.

Sentence is more like ten years, parole in three. Manslaughter unlike murder is supposed to be unintentional. Of course if the criminals are "networking" in prison, that should prevent parole, but cost-cutting privatization in the prison industry has ensured that doesn't happen. Likewise the only reason that it's a manslaughter charge in the first place is that witness protection, and therefore cooperation, is dismal. Simply put the legitimacy of the US government has declined in some areas, although this process really kicked off in the 1960s.

  the legitimacy of the US government
Homicide is very rarely charged as a Federal crime (special cases like assassination or terrorism).

I didn't say federal government, now did I? My point is that when people don't respect the authorities, we refer to this as the "legitimacy of the government" and because no state was specified I went with US, because all states and their governments are part of the US. So yes I anticipated your semantic quibble.

I should quote from an older book called 'Confessions of a Yakuza', on the Yakuza from about 80 years ago, it's just so fitting:

>The real reason why the police set him up, of course, was to improve the district’s anti-crime record. Sometime after I left jail—around 1938, I suppose it would have been—I had just the same kind of trouble myself at my joint in Uguisudani. Told me, in just the same way, to hand in my guns. This particular detective came straight from the Metropolitan Police Board—the very top. I expect they’d been tipped off that some yakuza somewhere had got hold of a few pistols, so they planned to make a clean sweep. But there weren’t any in my place to begin with, and there was nothing I could do.

>So they told me to produce some even if I had to buy them. It was way out of line, but if I’d gone on insisting I didn’t have any, I’d have ended up the same as Kan-chan, so I got a brother to buy me a couple at three hundred and fifty yen apiece. That was enough to buy a house with in those days, but I couldn’t afford to think about that.

>I turned them in to the police immediately. “Good work,” they said—and that was the last I heard about it: no letter of thanks, and no punishment, either....

I'm glad there was no punishment, but wow, that's such a crazy and unfair situation to find yourself in.

“Their reasons for remaining gun-free revolved around some loosely held concept of honor,” Beck says. “Being able to move your finger on a trigger is not really a skill that wows anyone.”

I find this mindset is reflected in a lot of manga produced in Japan. Heroes are often paired with swords: Rurouni Kenshin, Inu Yasha, and Bleach to name a few.

And yet (as I hear) the Samurai they emulate considered their bows to be their primary weapon, and their spears their secondary weapon, and considered it a disgrace to ever need to draw their sword.

They also used guns when they became available. They were soldiers and mercenaries, after all.

Of course manga heroes are more about romantic ideals than historical accuracy, but even so, you can't really generalize about all samurai any more than you can generalize about all European knights. The samurai class existed in one form or another for around a millennium. I rather doubt that they all considered it a "disgrace" to draw their sword.

>The samurai class existed in one form or another for around a millennium. I rather doubt that they all considered it a "disgrace" to draw their sword.

That's fair. I was just trying to imply that the samurai (and Western cowboy, and European knight, and even modern yakuza and mafia) all present a romantic facade in popular culture that wasn't and isn't necessarily reflected in practical reality.

Apparently even the concept of Bushido is a cultural retcon[0,1] as is, almost everything related to ninja[2,3]. Some young Japanese hoodlums might buy into the hype, but I don't necessarily trust that anecdata as a basis to make some general statement about Japanese culture mistrusting guns because they're less honorable.





If it was a disgrace to draw the sword, I imagine that swordsmanship and sword styles would not be so highly regarded, and there wouldn't have been entire dojos devoted to specific styles. If that were really the case, I imagine there would have been more dojos devoted to archery and spear styles, and those would have been held in higher regard than sword styles. Perhaps that actually was the case, but "popular" historical accounts seem to say otherwise?

What these gangs are doing is closer to single combat than to war, as it is about proving oneself. In most societies, the manners around single combat place much greater emphasis on what is honorable than what is effective, and in that regard Japan is not exceptional.

Projectiles are obviously more effective in a large battle, as demonstrated notably by Khan, G et al 1209, 1215, 1221, etc.

Depends on the era. By the time they were adopting guns most of the Samurai had given up bows. Most Samurai were spearmen, with Ashigaru typically being the bowmen.

Those old guns were probably a lot harder to use than a modern handgun or rifle

The guns of the Gunpowder Age are generally some variant of the arquebus, matchlock, flintlock, or musket (the terms are generally interchangeable). The key early innovations in that era were the development of the triggered mechanism (originally a smoldering piece of rope, aka a match, later a piece of flint that sparks when struck), the stock for stability, and the long barrel for sighting.

The developments that led since then to the modern gun are breech loading, the Minié ball, magazine-fed ammunition, paper and later metal cartridges, rifling, smokeless powder, and the automatic firing mechanism. With the exception of the paper cartridge, all of these technologies were developed in the latter half of the 19th century.

Simply put, pre-American Civil War guns were tactically very different in operation from 20th and 21st century guns. As an aside, this is why WWI was so bloody: generals were trying to fight a war with 20th century guns and 18th century tactics.

You actually see this in mixed martial arts as well where Japanese fighters often refuse to cut weight and instead fight at their natural weight.

For those who are unaware in MMA everything is done by weight classes. If you fight at 155, you need to stand on a scale and weigh 155 or less the day before the fight. Most fighters tend to start at a much higher wight and cut all the water out of their system in the days before. Once they officially weigh in, they rehydrate which makes them much heavier by fight day. A lot of fighters cut more than 20 pounds leading up to a fight, so you can imagine what a disadvantage a fighter is at who fights at their natural weight.

It's not wholly unique to Japan. In retellings of the Trojan War, Ajax's bow is used to make him look less honorable than the swordsmen he kills.

It's basically technophobia. Usually a dangerous bias, but if we can harness it to prevent people from shooting each other, maybe that's the upside.

Bows were invented millennia before swords were. The earliest bows we have dated go back 10kya, and we suspect they date even earlier. Advancements like recurve and composite bows date to at least 4kya. By contrast, the earliest swords date back to around 3-4kya, late Bronze Age, and the important advances (most notably, capable steel production) that make swords effective weapons really date to only around late Antiquity and Early Medieval.

I'd say the dishonorable bow is less technophobia and more class-phobia.

The idea that a peasant could murder an armored nobleman with a lucky shot? Inconceivable!

That's quite a leap - dishonor of an easy shot equated with fear of new weapons? I think a source is needed.

This conclusion is based on remembered anecdote from 35 years ago...bit shaky to make firm statements based on that.

Edit: Unless I'm missing something basic here? I don't see any reference or link to the "study on juvenile crime" the article title references.

It is indeed anecdotal, but gang violence is hugely influenced by the culture of the nation it's taking place in. Brash, unabashed outlaws have been romanticized in American culture since its very beginning, and firearms have always been a part of the American gunslinger mythos. Other nations facing organized crime with access to firearms don't necessarily have the same issues.

Seriously? As a Japanese, I can't agree any of the auther's claim.

First, It's less than 20 years old for a crime to be punished differently than adults in Japan. Not 21 years. An article containing this level of mistake cannot trusted further.

It said, Japanese biker gang can get a gun but not doing so because of honor, “Being able to move your finger on a trigger is not really a skill that wows anyone.” What?

It costs a fortune(and you have to deal with bad guys) to illegally acquire the shitty hand gun that was so poorly manufactured and cannot be trusted.

And each live rounds cost a fortune too.

How can a young dropouts and delinquents earn such amount of money while still maintaining the bikes?

Huh, Japan is trial as adult from 21 on-wards... Juvenile is up to 20 years old...

No, it's >= 20. But it's actually more complicated than < 20/>= 20.


Children can be charged at any age, but there is no criminal liability under 14. Children under 14 can still be sent to juvenile detention centers.

From 14 on-wards, they can be sentenced to prison, with reduced sentences compared to adults.

From 18 on-wards, they can be sentenced like adults.

This article remind me of the series movies "Crows Zero"about high school students fight each other to become the leader, and also fight other school's students. They only use bare hand. Weapon do appears, but very unlikely.

There's also a scene that an the "oyabun" (absolute leader of a yakuza clan) use gun to kill one man who did not complete a mission, but instead of shooting into his head, the oyabun gave the man his coat, and shoot to the back. It turns out that the coat is bullet proof, and the oyabun actually allow that man to live a normal life thereafter.

Watching that movie make me absolutely want to fight someone with my bare hand (I know I shouldn't).

I highly recommend trying out BJJ (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu). Not only is it physically and mentally stimulating (I like to refer to it as physical chess), it also makes you appreciate how vulnerable you are, and by extension why to avoid physical altercation at nearly all costs. An added bonus is that you'll be able to defend your self against most people.

This movie is almost certainly a throwback to the 70s~80s "tsuppari"[0] style movies like Bebop High School[1]

[0] https://www.google.co.jp/search?q=%E3%83%84%E3%83%83%E3%83%9...

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WFTVfAHHfIs

I love Takashi Miike! The fighting in "Crows Zero" is extremely cartoonish. So is the fighting in "Izo", but it's rather dark.

Back in the early 2000s I visited Kitakyushu. From my hotel window around midnight, to 1am I witnessed some local hoodlums rev their car engine loudly, and then "run away" being chased by police in a car. The chase went around the square once and then peeled off to .. a red traffic light.

Both hoodlums and police stopped at the red light, and sat there until the light turned green before resuming their "chase" at approximately 20km/h.

I think they got away. Very slowly.

TL;DR yes youth culture is quite different around the world

This is one of the most Japanese stories I have ever read.

Well, there is another thing as well: is it legal and easy to get a gun in Japan as a person ?

Because I get that a gang use guns in the US, where it's quite easy to get your hands on one.

But in France, while some criminals do have guns, it's not that common. It's not only hard to get a gun but it would also almost always considered like a sure tell something fishy is going on. Having a gun, unless you can conceal it very well and not be noticed when you use it, is a great way to get busted.

You know guns are legal outside of Paris and you can buy silencers over the counter right?

The most serious restriction on guns in France is you can only own two at any time that accept military calibers. So 9x19mm, bad, but 9x21mm A-OK.

You need to practice at a shooting range with professional to even get access to a simple gun.

A process that is hardly as casual as this: http://money.cnn.com/2015/06/19/news/guns-background-checks/...

And come on, if you get an FFL licence, you can even get a silencer or a machine gun as a normal citizen.

The difficulty is not even on the same scale.

  And come on, if you get an FFL licence
It became very difficult to get an FFL without having an actual storefront, or being a gunsmith, starting with the Clinton administration.

  you can even get a silencer or a machine gun as a normal citizen
That's flat false. Being a conventional FFL doesn't bestow any access to any NFA weapons.

So in Japan you are the cool kid when you come with a knife to a gun fight ;-)

I like that attitude.

In Japan, the person with the gun would be known as bringing a gun to a knife fight.

He/she would also probably be known as undefeated.

Firstly, I think your comment reveals an assumption that victory by any means is a universal value, which it certainly is not.

Secondly, I think your comment reveals a classical misunderstanding of the tactics required to maintain a position of superior strength. As the article makes clear, using a gun would elicit scorn, thereby risking the antipathy of one's allies, a grievous situation indeed. You really think that a lone gunman against 20-50 skilled hand-to-hand combatants mortally dedicated to his demise would remain 'undefeated'?

I think at best the gunman succeeds in the first encounter, with the advantage of surprise, and the shock of his willingness to dishonour himself, his gang, and his adversaries. Thereafter, having made himself honourless, he no longer need be treated with honour.

I think you are reading too far into my comment, it was a joke.

There are no places to practice. From what I gather, even Japanese Yakuza cannot hit the broad side of a barn.

Japan produced an IPSC champion some years back. In Japan, he trained exclusively with an airsoft pistol and only ever fired a gun when he came to the US to compete.

Wow, that is incredible.

Japan is small, but I'm sure there are still plenty of uninhabited natural areas. Just setup a few cans and fire away.

If they wanted to make it realistic, he'd pull out a gun and shoot it and miss! Or the damn thing wouldn't fire. That would be realistic. (They all laugh).


“A gun in Japan would earn the wielder scorn,” Beck says, “not respect.”

Right from the article.

I can't even count the times I've heard of someone getting into a bar fight and not being content to get their ass kicked "like a man" proceed to get a gun out of their car and shoot like six innocent people trying to get back at the person who did the ass kicking.

It's a cultural thing methinks...

  I can't even count the times I've heard of...
Probably because that count would be exactly... zero.

I have over 60 years of criminology data and yet cannot find one case that meets your stated criteria (bar fight or any other collection of strangers resulting in more than 2 fatalities or 3 wounded).

1 dead 2 wounded: https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/arizona/articles/201...

1 dead 2 wounded: http://www.azfamily.com/story/37585825/police-investigating-...

1 dead 2 wounded: https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/phoenix/2016/10/2...

and that's just Phoenix.

Hold on...found a 6 people shot one too: https://www.click2houston.com/news/6-people-shot-after-fight...

Don't think your criminology database is all that comprehensive...


Actually, just up the street from the first link I was in the parking lot of Kitty's Bar calling into dispatch (was working for Sunrise Cab at the time) and this "individual" took 3 or 4 steps into the street and unloaded his handgun in the air. Me (being me) looked at this "individual", who's 30-40 feet away from me, and see he's not shooting at me so go back to what I was doing and was like "whatever".

Only thing I can think of is he was either mad at getting kicked out of the bar or perhaps wanted the traffic to stop for his jaywalking, dunno? Of course all my later calls were in the area the police were conducting their manhunt which was a PITA.

None of your linked articles fit your original description, so I’d say his database is comprehensive.

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