#crimeinjapan

The one fatal flaw experts forget when seeking to mimic #Abenomics style endurance

Pain

Over three decades ago, the Japanese introduced a TV programme titled, ‘Za Gaman‘ which stood for ‘endurance‘. It gathered a whole bunch of male university students who were challenged with barbaric events which tested their ability to endure pain because the producer thought these kids were too soft and self-entitled. Games included being chained to a truck and dragged along a gravel road with only one’s bare buttocks. Another was to be suspended upside down in an Egyptian desert where men with magnifying glasses trained the sun’s beam on their nipples while burning hot sand was tossed on them. The winner was the one who could last the longest.

Since the Japanese bubble collapsed in the early 1990s, a plethora of think tanks and central banks have run scenario analyses on how to avoid the pitfalls of a protracted period of deflation and low growth that plagued Japan’s lost decades. They think they could do far better. We disagree.

There is one absolutely fatal flaw with all arguments made by the West. The Japanese are conditioned in shared suffering. Of course, it comes with a large slice of reluctance but when presented with the alternatives the government knew ‘gaman’ would be accepted by the nation. It was right.

We like to think of Japan, not as capitalism with warts but socialism with beauty spots. Having lived there for twenty years we have to commend such commitment to social adhesion. It is a large part of the fabric of Japanese culture which is steeped in mutual respect. If the West had one lesson to learn from Japan it would be this. Unfortunately, greed, individualism and self-entitlement will be our Achilles’ heels.

It is worth noting that even Japan has its limits. At a grassroots level, we are witnessing the accelerated fraying of that social kimono. Here are 10 facts taken from our ‘Crime in Japan‘ series – ‘Geriatric Jailbirds‘, ‘Breakup of the Nuclear Family‘ and the ‘Fraud, Drugs, Murders, Yakuza and the Police‘ which point to that old adage that ‘all is not what it seems!

  1. Those aged over 65yo comprise 40% of all shoplifting in Japan and represent the highest cohort in Japanese prisons.
  2. 40% of the elderly in prison have committed the same crime 6x or more. They are breaking into prison to get adequate shelter, food and healthcare.
  3. Such has been the influx in elderly felons that the Ministry of Justice has expanded prison capacity 50% and directed more healthcare resources to cope with the surge in ageing inmates.
  4. To make way for more elderly inmates more yakuza gangsters have been released early.
  5. 25% of all weddings in Japan are shotgun.
  6. Child abuse cases in Japan have skyrocketed 25x in the last 20 years.
  7. Single-parent households comprise 25% of the total up from 15% in 1990.
  8. Domestic violence claims have quadrupled since 2005. The police have had to introduce a new category of DV that is for divorced couples living under the same roof (due to economic circumstances).
  9. The tenet of lifetime employment is breaking down leading to a trebling of labour disputes being recorded as bullying or harassment.
  10. In 2007, the government changed the law entitling wives to up to half of their husband’s pension leading to a surge in divorces.

These pressures were occurring well before the introduction of Abenomics – the three arrow strategy of PM Shinzo Abe – 1) aggressive monetary policy, 2) fiscal consolidation and 3) structural reform.

Since 2013, Abenomics seemed to be working. Economic growth picked up nicely and even inflation seemed like it might hit a sustainable trajectory. Luckily, Japan had the benefit of a debt-fueled global economy to tow it along. This is something the West and Japan will not have the luxury of when the coronavirus economic shutdown ends.

However, Japan’s ageing society is having an impact on the social contract, especially in the regional areas. We wrote a piece in February 2017, titled ‘Make Japan Great Again‘ where we analysed the mass exodus from the regions to the big cities in order to escape the rapidly deteriorating economic prospects in the countryside.

Almost 25 years ago, the Japanese government embarked on a program known as
‘shichosongappei’ (市町村合併)which loosely translates as mergers of cities and towns. The total number of towns halved in that period so local governments could consolidate services, schools and local hospitals. Not dissimilar to a business downsizing during a recession.

While the population growth of some Western economies might look promising versus Japan, we are kidding ourselves to think we can copy and paste what Nippon accomplished when we have relatively little social cohesion. What worked for them won’t necessarily apply with our more mercenary approach to economic systems, financial risk and social values.

Sure, we can embark on a path that racks up huge debts. We can buy up distressed debt and repackage it as investment grade but there is a terminal velocity with this approach.

The Bank of Japan is a canary in the coalmine. It has bought 58% of all ETFs outstanding which makes up 25% of the market. This is unsustainable. The BoJ is now a top 10 shareholder of over half of all listed stocks on the index. At what point will investors be able to adequately price risk when the BoJ sits like a lead balloon on the shareholder registry of Mitsui Bussan or Panasonic?

Will Boeing investors start to question their investment when the US Fed (we think it eventually gets approval to buy stocks) becomes the largest shareholder via the back door? Is the cradle of capitalism prepared to accept quasi state-owned enterprises? Are we to blindly sit back and just accept this fate despite this reduction in liquidity?

This is what 7 years of Abenomics has brought us. The BoJ already has in excess of 100% of GDP in assets on its balance sheet, up from c.20% when the first arrow was fired. We shouldn’t forget that there have been discussions to buy all ¥1,000 trillion of outstanding Japanese Government Bonds (JGBs) and convert them into zero-coupon perpetual bonds with a mild administration fee to legitimise the asset. Will global markets take nicely to erasing 2 years worth of GDP with a printing press?

Who will determine the value of those assets when the BoJ or any other central bank for that matter is both the buyer and seller. If the private sector was caught in this scale of market manipulation they’d be fined billions and the perpetrators would end up serving long jail sentences.

Can we honestly accept continual debt financing of our own budget deficit? Japan has a ¥100 trillion national budget. ¥60 trillion is funded by taxes. The remainder of ¥40 trillion (US$400 billion) is debt-financed every single year. Can we accept the RBA printing off whatever we need every year to close the deficit for decade upon decade?

In a nutshell, we can be assured that central banks and treasuries around the world will be dusting off the old reports of how to escape the malaise we are in. Our view is that they will fail.

What will start off as a promising execution of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), rational economics will dictate that the gap between the haves and the have nots will grow even wider. Someone will miss out. Governments will act like novice plate spinners with all of the expected consequences.

In our opinion, the world will change in ways most are not prepared for. We think the power of populism has only started. National interests will be all that matters. Political correctness will cease. Identity politics will die. All the average punter will care about is whether they can feed their family. Nothing else will matter. Climate change will be a footnote in history as evidenced by the apparition that was Greta Thunberg who had to tell the world she caught COVID19 even though she was never tested.

Moving forward, our political class will no longer be able to duck and weave. Only those that are prepared to tell it like it is will survive going forward. The constituents won’t settle for anything else. Treat them as mugs and face the consequences, just like we saw with Boris Johnson’s landslide to push through Brexit.

The upcoming 2020 presidential election will shake America to its foundations. Do voters want to go back to the safety of a known quantity that didn’t deliver for decades under previous administrations and elect Biden or still chance Project Molotov Cocktail with Trump?

What we know for sure is that Trump would never have seen the light of day had decades of previous administrations competently managed the economy. COVID19 may ultimately work in Trump’s favour because his record, as we fact-checked at the time of SOTU, was making a considerable difference.

Whatever the result, prepare to gaman!

 

Japanese elderly crime continues to soar

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Almost 3 years ago, CM wrote a piece on elderly crime in Japan. It seems the stats are getting worse. The Japanese National Police Agency has reported in its latest report on crime that the elderly (65yo+) are now responsible for almost 40% of all shoplifting in 2016. This is almost double the rate of a decade ago. While much of it is petty crime, there seems a deliberate attempt to ‘break into prison’ as a way to survive. A roof over their head, three square meals a day, no utility bills and unlimited free health care. The only real negative being the harsh prison rules about when one can talk to fellow inmates. To the state, one inmate costs ¥3.8mn to incarcerate and we estimate around ¥300,000 in court and administration fees per incarceration.

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Murder committed by the elderly is also crept up over the last decade to 18.9% of all murders. In absolute terms murders have fallen but for the elderly have remained relatively consistent. Burglary  rates have doubled.

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Rape statistics also point to a rapid rise in elderly perpetrators.

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Assault committed by the elderly has also soared to over 4,000 cases with total rates also climbing to new records.

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Intimidation has more than doubled among the elderly too.

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Total theft (involving all types) saw elderly percentages jump from 17.5% to 29.4% of the total 115,462 committed that year.

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Since 2001, the elderly’s representative percentage of the prison population has doubled to be the highest demographic. The Ministry of Justice has expanded prison capacity by 50% over the last decade. One wonders if this has been in preparation for soaring crime rates.

While absolute crime rates are relatively low on an international level, the growing levels confirm a worrying trend.

Crime in Japan – Yakuza, the Police and other crime

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CM – Crime in Japan – Yakuza Police Other Crime

Once again, due to numerous requests see the above link for the full report and the summary below.

In our Crime in Japan series parts 1 & 2  we covered the jump in crime resulting from seniors breaking into prison and the rapid breakdown in the nuclear family leading to a surge in domestic violence and child abuse. In this report we cast our focus on the resources of the police and whether the change in crime is impacting their ability to hunt down Yakuza (gangsters), thwart drug use and possession, prevent murder and stop the leap in financial crime where insurance fraud alone is up 2,000% in 6 years and suspicious transactions breaking new records.

The Japanese National Police Agency (JNPA) has been the victim of budget cutbacks. Some 80% of the ¥3.2 trillion budget is spoken for by staff salaries. There are approximately 295,000 staff (including administration) but actual officer numbers have remained relatively stagnant at around 258,000. With an aging police force, retirees are putting pressure on hiring new recruits. Japan does have a low level of crime on a global basis and 197 police per 100,000 citizens reflects that.

Japan has budgeted approximately ¥232 billion to run its jails in 2016. The cost of incarceration runs to around ¥3.8mn per inmate which is around double what one could get through the welfare system. The theft of a ¥500 sandwich could lead to a ¥8mn tax bill to provide for a 2 year sentence. Courts are dealing out harsher sentences however drug related offences generally range inside 2 years behind bars. Many Japanese have been in the media crossfire for repeated drug offences and the courts have had no choice but to incarcerate them when ‘good behaviour’ probation periods have failed. Prison capacity has grown 50% in the last decade to meet the coming crime wave.

Drugs in Japan are an interesting topic. Meth was originally synthesised from ephedrine in 1893 by a Japanese chemist Dr. Nagayoshi Nagai. 26 years later, a pharmacologist by the name of Akira Ogata managed to turn it into crystalline form i.e. crystal meth.

When World War II got under way Japanese soldiers (especially kamikaze pilots) were given crystal meth (branded Hiropon) which not only kept them ‘wired’ but reduced hunger. As the war ended, Japan was left with excess supplies of Hiropon. Food supplies were few and returning soldiers added to the shortage. However little was known of the side effects and the government had an epidemic on its hands in the late 1940s. Luckily there is a solution being developed by the Japanese biotech company MediciNova (4875) which is in late stage trials in the US with a formula that weans drug users from their addiction.

One of the surprising statistics has been the trend in gangster (Yakuza) incarceration in Japan. While police have seen a surge in consultations (aka complaints) surrounding gangster activity, arrest rates have fallen by 30%. Is it because the police are so tied down by the surge in stalking, domestic violence, child abuse and larcenous geriatrics?

People with mental disabilities committing crime are also rising sharply, up 62% in the last decade. Apart from schizophrenia or medically diagnosed mental health issues, addiction to alcohol or substance abuse can also get an offender classified as mentally disable if they break the law.

Financial crime is becoming far more prevalent. From petty scams to sophisticated insurance and bank fraud, such offences are surging. Reported fraud related to bank transfers has doubled between 2010 and 2014 to 13,400 cases with the amount of money transacted surging 5-fold to ¥56.5bn.

Murder rates in Japan have remained relatively mute. The homicide rate in 2014 was 938 down from 1362 in 2006. As a ratio, Japan has 0.7 murders for 100,000 people versus 91 for Honduras (the highest) or 4.7 in the US. However Japan has not been immune to home grown massacres.

Foreigners as a percentage of crime in Japan continues its long downward march. Much of the crime is related to petty theft and visa overstays. Chinese, Vietnamese and Brazilians make up 60% of foreigner arrests in Japan. Foreigners as a percentage of inmates has also dropped sharply from 8% of the prison population to 5.5%. Chinese, Brazilians and Iranians make up half of gaijin inmates.

The incidence of crime continues to rise in Japan. As discussed in our previous reports we can see that crime rates (e.g. shoplifting, theft, child abuse, domestic violence, assault, stalking etc.), while small on a global scale, are rising at such a speed it seems to be taxing a police force struggling with worsening manpower issues. It would seem to make sense that despite growing reports of suspicious activity by organised crime, arrest rates are falling. Furthermore retiring demographics in the police force suggest that ‘street knowledge’ gained through decades of leads (e.g. informants) may not so easily be transferred to the new recruits. Throw financial fraud increasingly perpetrated by cyber criminals on top, perhaps the Police need to invest in sophisticated systems rather than just hire more cops on the beat? The face of crime has changed.

 

Crime in Japan – Breakdown of the Nuclear Family

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CM – Crime in Japan – Breakdown of the Nuclear Family

Following on from pensioner crime in Japan, this eye-opening report on the breakdown of traditional families points to a future unlike what many may not fathom. The link above contains the full report with a short summary can be found below.

Did you know that 25% of all marriages in Japan are couples that marry due to unplanned pregnancies? In Okinawa that rate is 42.4% Did you also know that 25% of all households with children in Japan are single-parent? The perception of the dutiful wife getting up at 4am to make breakfast for her samurai salaryman husband are virtually non-existent and half of divorces happen in age groups 55 years old and above. 25% of divorces occur in the 65yo+ cohort. The government changed the law in 2007 entitling wives to up to half of their ex-husband’s pension. Still the trend was rising sharply even before its introduction. Mrs Watanabe has had enough of her salaryman and wants out.

Domestic violence (DV) is seeing a very sharp upturn in Japan. Between 2010 and 2014, victims of DV have soared 60.6% against women and 650.1% against men. Most cases (over 60%) of DV were marital related. Recognizing the growing problem, The police have even developed a new category of DV which defines a divorced couple who are living under the same roof. Economic conditions for some families has become so tight that the stress of living with someone they do not want to be with now gets its own category, scoring over 6,000 cases alone in 2014.

Between 2010 and 2014, total reported stalking cases surged 36.6% to 24,837. 50% of stalking incidents recorded were related to partners (including former partners).

The Ministry for Health, Labor & Welfare (MHLW) has 208 child consultation centres which fielded over 88,000 cases in 2014, a 20.5%YoY increase or 22x the level of 20 years ago. Despite a 2.4x jump in social workers inside these child consultation centres over the last two decades they can’t keep up with the demand. The Japan National Police Agency (JNPA) statistics show a sharp jump in arrests for child abuse, 80% being due to physical violence causing injury. In 2013, 36 abused children died with 16 of them under 1 year old. Police note that child abuse is being driven by the breakdown in traditional family, unemployment and poverty, stats which we showed earlier to be rising steadily.

Crime in Japan is a problem that will not simply disappear with the evolving mix of aging demographics, poverty, unemployment, underemployment and economic stagnation. We note that the previous jump in Japanese crime started in 1997 and ran to a peak in 2003. Unemployment was a factor. In the crime boom of 2010-2016, we note that the unemployment rate has fallen but it masks disturbing trends in lower paid part-time work which is putting families under financial stress.

There is the smell of fear in the workplace. In the period 2002 to 2013, labour disputes almost trebled. Bullying and harassment (which are obviously less palatable for companies to have floating in the public domain) as a percent of total disputes has ballooned from 5.8% to almost 20% over the same period.

Another dilemma in the data is the employment referrals by government unemployment agencies for middle or advanced aged staff (45yo+) which shows that around 25% of them end up with work in a fixed term capacity of more than 4 months.

Ironically active retraining of inmates to help them find new careers after release occurs in prison. Why isn’t more being spent on finding ways to redeploy those out of prison? The idea that any job will do is a recipe for failure and cannot be relied upon as a sustainable program. Most vocational training by Hello Work, the government unemployment insurance agency, is broad and non-specific. Any specific job training will be ‘paid for’ which ultimately is limited to an unemployed person’s financial status and confidence a job will be attainable at the end of it.

Kobe Steel scandal may make Takata look like a picnic by comparison

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Actually this could be so much worse than the Takata scandal. Kobe Steel’s data falsification on its products – especially to Subaru Corp – could raise the risk of insolvency of the former. Subaru is responsible for the MOST crucial part of the Boeing 787 – the centre wing box (CWB). While Boeing has assured us that there is no imminent safety risk, the question is one of determining the fatigue of the substandard materials supplied to Subaru by Kobe are part of the CWB. What many fail to realize is that commercial aircraft approval by the regulators makes getting drugs approved by the FDA as easy as shelling peanuts. Every time a plane is in the air it has to be as near as makes no difference 100% safe. Drugs that give you a side effect of drowsiness is not a big deal to the FDA. In fact for aircraft it gives “do not operate heavy machinery” a whole new meaning.

The CWB effectively is the piece that connects the wings to the body. It is without doubt the most important structural piece on the plane. Worse, it is perhaps the most difficult part to replace in terms of man hours. Effectively the plane would have to be broken apart and reassembled. The sheer logistics of this would also be mind boggling. The retrofit (if even feasible) would be a $20-30mn per job including the parts, labour and time out of service (compensation to airlines) and recertification. That’s per aircraft. So that would cost around $10-15bn.

The question then becomes of the 500 odd 787s in service what the FAA decides to do. Perhaps the planes’ useful 25 year life are reduced to 15 years. That would smack residual values and airlines would demand compensation for the gap and the potential for lost revenues. So were 500 aircraft to lose 40% of the serviceable life at $150mn a copy that is $75bn.

While this is worst case scenario analysis for Kobe Steel which would be liable for the lot, we are staring at the risk of a wipe out. Kobe Steel has $1.8bn in cash. Somehow it’s $8bn market cap may fall much further.

Hardly any of this is priced because the FAA doesn’t take things lightly until it has all the facts.

This article is not intended to be sensational rather highlight the potential for a huge weight from the US (not Japanese) regulator to push for a safety recall of epic proportions. We won’t know yet but buyer on dips beware.

BBC Radio interview on Japanese crime

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Please find the link to the radio interview with BBC World Service here. I’m wondering whether there is more merit nowadays to vlogging or audio given the small propensity to read. The hardest thing is to accept is the sound of one’s voice on tape! What I wasn’t aware of is another person interviewed was my former colleague I sat next to in Tokyo 18 years ago…small world.

Crime in Japan – BBC interview 7 July

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Tomorrow, BBC World Service’s Edwin Lane will release the pre-recorded interview he conducted with me several months ago on the back of a series I wrote on Crime in Japan – Part 1 – Geriatric Jailbirds, Part 2 – Breakdown of the nuclear family and Part 3 – Fraud, Drugs, Murder, Yakuza and the Police some 15 months ago. Since then the reports have been reported in 14 different languages and reached c.5 million page/podcast impressions as the BBC also conducted an interview on BBC Radio 5 “Up all night”

The reason I ended up writing the research paper came by chance. While trawling through the Japanese National Police Agency statistics looking for data to help a client on motorcycle license trends, I stumbled over the crime stats and couldn’t believe the wealth of information that showed the sharp jumps in crime levels. There is some suggestion that much under-reporting went on several decades ago but as you can see in the reports the charts speak for themselves.

On a global basis, Japanese crime is low on almost any measure but the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has had to expand prison capacity 50% in the last decade, facilitated early release to prepare for a sharp rise in elderly inmates. The pension-age cohort in prison now represents the highest percentage of total inmates. With that the MoJ has had to apply for a supplemental budget to cover the extra cost of healthcare in prison as the average age rises.

 

Japan’s child cafeterias catering to the poverty stricken

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Poverty in Japan is rising. Children’s cafeterias (kodomo shokudo) which act as a kind of soup kitchen are spawning all over Japan. In 2013 there were around 21 such places. Now there are 319 and rising. These kodomo shokudo offer free or exceptionally cheap meals JPY300). These places are not purely for poverty stricken families but for those where both parents work til late. Many of these centres are voluntarily run on a twice a week to 1x/mth basis. Food is often donated by neighbourhoods or food companies.

The Japanese Ministry of Agriculture has decided to offer nutritional advice. The hope is that children will learn the benefits of a sound diet as well as cooking methods. The ministry is also hopeful that such dinner time conversation will improve communication skills. In a sense of irony, where ministries should be deeply ashamed of having such a problem exist in the first place, the call to arms is to meddle with words and advice rather than solutions to eradicate the problem.

The Ministry for Health, Labor & Welfare (MHLW) has 208 child consultation centres, which fielded over 88,000 cases in 2014, a 20.5%YoY increase or 22x the level of 20 years ago. Despite a 2.4x jump in social workers inside these child consultation centres over the last two decades they can’t keep up with the demand. The Japan National Police Agency (JNPA) statistics show a sharp jump in arrests for child abuse, 80% being due to physical violence causing injury. In 2013, 36 abused children died with 16 of them under 1 year old. Police note that child abuse is being driven by the breakdown in traditional family, unemployment and poverty.

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There are now 3.9mn single mother and 664,000 single father households in Japan which combined now contribute for almost a quarter of all households with children. This is up from 15% in 1990. Middle income America single parenting runs at 29% up from 5% forty years ago.

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Growing poverty has also led to a sharp increase in domestic violence in Japan. The rates of spouse related DV has jumped so sharply that the police were forced to introduce a new classification for divorced couples forced to live under the same roof due to biting economic conditions.

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Is it any wonder. More and more people are being hired as part time workers instead of full time meaning take home pay is generally less. For women, over 50% of them are part-time/casual. Some of that distortion is due to mothers with kids at middle or high school doing side jobs but Japan will have a tough time coping

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The Japanese Institute for Labour Policy & Training (JILPT) makes the case for employer’s reasons to hire non-regular employees clear – “To economise on wages” and “to economise on non-labour costs” are the two highest categories.

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Which brings us back to why there is growing poverty in Japan. Finding new employment for mid-career staff that have been restructured is harsh. In fact so fearful are older employees facing the sack that the total number of disputed cases has risen 3 fold since 2002 and of that ‘bullying and harassment claims 20% of total cases up from 6%.

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The recruitment agencies are aggressively pushing the ‘komon meikan’ (advisory directory) to register those 60yo and above. Around 80% of those registered are over that age with the balance predominantly over 45 years old. The agencies sell ‘spot’ services to corporate customers as an intermediary. A corporate may have need for help with setting up an overseas factory. To avoid having to employ someone full-time they can use these komon services to access an advisor for 6- 8 hours a week. To the registered ‘employee’ it is not really a bargain. If they sign up to a komon contract with a recruitment agency, they will get paid around ¥70,000-¥100,000/mth for the first year which over 3 years would be a maximum of ¥175,000/mth only if they accept two roles (more importantly if they are selected by the corporate). While 6-8 hours several days a week is the standard contract that corporates sign up to, the komon employee will effectively be getting only ¥1,250/hour pre-tax, not much more than a student would get working in a convenient store. Furthermore it is likely to work out to less than that because the ‘project base’ nature does not charge for ‘overtime. If a company decided to work them for longer hours (14 hours/week) the employee gets no adjustment. So in their first year a 60yo maybe in reality working for only ¥560/hour. Such is the glut of applicants one may feel under pressure to work for as long as required to avoid someone else replacing them. It is easy for the recruiter to put forward fresh candidates to keep their wage cost down. So even if one was to reach their 3rd year as a komon, what is the incentive for the agency to promote them over the ‘fresh retirees’? It is a dilemma the elderly workers must face. This is also a potentially loaded gun for recruitment agencies should the government realise what is going on.

In essence, the breakdown in the fabric of Japanese society is set to accelerate. In a country that lives by strict public order, this is one area that could tear the very fabric that has kept it such an enviable community for so long. Eventually economic realities matter.

Making crime pay – a positive indicator of strength in Japan

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Logic tells us that crime occurs when times are tough. While there is sense in that argument it seems that crime rates are perhaps the most positive indicator for investing in  Japan. Why? In a somewhat counter-intuitive looking chart for a law abiding country,  a good indicator for relative economic strength is crimes committed. The economic rationale for crime would be the ability for the ‘second hand’ grey market to thrive in ‘lost in transit’ goods. In the Tohoku region, crimes committed per 100,000 population take the bottom four places which is unlikely to be solely down to the inability of pensioners (collectively the highest rates of 65yo+ residents) to literally outrun the law.  These four prefectures have well below average GDP/Capita. The Top 7 crime infested prefectures have the highest GDP/Capita.