TT-599 -- Rate of Pensioner Shoplifting Surges, e-biz news from Japan

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A weekly roundup of news & information from Terrie Lloyd.

General Edition Sunday, January 30, 2011, Issue No. 599


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Over the last couple of years, both the foreign and
Japanese press have been carrying stories about more and
more seniors being driven to shoplifting because of the
economy and other factors. The situation seems to be
getting a lot worse, and the National Police Agency (NPA)
released a statement this week saying that a full 27,362
people aged 65 or older were arrested for shoplifting last
year. This rate of arrests has the oldsters level-pegging
with teenagers, the nation's traditional shoplifters.

This number is quite significant, in that not only has it
doubled in the last 10 years, but also because at 20% of
the population, those aged 65 or older now comprise 26% of
the total number of shoplifters apprehended by police. This
is disproportionate, especially given that this is a
generation that learned respect and obedience the hard way.

Actually, you'd think that in a relatively tolerant society
like Japan that many of these aged petty offenders would
simply be let off with a warning and some sort of supervision,
and indeed that is happening. Most get a suspended
sentence and are told not to come back. Unfortunately,
the number of recidivists is climbing, and now about 16% of
the prison population is 60 or older -- most being in there for

So why are the elderly are turning to shoplifting? A 2009
Tokyo Metropolitan Police study of shoplifters found that
almost 24% of pensioner arrests said that loneliness drove
them to it. We're not sure exactly how loneliness drives
old people to shoplifting directly, surely stalking or
running out of bars before paying the bill would be a more
likely crime. But we suppose that if being alone means no
emotional and financial support, then of course someone
without that support might resort to measures that make
sense to them even as it wouldn't to friends and family
who would otherwise try to stop them.

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[...Article continues]

Certainly basic need is a big part of shoplifting for the
elderly. In the Tokyo Police study, 55.4% of aged
shoplifters were single and 40% were living alone.
Apparently 80% of the items they stole were worth JPY1,000
or less, and tended to be either food (80% of cases) or
clothing. Given that some of these elderly are trying to
survive on a basic pension of around JPY80,000 a month
(what a divorced wife, widow, or long-term unemployed
person might be on if they had not contributed to the
pension system sufficiently to qualify for additional
benefits), it's no wonder that some people might be
turning to other ways to support themselves.

We think another possible reason for the upsurge in elderly
arrests can be found in the statistics of those pensioners
already in prison. According to a Japan Times article
published last month, over HALF of the inmates of the
geriatric wing of Hiroshima's Onomichi prison have some
kind of dementia. Living alone, there would be no
one close by to recognize the symptoms of dementia
and get help. Instead, an aged, needy person could
repeatedly commit delinquent acts without remorse
or even recollection of having done so, until they get

Typically Japan's patient store owners will let an elderly
shoplifter off with a warning. But if the perpetrator is not
mentally competent, then with repeated visits to steal
something, sooner or later even the most patient store
owner will get fed up and call the police. The fact that
so many elderly are getting caught seems to further
substantiate our theory that much of this stealing is not
the work of a competent mind.

So might Japan be suffering from a wave of shoplifters
with mild dementia or Alzheimer's disease?

If the Japan Times number is correct, then it might be
asked why elderly people with dementia are being sent to
prison for such a petty crime as shoplifting when in fact
the courts should instead be placing them with care homes
where they can get proper treatment and sympathy. But, as
the Japan Times article highlights, prison is a good
pragmatic second choice if society doesn't like the idea
of letting you off the hook to a care home.

For those who are mentally competent, so long as you
can put up with a regimented life and not being allowed to
talk too often, prison is also a good second choice. As an
elderly unemployed single person you get three square
meals a day, a community of friends, and things to do.
Apparently the prisons even supply incontinence diapers for
those who need them. The JT article quoted several
prisoners who in their late 60's wanted to stay in prison
rather than try to fend for themselves, all alone, in open
society. Recidivism in such situations is not at all

Life in Japan is not going to get any easier for the
elderly, especially now that the nation's public finances
are under such pressure. And with consumption tax likely to
go to 15% in the next 5 years (our guess), even buying food
and paying rent will become difficult. Could you live on
JPY15,000 a month? We certainly could not. Thus, we suspect
that the current trend of fitting out prisons with geriatric
wards is going to increase. Further, there needs to be a
proper study done on the mental competency of those elderly
being sent to prison for petty offenses. It could well be that
they need doctors, not prison guards.

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+++ NEWS

- Bird flu gets worse
- Household spending falls 3.3%
- Will Japan default on its debt?
- Bahamas tax treaty signed
- Yamato to expand significantly

-> Bird flu gets worse

Playing a repeat of the bovine foot and mouth epidemic that
required the elimination of entire herds from Miyazaki in
Kyushu last year, now the farmers of Miyazaki have been
stricken with bird flu amongst their poultry. The latest
epidemic appears to be spreading quickly and so far about
120,000 chickens have been culled. ***Ed: Perhaps worse
than the outbreaks, though, is an admission by the Miyazaki
Prefectural government that it failed to inspect 75% of the
required quota of farms and birds because it doesn't have
enough staff to do the job. You'd think they would have
learned from the bovine culls that they need to get on top
of their agricultural sanitation issues.** (Source: TT
commentary from, Jan 29, 2011)

-> Household spending falls 3.3%

Deflation continues apace in Japan, aided by the fact that
consumers just don't have any confidence to spend. In
December 2010, the average household cut its spending by
3.3% compared to December 2009. The average outgoings for a
household were JPY327,006, well below expectations. For the
whole year, spending was also down, by around 2.8% year on
year. By category, clothing was down the most, with an
11.3% drop. ***Ed: Thus providing us with an explanation
for Fast Retailing's poor numbers this last quarter.**
(Source: TT commentary from, Jan 27, 2011)

-> Will Japan default on its debt?

Probably the best summation we've seen of the Japanese
humongous public debt problem and whether or not the nation
will suffer a debt default similar to that in Greece, comes
from an article written for Reuters and published last
Friday. In that analysis, the conclusions are that Japan
still has enough savings, foreign earnings, and foreign
securities that it can sustain the current deficit for some
years to come -- despite the recent ratings downgrade by
S&P. ***Ed: Some really excellent numbers and other source
material in this article. We think it is compulsory reading
for everyone doing business with Japan. (Source: TT
commentary from, Jan 28, 2011)

-> Bahamas tax treaty signed

Following on from the US government's lead, the Japanese
government has been signing contracts with potential tax
havens, to ensure that they can get access to information
pertaining to companies registered in those jurisdictions.
The first was with Bermuda, occurring last August, and the
latest one was signed this last week with the Bahamas.
According to the treaty, the Japanese tax office can now
request all kinds of financial information about companies
registered there and transactions they are effecting that
might concern Japan. (Source: TT commentary from, Jan 28, 2011)

-> Yamato to expand significantly

In an indication of how exports from Japan's
small-to-medium size companies and small-lot orders are
increasing, and due to the fact that the transport business
in Japan is now at saturation, transport company Yamato
says that it is expanding its Asian delivery services
significantly. The company expects to double its shipments
over the next 9 years to 2bn parcels a year, with another
8 countries joining its delivery network over that time.
Interestingly, the company is offering some domestic-only
services abroad, such as shipping refrigerated and frozen
packages, and choosing the date and time of delivery.
(Source: TT commentary from, Jan 28, 2011)

NOTE: Broken links
Many online news sources remove their articles after just a
few days of posting them, thus breaking our links -- we
apologize for the inconvenience.


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and to ask specific questions that are not normally
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Location: The Executive Centre (Tokyo Bankers Club)

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Centre, Mr. Paul Taylor
TEL: 090-9363-9605/email:



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