Friday, March 12, 2010

The Green Grass of Home

The Monday article by Gavin Blair on the declining numbers of murders in Japan had a very interesting observation in it by the crime researcher Professor Hamai Koichi of Ryukoku University:
“In other research I carried out 50 percent of people thought that crime had greatly increased in Japan, but only 4 percent felt it had in their neighborhood. That’s a huge gap,” he adds.
It is funny but I saw the same odd discrepancy -- between perceptions of a miserable national situation and a rather contented take on one's own station -- in the Pew Survey on Global Attitudes regarding the views folks hold of the Japanese economy and their own personal income situation.

Pretty damn low… and yet, when you ask the same persons about their level of satisfaction with their own economic situation, you get:

Fascinating...and frightening. I cannot think of a pair of graphs that more clearly indicates that whatever fiscal or monetary ideas the DPJ may have on offer, the likelihood that folks are going to risk their current stability in order to try something new, that is become entrepreneurial in their behavior in order to reap potentially huge rewards, is pretty darn slim.

Where I grew up, there was the saying that “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” – that try as one might, one would never find one’s own station satisfactory, that one would always look enviously beyond one's own small patch of ground.

And green indeed was the traditional color of envy.

In contemporary Japan, however, it seems there is nothing quite so nice and comfortable as the green grass of home.


Jan Moren said...

It's an old, well-known phenomena. There's (at least) three factors influencing this dynamic:

* We get more and more news, from more and more places. While the amount of crime in Japan (and the world) has plunged the past century, the amount of crime we hear about has soared. Twenty years ago you'd be unlikely to hear about a violent mugging in Aomori if you lived in Osaka; today, thanks to the net and aways-on news, you do.

Our event horizons have expanded to encompass many millions of people and much of the world. Our minds are still calibrated for events happening to a few hundred people within a few dozen kilometers of hour home.

* The "planecrash effect": when someting becomes rarer, it becomes more newsworthy. Plane crashes are very rare, so a lethal crash gets news all over the world. Fatal car crashes are everyday events so they make only local news, if that. The impression we end up with, however, is that airplanes are more dangerous than cars.

In the same way, once upon a time, small-scale violent crime - beatings, muggings, violent harassment - where everywhere, so it rarely made news. Today it's much, much rarer, so a drunken brawl or assault gets plenty of media time. And the effect is stronger the safer your society has become, so paradoxically Japanese will see more reports on violence than much more dangerous societies and feel less safe as a result.

* And of course we always look at the latest trends, helped along by the media. The rate of a given type of crime will always fluctuate from year to year even if the long-term trend is flat or down. An increase - even if incidental - of crime is newsworthy in a way that decrease is not. And with many types of crime there will always be some types rising every year. They may drop again the next year, but that's not newsworthy.

So, the safer we get, and the better we become at tracking bad events, the less safe we feel.

Bryce said...

In general I agree, but:

"Today it's much, much rarer, so a drunken brawl or assault gets plenty of media time."

I'd say that this is more to do with the fact that everybody has a camera on them these days, and conflict makes news. Event horizons have not just expanded geographically, but also to encompass a less sophisticated understanding of what constitutes the public interest. Too snobbish?

In any case, are these opinions on the economy the same as the old statistic trotted out every now and then by scholars of Japanese homogeneity: that in the 1960s to 1980s "everyone thought they were in the middle class"?

Climate Morio said...

Hm, i wonder if this is ok to do. I have started to write a blog about Japanese climate policy a while back and i was wondering if it is ok to plug it here? I write about once a week, maybe more in the future. I hope you don't mind tooting my own horns like this over here.