TOKYO – Fumio Kageyama was 67 when he first turned to crime, making an unsuccessful attempt to rob a drunken passenger on a train in March 2008.
Given a suspended jail sentence, Kageyama was caught two months later stealing a bowl of rice and pork from a supermarket. This time, he went to prison for two years.
Kageyama, who spent 40 years as a construction worker, is part of a growing number of silver shoplifters. After he became too old to work, he wound up on the streets and turned to petty theft. Released from detention, he was caught again in April 2011 stealing hot-dog buns and fried noodles.
“It wasn’t great to get caught, but I just didn’t give a damn,” he said at a halfway house in Tokyo earlier this year. “I never did it when I had a job.”
Crimes committed by Japan’s elderly have doubled in the past decade and shoplifters are now more likely to be over 65 than juvenile. With Prime Minister Shinzo Abe planning to cut welfare further in August to rein in the national debt, and some 4.47 million people set to join the ranks of retirees in the next 10 years, the senior citizens crime wave is a foretaste of the challenges Japan faces from a rapidly aging population.
“Crime is one of the problems regarding the elderly, along with pensions, nursing care and the increased welfare burden,” said Koichi Haji, executive research fellow at the NLI Research Institute in Tokyo, an affiliate of Nippon Life Insurance, Japan’s biggest life insurer.
Abe is caught between trying to curb a national debt that the International Monetary Fund estimates will reach 245 percent of the economy this year and a growing army of pensioners who will make up about a third of the population by 2035. With the prime minister trying to cut welfare and spur inflation, and a dwindling number of younger people to look after the aged, more elderly citizens are turning to crime.
Criminal offenses by those 65 or older doubled to 48,544 in 2012 from 2002, with shoplifting accounting for 59 percent, according to the National Police Agency. Total crime declined 17 percent during the period. About 158 senior citizens per 100,000 committed offenses in 2012, up from 103 a decade ago.
“Senior citizens shoplift lunch boxes and bread out of poverty, and they also steal because they are lonely and isolated,” said Yusuke Ishikawa, a special assistant to the director of the supervision division at the Ministry of Justice. “The current trend is probably going to continue because the overall population is aging rapidly.”