Japan has long maintained an international reputation as one of the safest countries in the industrialised world and Japanese criminal justice professionals are generally very proud of their success in maintaining low crime rates, high clearance rates and a very high conviction rate. Many non-Japanese scholars and criminal justice practitioners have looked to the Japanese example to find possible solutions to their own domestic crime problems. Reasons put forward to account for Japan's achievements in this area have included: cultural explanations emphasising perceptions of homogeneity, harmony, notions of shame and group orientation; economic considerations such as low unemployment and high standards of living; high literacy rates; political stability; strict control of drug and firearms laws; and efficient, centralised criminal justice administration (for a comprehensive literature review see Vaughn and Tomita 1990:146-167; Finch 1999). John Owen Haley (1991) justifiably describes many of these explanations as 'shopworn', but highlights instead another familiar argument that small groups or institutions (e.g. the family, workplace, schools, local communities and friends) maintain social control by reinforcing conformity to social norms. This alleviates the necessity of relying on the coercive mechanisms of the state. Similarly, Fujieda (1989:65) argues that Japan's low crime rate is not, as is often assumed, evidence of 'the supposed moderation of the Japanese people' but, rather, it is more likely to be due to 'the socio-cultural conditions of mutual surveillance'. Haley pushes the argument further by noting that the state's reliance on informal, social mechanisms of control represents a transfer of powers from the state to these smaller communities, thus reinforcing 'the capacity of social groups to exercise coercive controls usually reserved in the West as an exclusive prerogative of the state. The consequence is a weaker state and stronger, more autonomous and cohesive society' (Haley 1991:138). Another consequence that tends to receive much less attention is that this transferral of state power to smaller communities consolidates patriarchal privilege.
The results of preliminary feminist research in Japan are consistent with studies elsewhere that have found significant evidence of violence against women, with the majority of those women abused by men they know.