RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
Japanese speak of their culture of shame, which frowns on committing an act that would disgrace one's family. NPR's John Burnett tried to find out if that really did make a dramatic difference.
JOHN BURNETT: To answer the question if there's been less crime after the Japanese tsunami, my translator, Chie Kobayashi, and I come to the town of Kamaishi. Here the black tide killed at least 600 people, threw an ocean freighter onto the wharf, and blew open thousands of houses and shops, leaving lots of things to steal.
HIRONORI KODASHIMA: (Foreign language spoken)
BURNETT: Mr. KODASHIMA; (Through translator) Yes. We have some reports, confirmed reports, that some money or the bicycles stolen from the house or at the shops. And we confirmed it's not washed away by tsunami, but somebody else did it. But the number is less than 10 so far.
BURNETT: Unidentified Woman #1: Actually we get a lot, because lots of wallets are washed away so a lot of them are found.
BURNETT: Unidentified Woman #2: (Japanese language spoken)
CHIE KOBAYASHI: She heard about the thief in this area. She heard many, many houses and shops were broken into.
BURNETT: But what about her house? Or her...
KOBAYASHI: Unidentified Woman #2: (Japanese language spoken)
KOBAYASHI: They're all right.
BURNETT: They're okay?
KOBAYASHI: They're okay.
BURNETT: Unidentified Woman #3: Yeah.
BURNETT: Someone tells us they heard there was lots of stealing in the seaside village of Unosumai, which is 10 minutes away. So we go there. The scene is even worse than Kiamichi - utter obliteration. The contents of happy houses litter the gray sand: a broken teacup, a futon, a Mahjong tile, a statue of a smiling Buddha.
(SOUNDBITE OF AN ANNOUNCEMENT)
BURNETT: By the end of the day, the only concrete crime report we encounter is this one.
TETSUHIKO KIKUCHI: (Japanese language spoken)
BURNETT: A 68-year-old dry cleaner named Tetsuhiko Kikuchi says on the day after the tsunami, someone stole some food from his apartment. A few days later, he came to check on his place and found some valuables missing.
KIKUCHI: (Japanese language spoken)
KOBAYASHI: The necklaces and the watches, all the small stuff.
BURNETT: Pernicious rumors in the aftermath of great disasters in this country have a historic precedent. After the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, rumors that foreigners were poisoning wells and committing arson and robbery led to the mass murders of Koreans by Japanese mobs.
(SOUNDBITE OF CONVERSATIONS)
BURNETT: If anybody is going to know if there're thieves about, it's the Shobodan, the ubiquitous blue-jacketed volunteer firemen who patrol the city every night. Their chief is Matsuo Wada, a stern 67-year-old retired city councilman.
MATSUO WADA: (Japanese language spoken)
BURNETT: He raises his eyebrows skeptically.
WADA: (Japanese language spoken)
BURNETT: John Burnett, NPR News, in northeastern Japan.
MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.
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