Culture Is Responsible For Japan’s Low Gun Violence Rates, Not Gun Control

By Austin Anderholt | United States

Since the school walkout, many of my peers have been saying things like “In Australia they banned guns and now they don’t have mass shootings!” I haven’t heard this argument for simply the nation of Australia. I’ve heard my peers use this argument for practically every country, and every single time they say this, I can use basic data and statistics to prove that gun control has failed in the country of reference. My method has worked for all country but one: Japan.

Japan has extremely strict gun control. Their weapons law outright declares that “No one shall possess a firearm or firearms or a sword or swords.” Very few exceptions are made, and when they are, they are for hunting purposes. The process for obtaining a gun is even harder. One must own a shotgun for a decade before they are even considered for owning a rifle. As Harry Low of BBC puts it:

“You have to attend an all-day class, take a written exam and pass a shooting-range test with a mark of at least 95%.There are also mental health and drugs tests. Your criminal record is checked and police look for links to extremist groups. Then they check your relatives too – and even your work colleagues. And as well as having the power to deny gun licenses, police also have sweeping powers to search and seize weapons.”

Japan also has an extremely low gun homicide rate. In 2014, Japan had just 6 gun deaths, compared to almost 40,000 in the US that same year.

It may seem that this would put those opposed to gun control in a tough bind, but it doesn’t. Why? Because Japan’s low gun crime problem has absolutely nothing to do with law, and everything to do with culture.

Japan and other East Asian cultures are very, very different from western cultures in one way: they are much, much more group oriented. When discussing Tai Chi, I have heard mentors say:

“When doing Tai Chi, it’s not about being better than everyone. It’s much more focused on following the group, rather than sticking out. Tai Chi is very, very Asian in this sense of being part of a group, rather than an individual.”

This idea of eastern culture being collectivist is even prevalent in science. For instance, in one study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, Canadian and Japanese students were both given creativity assessments. At random, subjects of each nationality were told that they either performed better or worse than average. Japanese subjects worked harder to improve on subjects that they were told they did at which poorly, while Canadian students worked harder to improve on subjects that they were told they excelled at. What does this suggest? The Japanese subjects were trying to follow the group. If they were performing better, they knew that they could slow down to match the group. The Canadian subjects tell a different story. Why did they work harder in places that they were already supposedly better at? Because in western society, the individual matters more than the group in comparison to eastern society. We think “If I’m good at this, I could become even better and then stand out from everyone else.”

In Japan, it isn’t laws that stop gun violence, it’s group pressure. Japanese culture makes one extremely afraid of stepping out of the group. From my research, it would seem like the shame of committing any atrocity against the group would be extremely shameful and unwanted by anyone in eastern culture. Beyond Tai Chi, the lack of emphasis on the individual is prevalent everywhere. One example is seppuku, the act of cutting one’s chest to commit suicide. Seppuku was often performed by eastern soldiers out of shame for losing battles. This example shows exactly how much group emphasis there is in Japanese society, to the point where one’s shame of harming the group is stronger than care for their individual.

This group pressure can also explain why Japan has the world’s highest suicide rate and is probably part of what created the stereotype that Asians are all smart, hard workers.

Correlation does not mean causation, so how can we be sure that gun control isn’t the cause for Japan’s low crime rate? In Japan, all forms of crime are much lower, despite having extremely large cities and not as extreme regulation on other possible weapons such as knives, explosives etc. Why? Because it’s not about the laws, it’s Japan’s collectivist culture that keeps mass shootings out of the nation.

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4 thoughts on “Culture Is Responsible For Japan’s Low Gun Violence Rates, Not Gun Control”

  1. I agree 100%. I’ve often thought that another interesting example is in a pair of idioms: In America, there’s the saying, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease,” meaning that if you stand out, you get special attention (just look at our customer service industry). Whereas, in Japan, there’s the saying, “the protruding nail will be hammered down,” meaning that if you stand out, you will be pressured to conform. They have a completely different social mindset, that I think is a big factor not only is less gun violence, but also in more suicides.

    • I’m not talking about Japanese culture. I’m referring to eastern collectivism as whole.

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