From the Economist’s weekly newsletter on Tokyo:
Tokyo’s street furniture is falling prey to thieves. Mountains of pavement gratings, storm-drain covers and electrical cables are being moved from the capital along the bay to Yokohama, where ships are said to arrive from China to carry it away.
Yokohama police believe the crime spree is related to preparations for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, which have sent the prices of metals and alloys used in construction soaring. Chinese companies have learned how to convert waste alloys into stainless steel, creating an unforeseen demand for scrap. Japan’s metal street furniture is barely secured, owing to the country’s low levels of crime, so much of it has gone missing, particularly metal doors and aluminium fencing. Scrap dealers in Tokyo suspect stealing is at an all-time high because it is not the industry practice to ask questions over provenance. There are no authorities charged with monitoring the scrap trade.
Japan is a very safe country, and as such has been caught off-guard by various unseemly elements as globalization changes the world. The past decade has seen the country experience, and respond to, overseas crime syndicates, foreigners flouting the train ticket system, local business operations funding North Korean, and illegal drug-smuggling. Success in tackling these threats has been mixed. How will Japan stop the scrap metal thieves?