Japan police arrest notorious ‘Bag Master Yamaguchi’, who has picked pockets on Tokyo subway since 1965

Kazutoshi Yamaguchi was first arrested as a teenager 53 years ago

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 May, 2018, 2:05pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 May, 2018, 8:49pm

Police in Tokyo have arrested a veteran pickpocket who has made a living from unsuspecting commuters on the city’s public transport system since at least 1965.

Kazutoshi Yamaguchi, who is 69 years old and also drawing a pension, was taken into custody on Monday after allegedly attempting to steal a purse containing Y6,000 (US$55) from a 19-year-old woman on a train on Tokyo’s Toei Oedo Line.

The ANN News channel said Yamaguchi admitted to the allegations and has been charged with attempted theft.

Police quoted him as saying, “I took the purse because it just appeared in front of me”

Television footage of a bespectacled Yamaguchi being transported to a police station show him looking frail and using a stick to walk.

It is possible that the suspect made the most of his image as an unthreatening pensioner to be overlooked by other passengers on trains that he targeted.

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Authorities have not provided details of how many times the notorious Yamaguchi has been arrested, although he first came to the attention of the police in 1965.

It is possible that his criminal career began earlier than that, however, but that he was only caught for the first time 53 years ago.

The Tokyo Reporter website claimed that police know the suspect as “Bag master Yamaguchi”.

The case underlines the burgeoning problem of crime committed by Japan’s growing population of elderly people.

Government statistics released last November show that criminals above the age of 65 are now more likely to reoffend within two years of their release from prison than younger criminals.

A total of 2,498 pensioners were given prison sentences in 2016, mostly for cases of shoplifting and theft, a fourfold increase on the figure in 1997. And of that total more than 70 per cent had already served prison sentences.

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Poverty is often cited as a reason for Japan’s “grey crime wave”, with the breakdown of the traditional nuclear family and the support system that it provided another contributing factor.

The healthy lifestyles of many of Japan’s senior citizens has also been turned to their criminal advantage, with police in Osaka stunned in October of last year to discover that a daring cat burglar who had evaded their clutches for nine years was 74-year-old Mitsuaki Tanigawa.

Dubbed by police the Heisei Ninja – after Japan’s storied warriors and the current imperial era – Tanigawa was wanted for more than 200 break-ins in which more than Y29 million (US$265,000) was stolen from homes, shops and offices in the Higashi-Osaka district of the city.

Security cameras were only able to catch fleeting images of a masked man dressed from head to toe in black and making his escape by running nimbly along the tops of high walls or slipping effortlessly through the narrow gaps between buildings.