Although Japan continues to be one of the most crime-free economically advanced countries, crime was a crucial issue in the 2003 general election (for the ﬁrst time since WWII) and a 2004 survey showed that the proportion of the public that thought crime was getting worse had doubled since 1998. Here, we have examined recorded crime and victim surveys in relation to violent offences, to assess the extent to which the public’s view of increasing crime is based on sound evidence. We found that in the late 1990s, a speciﬁc series of police scandals in Japan fundamentally changed the way the press reported policing issues. These changes provoked policy reactions that ensured that more ‘trivial’ offences were reported, boosting overall crime ﬁgures. The resulting ‘myth of the collapse of secure society’ appears, in turn, to have contributed to increasingly punitive public views about offenders and sentencing in Japan.