JAPANESE WEALTH DRAWS ATTENTION THAT CAN TURN DEADLY

JAPANESE WEALTH DRAWS ATTENTION THAT CAN TURN DEADLY

In the towering headquarters of Toshiba Corp., computers track the whereabouts of company employees around the world, updating their movements by the day and even the hour.

"Kidnappings of our own employees and other Japanese in recent years have made us acutely aware of the risks posed by terrorists, criminals and civil unrest," said Kazuo Katsuta, deputy manager of overseas security for the giant electronics and engineering firm.Toshiba has about 500 people permanently stationed abroad and each year sends 20,000 employees on temporary foreign assignments, ranging from business meetings in New York to construction projects in Pakistan's violence-racked Sind province.

"We want to know exactly where all our people are and how to get them out of there fast if necessary," Mr. Katsuta said. "A few years ago, security was something we hardly thought about. Now it is a priority."

For Japanese, the world is becoming an increasingly dangerous place. Acts of crime and political terrorism against Japanese people and businesses overseas have leaped by more than 300 percent in the past five years. The murder last month of a Japanese professor, Iwao Matsuda, in Boston's posh Westin Hotel was one in a long string of such attacks.

"On every continent, terrorists and ordinary criminals alike are coming to see Japanese as rich and easy targets," said Shigeharu Maruyama, director of the Foreign Ministry's Division for Prevention of Terrorism. His office, less than three years old, deals with politically motivated murders, kidnappings and assaults against Japanese businessmen and diplomats, as well as bombings, bomb threats and extortion attempts against Japanese companies overseas.

(A Japanese businessman kidnapped in Panama was found dead outside Panama City, authorities there said Friday. Takashi Ota, a 45-year-old sales executive, had died of asphyxiation and his face had been badly burned, the examining doctor said. Mr. Ota's employer, a subsidiary of Japan's Citizen Watch Co., had paid a $750,000 ransom to a shadowy group calling itself M-20.)

In 1991, crimes of terrorism against Japanese citizens, diplomats and companies overseas increased by more than 30 percent over the previous year, with 90 reported incidents of murders, kidnappings, bomb attacks and threats by radical groups.

Terrorist attacks against Japanese are largely confined to Asia and South America, which in 1991 saw a plague of kidnappings and assaults. The list includes the 111-day ordeal of two Toshiba Corp. engineers captured by self- styled freedom fighters in Colombia, the murder of three young Japanese foreign aid workers by Peru's ultra-leftist Shining Path guerrillas, and the fatal stabbing of an engineer in the Philippines after a series of death threats made to the Japanese Embassy in the form of letters signed by the communist New People's Army.

"As in the case of America, Japan's economic and political stature in the world has risen to the point where murdering or kidnapping one of our citizens is a way of making a political statement that may not be directed against Tokyo at all," said Nobuhiko Shutto, professor of international economics at Tokai University.

Meanwhile, more and more Japanese living or traveling abroad are falling prey to ordinary criminals. In 1990, the most recent year for which figures are available, 22 Japanese were murdered, while 6,837 were raped, robbed, assaulted or otherwise victimized while overseas.

The Diet, Japan's parliament, is hotly debating a bill that would permit military rescue of kidnap victims, but the notion of sending troops abroad for any reason makes many Japanese nervous, and the bill is by no means certain to win approval.

"Crimes against Japanese will inevitably increase," said Takeo Higuchi, co-author with his wife, Yoshiko, of "Crisis Management for Living Overseas," a book advising Japanese how to guard themselves against crime in foreign lands.

Some of the blame, Mr. Higuchi said, rests with the Japanese themselves. ''Many Japanese travelers behave in the conspicuous manner once attributed to Americans. They act as though they sponsor the world and arrogantly flaunt their wealth."

But another dynamic is also at work. Japan enjoys one of the lowest crime rates in the world, and people feel safe walking urban streets and riding subways at any hour. There are red light districts in Tokyo and Osaka that might be described as rowdy or even rough but no sections that could be characterized as truly dangerous. Muggings, assaults and other random street crimes are almost unheard of.

As a result, Japanese tend to be innocents abroad.

"Japanese can be naive. Many still carry large amounts of cash, as well as valuable cameras, watches, jewelry, and are not always careful to avoid dangerous places," said Mr. Higuchi, who has lived and worked in Nigeria and Saudi Arabia.

Privately, government officials and corporate security executives express alarm at the rise of "Japan bashing" sentiment in the United States and say they fear that anti-Japanese remarks of politicians and industrialists - coupled with massive coverage of such remarks and other forms of bilateral friction in the media - could provoke violence against Japanese.

"I sometimes feel America is like a dangerous storm building over our heads," said a Japanese executive who travels frequently to the United States. "Yes, I definitely believe 'Japan bashing' of words could spawn attacks and murders if tempers are not allowed to cool."