Japanese news media confirmed Friday what many fear - that gun violence and other crime is rising in Japan, a country long known for its safety.

The National Police Agency reported 248 shooting cases - with or without victims - so far this year. That was more than in any of the past five years."The report makes it clear, Japan is on its way to becoming a gun society," the Friday edition of the financial daily Nihon Keizai Shim-bun said.

The term "gun society" has long been synonymous in the Japanese media with the United States, which many perceive as a dangerous place where gun crime is out of control.

There are more gun deaths in a single afternoon in the United States than Japan records all year. Thirty-eight Japanese were shot dead and 28 wounded as of Tuesday, said the report, released Thursday. No one was injured in the other shootings.

But the rise in violent crime, however low the overall rate, appeals to the sense many Japanese have that their nation is vulnerable to bad influences from abroad. The 38 fatal shootings marked a 71 percent increase over last year's figure.

Police say illegal firearms are increasingly available. Most of those confiscated last year were U.S.-made.

Until recently, shootings were widely considered a problem that affected only gang members. But that has changed since a rash of widely publicized shootings involving ordinary people with no underworld links.

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