JAPAN has been rocked by an OAP crime wave because the "abandoned" elderly would rather go to prison than face life skint and alone.

Cops say the proportion of crimes being committed by those aged 65 and above has been steadily rising for more than 20 years.

In 1997, the elderly accounted for about one in 20 criminals convictions, but now the figure has grown to more than one in five as many are left to fend for themselves.

Desperate Toshio Takata, 69, told the BBC. he broke the law because he wanted somewhere to live free of charge.

"I reached pension age and then I ran out of money. So it occurred to me - perhaps I could live for free if I lived in jail," he revealed.

"So I took a bicycle and rode it to the police station and told the guy there: 'Look, I took this.'"

He was jailed for a year, but repeat offending has seen him spend most of the last decade locked up behind bars.

And of the 2,500 over-65s convicted by the courts in 2016, one in three had at least five previous convictions.

Shoplifting for food is the number one crime being committed by Japan's elderly population.

However, in Japan the punishment doesn't always fit the crime.

One report states the theft of a 200-yen (1.40) sandwich could lead to a two-year sentence.

And one elderly jailbird interviewed by the BBC told how he had been jailed for stealing a bottle of peppers worth 2.50.

Many blame the crime wave on the "measly" state pension which in pricey Japan is virtually impossible to live on.

Others say due to increased economic pressures many children no longer look after their parents as they have traditionally done in the past.

In some provinces, many of the young have been forced to move away, leaving their parents to fend for themselves.

This cultural change has been called a modern form Ubasute - when it is said hard-up families used to abandon their elderly in the woods or up a mountain.

In 2015, a Japanese man was arrested for allegedly abandoning his "troublesome" disabled sister on a mountainside to die.

The 63-year-old was accused of taking his older sister, Sachiko, into a remote and mountainous part of Chiba Prefecture, east of Tokyo.

He told police he acted after their home in the town of Sanmu was destroyed earlier in the month by a tsunami.