Some of Andrew Sullivan's readers debunk the notion that "Japanese has no word for looting", as well as the claim that no looting has taken place following the recent disaster ("Why no looting in Japan? Ctd.", The Daily Dish, 3/17/2011).
The "no word for looting" meme was seeded in a somewhat tentative way on CNN:
“Looting simply does not take place in Japan. I’m not even sure if there’s a word for it that is as clear in its implications as when we hear ‘looting,’" said Gregory Pflugfelder, director of the Donald Keene Center of Japanese Culture at Columbia University.
One of Sullivan's readers offers:
There is a word for this, and it's 火事場泥棒 (kajibadorobou). It literally means "thief at a fire," but it extends more broadly in a metaphorical sense to people who take advantage of a crisis to commit a crime.
As for the claim by Gregory Pflugfelder, I can think of a few words that come close to looting: 泥棒 dorobō "robber", 強盗 gōtō "robbery", 略奪 ryakudatsu "looting".
Jim Breen's EDICT echoes the choice of ryakudatsu:
略奪(P); 掠奪 【りゃくだつ】 (n,vs) pillage; plunder; looting; robbery;
And also gives at least the literal meaning of kajibadorobou:
火事場泥棒 【かじばどろぼう】 (n) looter at the scene of a fire
This is not in any way to denigrate the admirable response of the Japanese people in the aftermath of the recent earthquake. But as usual, the attempt to diagnose and explain culture cheaply in lexical terms is empirically as well as conceptually weak.