yeah, you heard wrong...most japanese people are NOT atheists. like some others have pointed out, most japanese are buddhist or shinto. i am an american living in japan, and while i cant guess why christian countries have more crime than japan, the idea in japan is to respect others, and life in general. they are taught to be humble and respect humanity, as well as idea of working together and helping each other. when i first came to japan, being a "typical" american, i was taught to be an individual, and think about me me me. as time went on, i noticed japanese people (i know and work with many japanese people. about 99%) greet each other, take time to say hello, help someone who needs a little help, and are more aware of how their actions affect others around them. they are more considerate to each other then americans are to each other.
my wife, who is japanese, told me to write that japanese feel ashamed of having an ego. in the culture here, its not good to boast about ones talents or abilities. if you boast about yourself, its like saying you are better than others around you, and it creates an uneasy feeling among others. japanese like to keep things very fair and not make waves. also japanese are taught to endure situations even if they are not pleasant. the feel the situation will pass, so just endure a little discomfort. americans are taught to be vocal and we often complain about such things. going back to americans' individual thinking, we often feel that our freedom means we can do anything we want, and forget what others think or how they feel. in japan they feel that that kind of thinking is selfish, and to be selfish is bad. japanese also are very willing to find the middle ground in a situation to make both sides happy, where in the US we tend to fight to be right or wrong. black or white, with no middle ground. we always want a winner and a loser...japanese try to find 2 winners. i have lived here for 5.5 years now, and i am more relaxed and willing to help others because others have helped me. and i have picked up on the japanese way of thinking more, and i take responsibility for my actions and dont point the finger as much. for example, i went to a concert in the US after having lived here (in japan) 4 years, and i was trying to get to my seat. i had to side shuffle in front of the people in my row to get to my seats, and in the process, i accidental kicked over this guys beer. now, i know my part was bad...maybe i shoulda been more careful, but maybe he shouldnt have put his beer where people dont have to walk...but he said "HEY, thats my beer man, blah blah blah" in a pissed off, aggressive tone. knowing i was partly to blame, i pulled $5 out and gave it to him on the spot for a new beer and said "oh man, i'm sorry about that". he kinda stopped in his tracks and his expression changed from pissed to surprised and relieved. so, problem averted. i coulda argued with him and fought to not pay for his drink, but that would have made a long, uncomfortable situation as i had to sit next to him. instead, i owned up to my part of the mistake, and made a small donation to keep the peace. THAT is how japanese people think, and THAT is why the crime is much lower here.
sorry my reply so long, but i hope that helps.