Stopped by the Police

Mike GristGuides, Japan 9 Comments

Last night I was stopped and questioned by the police. I was riding home on a friend’s tiny BMX-like bike at around 2am, just coming to the hill on Meiji Dori before my house, when I heard something from behind me.

I turned around and saw a policeman running up behnd me. I did a double-take, for a second dis-believing that he was following ME, then realized he was, so stopped the bike.

He came over and explained he was doing a bike-theft check, and proceeded to ask me questions: was it my bike, whose bike was it, was I in a rush and going to work at my company (at 2 am!?), did I have time to answer some questions, who did I work for, did I often ride this way, and so on.

I’ve seen this kind of thing in Japan often. I think maybe 40% of the work I’ve seen police officers in Japan do is related to bicycle theft- stopping people on bikes and checking out their registration details. 50% of their work (that I’ve witnessed) involves giving directions from their ‘kobans’- police boxes, and the other 10% is comprised of standing on boxes in train stations with truncheons in hand looking menacing.

So I explained to the police officer that it was my friend’s bike, yes it was too small for me, no I didn’t know where the registration number was. He searched the whole bike several times checking for the number, then his buddy pulled up in the pato-caa (patrol car) and he came and had a good look at the bike too. They rang in whatever number they could find but I don’t think it was the right number, so they took my gaijin ID card and noted down all my details, then went off on their way.

On the whole I could have happily done without the experience, but contrary to stories I’ve heard of people being bullied by Japanese police these guys seemed very polite and professional. Sure they chased me down on suspicion of bike theft, but they do that all the time to everyone- in fact it almost made me feel like I fit in here that they didn’t pass me up and ignore me, which is more what I’d have expected.

Now they have my address, maybe I can expect a house-call from them in the coming days?

Comments 9

  1. Post

    I’ve heard that this could be ‘racism’ also, but that’s why I wanted to be clear in the post that I’ve seen this happen many times to Japanese people, and it’s never actually happened to me until now.

    Also, am not sure that it’s possible to be ‘racist’ to me. Was reading a forum on feminism on LJ, and they seem to think it is impossible to be racist to white people, even by calling me a ‘cracker’ and what-not, because racism is prejudice + power differential + history of victimisation.

    Do Japanese have a power differential over me? I guess if it’s about the police wasting my time they do. But like I said, they waste plenty of people’s time, and I don’t feel like a racially-chosen victim, nor a victim at all. They were just doing their jobs. Should I expect special treatment not to be stopped when I’m riding a bike that clearly doesn’t belong to me- when a Japanese person in my place would be stopped? I don’t think so.

  2. How very fascinating!! Don’t bikes and mopeds over there have a license plate or something? Presumably it was your friend’s bike!!!
    Speaking of police…when I was crossing Westminster Bridge with a friend from manchester today we noticed a couple of police in the shadows in bullet proof vests and rifles!! Don’t know what trouble they were expecting from people coming off the Westminster pier or from out of the underground!
    I would like to live somewhere where the police did only have to just worry about bike thefts!!

  3. Post

    I know- it is great that bike theft seems to take up such a large part of the police work- it suggests they’ve got a handle on everything else. As for registration numbers- every bike is issued with one when you buy it, and if you ever transfer ownership you’re supposed to go to the police box or ‘koban’ to let them know it’s changed.

    In this case- I later found out- the bike has passed through 3 sets of hands without ever having its ownership transferred. So from the perspective of the police, the bike didn’t belong to me, or the person I told them it belonged to. However it wasn’t stolen, so when/if they actually trace back the ownership I’m sure there’ll be no problems.

    I’ve spotted more Japanese security these days in train stations- large police stood on boxes with their truncheons in their hands. I think this is a new thing- possibly a reaction to the Akihabara killings, but I don’t know for sure.

  4. After I bought Alex’s bike from him, I realized that we had never done the registration transfer thing, so I spent the next 4 years biking in fear of being stopped by police. Anytime I saw one I would go out of my way to avoid him.
    I’d heard of people being kept in the policebox all day while they tried to sort out if you were a theif or not, and even worse, like policemen shouting at you like they knew you were guilty, trying to break you down so you’d confess or whatnot. Not sure how true that all was but I didn’t want to take any chances.

    Guess they must of liked you to just let you go on your way like that.

  5. I saw the bike you rode, and definitely wouldn’t say it was clear the bike was not for you. I see dudes on all kinds of ridiculous looking bikes all the time. So in that context, it’s not that obvious the bike isn’t exactly yours.

    I believe absolutely that white people can be victims of racism. Happened to me just week in a store. A waiting cashier didn’t call me over, instead pretended not to see me, so I had to wait until the other cashier finished with his customer. Then I went to his checkout counter. As I was getting rung up, a Japanese woman entered the line and was immediately called over by the female cashier who had just ignored me. It’s not exactly being forced to sit in the back of the bus, of course, but it’s a form of racism, no doubt.

    I’d say 80% of what I’ve seen the Five-O do here is give directions, the other 19% watching over the throngs in train stations, and the remaining 1%, who knows what?

    I hope you were being sarcastic about police having such a handle on things here they can focus on bike theft. I’m sure the father of the murdered female British English teacher of last year (case still totally unsolved) would have something to say about that.

    Oh, and police, I think, wanted me to stop when on my bike before, but I wasn’t sure, and I was barreling by them already, so just kept on rolling. It’s, no doubt, what Omar would have done.

  6. Haha! I can empathize with how the harrassment (which is basically what it is) made you feel accepted– like they weren’t afraid to approach you just because you’re a foreigner. However, the only people I knew who were “randomly” stopped for bike theft were also foreigners.
    Ironic, because I have the sneaking suspicion that most bike theft is actually perpetrated by drunken salary men who miss the last train and don’t want to walk home.

  7. Post

    Can- I’ve heard those horror stories too, but I suspect they’re more urban myths than things that really happen to real people. Certainly no-one I know has had any experience similar.

    Jason- Well, you know we tend to disagree about this kind of thing. The assistants in a shop ignoring you, though of course I wasn’t there so don’t know the exact particulars, I put down to shy-ness, unwillingness to make a mistake, and just generally avoiding the hassle of dealing with a person who most likely won’t speak their language. Any harder charge I just have a hard time with. Of course, similar things have happened to me- and while yes they are frustrating, I don’t consider myself a victim of malice.

    About the cops and the bicycle situation, sure they haven’t solved all crimes, but let’s look at the evidence- Japan is a very safe country. Whether that’s the cops work or not- it leaves them with the most visible jobs of bike-theft management and giving directions- for which I’m glad.

    As for the bike fitting me- I saw myself on it in a reflective store-window and yeah, it did look ridiculous.

    Kelliente- Not to repeat myself, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a foreigner stopped for a bike check before, and have seen Japanese stopped many times. Of course that doesn’t contradict what you’ve heard about- but I think it balances things out. As for the drunken salariman thing, I think they expected me to be drunk as it was about 2am, and since I was riding an under-sized bike they probably assumed I’d stolen it. They seemed a little surprised that I was coherent.

  8. Here’s a YouTube video showing a prime example of the incompetence of the Japanese police. A guy riding a bicycle gets stopped by a police officer for no reason, which happens a lot in Japan. As the officer is asking him questions (which the guy is under no obligation to answer), we can hear an obvious traffic accident take place in the background just at the corner, and both the police officer and the bicyclist hear it. A reasonable police officer would realize that that was a traffic accident and that people may be injured and need first aid, etc. But no, this cop continues to question the bicyclist as if nothing happened. At 0:25 into the video he even denies that it was a traffic accident. After the bicyclist convinces him to do so, he notifies dispatch of the traffic accident, and then continues to question the bicyclist rather than tending to the possibly injured! This cop neglected to tend to a possibly serious and fatal traffic accident, all so he can perform ???? (voluntary questioning) on a bicyclist!

    The 7-11 store where it happened in front of is located at ?????????3-41-8
    The road where it happened is ????? and the intersection where the accident occurred is ??????
    Either the Setagaya or the Kitazawa police station have jurisdiction over that location.

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