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?