I visited a police station yesterday for the first time—and it was of my own accord, I might add!

As I left the station at the end of my journey home yesterday, I saw a pair of very dubious characters hanging around. There are always hundreds of cycles parked in front of the station, and I saw these two moving away from a cycle in evident disappointment at not having been able to unlock it. One was the lookout, the other was doing the dirty work. As I walked further along, I saw them try another cycle, and actually saw the penknife in the hand of the man as he attempted to pick the lock, again without any luck. I stopped, and stared at them, making it clear that I knew what they were doing. When they had decided to give up and wander off, I started walking towards my home.

However, when I saw them moving back into position for another try, I resolved to do something about it. I doubled back on myself, and went to the “kōban.” Kōban are small neighbourhood police stations found all over Japan. They are reputed to spend most of the time giving the directions to people who can’t find their destinations (understandable, given the arcane addressing system used in Japan). I explained what I’d seen, described the two individuals, and four police officers went out to try to catch them. Unfortunately, the pair had already gone, probably on a stolen cycle.

I was impressed by my first encounter with the Japanese police. They were pleasant, efficient, courteous, and—which pleased me most—they didn’t treat me like an ignorant foreigner. It also makes a lot of sense to have local, accessible, visible police. Despite the unsuccessful outcome, I doubt that I could have provided such information in a way that it could be acted upon immediately in Britain.