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This Is What I’m Talking About with Japanese Police

July 20th, 2004

A man in Soka City, Saitama Prefecture rushed to a police koban (a mini-police station) for help, but was tackled by three yakuza (gangsters) in front of the police box as the policeman on watch stood by. One of the men said, “This is our own matter. It’s got nothing to do with police.” The policeman was urged to “Do something!” by a rescue worker at the scene to help a different injured person. The officer reportedly walked towards them as the three gangsters dragged the man off, dumped him into a car and drove off. The man was later found severely beaten, with “broken arms and legs.” The policeman’s excuse? “He didn’t enter the police box and didn’t request help.”

I don’t really think anyone can count on Japanese police in a serious situation. Even in minor situations, they are not effective. They consistently stop regular scooter and motorcycle drivers for doing things like making a right turn at an intersection with three lanes as opposed to two lanes, or for crossing lanes over a yellow line even when there is no other traffic on the road–but they do not lift a finger to stop or penalize bosozoku bikers (ill-mannered biker thugs who ignore pretty much all traffic and safety laws, and adjust their bikes so as to make them as noisy as possible) as they brazenly scream through residential areas at 2 o’clock in the morning.

Police in Japan have a good reputation because of high arrest and conviction rates, but that is due more to sleight of hand than real police work. Police here will usually refuse to file reports on crimes that likely cannot be solved; many victims of muggings, assault, robbery and molestation are told to simply forget the whole situation, especially when they cannot describe the attacker. Convictions are high because judges here usually take a prosecutor’s decision to charge someone as evidence of proof of wrongdoing; additionally, police here can hold a suspect for 23 days without a charge or access to an attorney (or for multiples of 23 days, by “releasing” then re-arresting them), and have been known to sometimes apply beatings or other methods of intimidation or torture, in order to force a confession.

Please don’t get me wrong, I love Japan, and it really is a safe place. But not because of the police.

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