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Japan Times Op-Ed on Tokyo Police Bike Checkpoints


25 Apr 2002
Hello All. A little article on Japanese bike cops which appeared a few weeks ago on the Japan Times Community Page. Hope you enjoy.

Bests, Arudou Debito in Sapporo

TITLE: Pedal pushers cop a load on Yasukuni Dori
BYLINE: Japan's low crime rate has many advantages, although harassment by bored cops certainly isn't one of them

Japan Times, Thursday, June 20, 2002, page 13
(available online at
By Arudou Debito

I hail from Sapporo, and since I travel a lot around Japan on business, one of my pastimes is borrowing a bicycle from local friends and seeing the sights.

Tokyo is chock full of them -- every street or district has some sort of renown that we out in the provinces crave.

So on May 25, I thought a calm evening bike ride around them would soothe my soul. It was not to be.

Conditions on the evening in question were perfect.

It was a beautiful warm Saturday night just before the rainy season brought an end to spring. I ventured from Tokyo Station through Nihonbashi to Kanda, down Yasukuni Doori to Kudanshita, to Shibuya via Ichigaya, and ultimately overnighted at Koenji.

I anticipated the trip would take about two hours. But I did not factor in the natural obstacles.

In front of Kanda Station, two police on bicycles called out; "You there, on the bike. Pull over please." I complied.

Police: "We would like your cooperation. We are trying to prevent crime. Is this your bicycle?"

Me: "Excuse me, am I a suspicious person? ("fushinsha")?"

My sudden use of a legal term surprised them. "Um, no."

"Well, then, may I be on my way?"

"Wait a minute. May we ask you a few questions?"

"Do you stop everyone on a bicycle and ask them questions? You're not just stopping me because I look foreign, are you?"

"Huh? No no, of course not! We stop everybody."

"I see. Well, anyway, under Article 2 of the Police Executions of Duties Law ("Shokumu Shikkou Hou" [available at www.debito.org: What to do if the Japanese Police arbitrarily stop you for a Gaijin Card Check PT 2 ]), you are not allowed to stop people for questioning unless you have "sufficent reason for suspicion" ("utagau ni tariru soutou na riyuu"), right? Everyone on a bicycle is therefore suspicious?"

"Er, well, no. We're, uh... just trying to do our jobs."

"Gokurousama. Well, if as you say I am not under suspicion, may I go?"

They shrugged and said okay, wildly perplexed to have their own laws quoted back at them by a foreign face.

I cycled on a bit, then stopped to watch them now redouble their efforts to stop every single cyclist they came across.

They also apparently radioed every other roving Kanda bike cop to warn about the foreign-looking lawyer on two wheels.

I passed through a couple more potential checkpoints unscathed.

Unfortunately, once I got on Yasukuni Dori, my carte blanche expired.

At the Ogawa-[Machi] Intersection, a lurking pedestrian cop snared me and began to grill in the name of crime prevention.

When we got to the fine legal print, he seemed quite amused that I would dare cycle around so well-versed in my rights.

And once released, I made sure to linger and watch him hold a few more unwary cyclists' feet to the fire.

Unfortunately, the novelty of this gag wore off when I reached Yasukuni's Surugadai Intersection, where I faced another knot of cops, who were now immune to legal arguments.

Police: "'Grounds for suspicion'? Whatever. Kindly dismount. We will radio your bike particulars to base for a background check."

Me: "Look, I borrowed this bike from a friend. Here is his phone number if you want to check. Here is the key to the bike lock. What more do you need? This is the third time I've been stopped this evening, all within the space of about a kilometer.

"I'm not even halfway home yet. At this rate, I'm not going to get any sleep tonight. Isn't there any way around this rigamarole?"


They also had immunity to common sense. The checks went on. Fortunately, they didn't find any dirt on me, and I was let go after about 20 minutes.

I arrived home two hours later, stopped nowhere else for the remaining 15 km.

It seems Kanda and Yasukuni Dori are breeding grounds for bike thieves.

Or else just bored cops.

The safety of Japanese streets is surely one of the finest aspects of living in Japan.

But sometimes, you wish the police had something better to do than harass innocent cyclists.

Got a spare evening? Try the latest tourist attraction: Running the Yasukuni Gauntlet.

The Japan Times: June 20, 2002
(C) All rights reserved
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I wish I could have seen the cops' faces when you quoted your rights, hehe. Great story, Debito, thanks for posting!
yes, great story,lolol🙂

It reminds me of my own town, we where stopped constantly and the contents of our purses and pockets emptied out for studing at almost every street corner, each morning on my way to work I would (for total badness) place an object such as a boneing Knife wrapped in a tea towel or a screw driver wrapped the same way into my purse, and as I worked in a very busy restraunt as a chef at the time I got away with it, untill one morning my entire family where held under house arrest, under some sub section against terrorism act, and this held me back for work for almost two hours, so once released from this house arrest, the police left empty handed as many times before, and I did the stupidest thing, (because I was a little angry,lol)I placed a few items in my purse and proceeded on my walk to work, at the usual point of my journey I was stopped and searched, and I could'nt beleive what the pulled out of my purse,3 screw drivers, 2 pairing knifes, a calulater with all the wires hanging out, 4 batteries(that powered the calulater)and last but not least a little clear jar with a gel type substance that was see threw with a black lid on it, no markings on the jar to indicate what the contents was, and I stood stareing at the jar and said "thats not mine, I'v never seen that before" well I was arrested on the spot, took to the local police station and I refused to open the jar!!, my one phone call I made to my parents and told them of the jar that was found in my purse, two hours later I was released to every member of my family waiting on me (there are 12 of them)laughing and saying how sorry they where, I was told on the journey home that the jar contained kiwi flavoured lip balm, and it was my youngest sister had placed it there for safe keeping, I don't know who looked the stupidist, me or the police,lolol 🙂
Hehe, are you still using kiwi flavoured lip balm, Debs?

As for security checks, I also have a good one (a close escape): exactly ten years ago I visited a friend in Paris and planned to fly from there to New York to visit my cousin who was doing au-pair in the States. We've had a good time in France and - out of juvenile flippancy (I was 10 years younger and stupid) - I had bought a jack-knife. They were easily available and I thought it was cool. To make matters worse I was living in the Middle East at that time which was also noted in my passport. Upon arrival at the airport, I was immediately singled out from the check-in line by U.S. airline security and frisked like I've never been frisked before. They were friendly, but thorough. Afterwards they interrogated and cross-examined me for half an hour trying to entangle me in contradictions. Well, I passed all hurdles, embarrassed and tired, but with a comforting feeling of safety (what could possibly happen after such security checks?). When I finally disembarked at Newark I reached into my coat's pocket and found my jack-knife. It had been with me through all the checks and interrogations and no one had noticed it.
lolol in possession of a deadly weapon, and you got away with it, lol😄

That couldn't happen here. If your pencil is too sharp here, you asked, "why!!" lolol
ughhh, I hate airports.

When I was 16 at the Frankfurt airport (just after the bombing alerts). 2 machine gun totting guards stopped me at the x-ray machine. I was carrying 2 foils made in Spain, decoration types but non-the-less potential weapons.

Another time was in Narita. The Captain of the plane kindly greeted me at the door of the plane and kindly took possesion of the 2 [shinai]s (bamboo practice swords used in kendo) I was carrying.

Another time, I was stopped in LAX for looking like a drug smuggler. I had just come back from Europe and had most of the countries I visited stamp my passport, including Poland ... hehe ... this was 2 years after East-West Germany re-unitied.

My experiences are nothing like those of Debs but still, a bit scary when you get pulled over for something besides a traffic violation.
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