Hi Blog. I use this space enough to heap scorn on the Japanese police (deservedly, mind you). But I thought I’d balance things out a bit with praise where it’s due:
TRAFFIC ACCIDENT IN SAPPORO
TREATED WITH DIGNITY AND EFFICIENCY BY THE POLICE
JUNE 13 TO 15, 2007
I have had a pretty rotten June so far (see what I mean when I spent the past two weeks in Upstate New York battling my demons of the past, and trying to see my abducted daughter), and it was only made worse by the events of June 13.
At 1PM, I was doing my bicycle commute to school from downtown Sapporo (60 kms round trip), cycling on a sidewalk designated for cyclists, when a middle-aged gentleman working for a construction company left the parking lot of Homac department store in Atsubetsu, Sapporo, without looking both ways.
He ploughed into the front tyre of my bicycle (the one I have used for all of my cycletreks these past few years), dragging me and my bicycle for about a meter. My body weight was thrown upon the hood of his car, but my right leg took a sizeable impact below the knee.
He came out of his car immediately to check on me and to apologize. Sliding off his car and standing on my good left leg, I said, okay, let’s get the police involved. I dialed 110 on my keitai, got the Atsubetsu Police, and explained to them the situation. Location, details of the impact, make and license plate of the car, and names.
Some hints, in case you find yourself in this situation:
1) IF YOU ARE THE VICTIM, TAKE CHARGE. NEGOTIATE WITH THE POLICE RIGHT AWAY ON THE PHONE, WHERE THERE IS LESS NONVERBAL BAGGAGE TO DEAL WITH.
2) DO NOT MOVE THE VEHICLES. STAY WHERE YOU ARE AND LET THE POLICE TAKE PHOTOGRAPHS. CHANGING THE POSITIONS DESTROYS EVIDENCE.
3) STAY AS CALM AS POSSIBLE. DON’T SAY YOU’RE SORRY UNLESS YOU ARE WILLING TO TAKE FULL RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE ACCIDENT. LET THE POLICE GATHER THE INFORMATION.
We waited about ten minutes before the traffic police came by, and they talked to me first and got my side of the story. Not once did they ask my nationality (the driver, making conversation, did, not that it bothered me), and once I showed them my driver license and meishi from my university, they were pleasant, even deferential. They treated me like a victim.
Even more luckily, the driver of the car was a decent sort, and claimed full responsibility and fault. The driver and I were cordial, cross-checking our stories, while the police took our stories separately. Our memories jibed, so the investigation was completed in about ten minutes. The police took their pictures, chalked the positions of the vehicles and had them moved, and confirmed their interpretations of the events (based upon the evidence at hand) with our recollections (police in Japan try to find fault with both parties, so they asked if I was cycling fast or recklessly, which I wasn’t; the driver concurred, and reiterated that he was completely to blame).
The police advised me to go to a hospital immediately for some X-rays (I had class, had to wait until today), then said we could go.
I locked my ruined bike (the front tyre was completely collapsed and bowed inward, the front fork bent, and even the back tyre was askew–I have the feeling the driver confused his accelerator with his brake) to a nearby fence, limped to the driver’s car, and got a lift to school. He even said if my bike was irreparable (which it probably is), I should not hesitate to get a new one.
The driver’s insurance company was on the phone to me within hours, getting my particulars and side of the story. (The agent did ask about my nationality, and I said Japanese. When he asked my previous nationality, I told him it was irrelevant. He dropped the subject.) He was trying to get an estimate of my bike’s worth, which I said I could not assess. I told him that I wanted my bike the same as it was before, at no cost to me. I would retreive the bike later that evening and deliver it to my favorite bike shop in Makomanai for a repairs estimate, I said. He said keep track of my auto mileage for compensation for my fuel costs. I gave him the bike shop’s number and let them negotiate things out.
I went to the hospital today (one I chose; the insurance agent called ahead and made an appointment for me; they would cover all my bills) for several X-rays of my right leg. They turned up negative for any severe damage (some possible bleeding in the bone, but no edema). Should be healed in a couple of weeks, but it’s difficult for me to walk normally and climb stairs at the moment. The hospital would be sending the insurance agency news on the doctor’s findings.
I then took the doctor’s diagnosis to the Atsubetsu Police Station, who treated me again with deference and some respect for having Japanese citizenship. They confirmed the written-up report with me, asked me if I wished to press charges against the driver (I didn’t), and read it all back. I had not brought my inkan, but they allowed me to sign the form when I indicated I was unwilling to fingerprint it. At all times they were on the ball (I saw the drawing of the accident scene–it was clear and accurate) and after thirty minutes I was out the door.
The bike shop called later with a repairs estimate, which will be looked over when the insurance agency visits them for photos and assessments.
So far, so good. I anticipate some haggling over the repairs estimates by the insurance company, but that’s nothing to do with the cops. So just let me say in this interim report that I found the police to be fair, thorough, and in no way biased against me for my non-Japanese roots. Good.
Conclusion: Crucial is learning how to take charge linguistically, so those who find themselves in a similar situation had better understand the value of understanding Japanese, and having all their ducks in a row to establish credibility. Those who believe that NJ should not learn Japanese because they can get along just fine in English etc. (or mysteriously believe that they can get away with more due to some kind of “guest status”), wise up.
Thank heavens I had a responsible driver, as well. This went as smoothly as I think it possibly could have. More later if there’s anything to report.
Arudou Debito, limping along in Sapporo
UPDATE JULY 10, 2007
Now that the smoke has cleared and the case is closed, final words on the outcome:
1) I got my bike fixed. It’s good as new and I’m cycling as before.
2) The injuries I suffered are no longer part of my life. Looks as though I just had a really bad Charley Horse on my lower leg for about two weeks. Shortly after that (and after some holistic treatment from a friend), my leg seems back to normal. No pain whatsoever.
3) The driver’s insurance company did what you’d expect from an insurance company (a la Michael Moore’s SICKO)–haggle. The agent tried to force me to pay ten percent of my bike’s repairs. I said that the police (and the driver) had acknowledged 100% fault on the driver, so I was not going to pay anything. When the agent tried to say that it’s customary for the victim to pay ten percent, I said: “Look, I’m not asking for any compensation or damages. Just to have all my repairs and medical bills paid–my costs out of pocket set to zero. I could ask for compensation (baishoukin, or isharyou) money on top, but the driver’s been such a nice chap that I didn’t have the heart. My mind could change, however, with the tone of this negotiation, and cost your company even more money. So let’s not haggle here over 8000 yen.”
An hour later, the insurance company called me back and said that the driver agreed to pay the last ten percent out of his pocket. Case closed.
And that’s that. In the end, it was probably the nicest experience I had this rotten June, and that’s saying something, I guess. Debito