ARUDOU DEBITO ON TOKYO POLICE BIKE CHECKPOINTS
(published in the Japan Times, June 20, 2002)
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 http://www.japantimes.com/cgi-bin/getarticle.pl5?fl20020620a1.htm)
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 http://www.debito.org/instantcheckpoints2.html ]), 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
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