Traffic Accident: Good experience with police (UPDATED)


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:

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:




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

17 comments on “Traffic Accident: Good experience with police (UPDATED)

  • I read your story about your recent trip to America. Sorry to hear about the problems. I was surprised to hear that your ex-wife would send your children to stay with her in-laws.

  • omigod, my heart goes out to you, Debito. I didn’t know anything about your divorce etc until i just read your eletter and blog, and wow, what a trouble. and then this bike accident, that could have been a lot worse, even curtains. my heart just goes out to you, and i hope things get better real real soon. i am sure they will. but OUCH!

    Something to cheer people up, in Japanese:


  • Overthinker says:

    I am not sure if I agree with the apparent assumption that a ‘good’ experience with the police is the rarity, worthy of being blogged about, especially since this is not a personal blog of “my life as an Anglo-Japanese” (which would be interesting actually – I for one would like to hear more about how Japanese treat naturalised citizens) but rather one of Japanese attitudes towards race, racism, and immigration issues, but here it seems like Debito almost expected to be treated badly by the police. I’ve been in two motorbike accidents which involved the police, and both times they were perfectly polite – hell, they’ve even polite when they nab you for speeding. I have heard about how bad they can be when you are under suspicion of doing something very naughty (like drugs). In my last accident, the cop actually pulled me aside after the main business had been done, pointed to the scrape in the road where I had crashed, and said I’d cut the corner a bit too fine, but that was just a friendly warning – the other guy, who came out of a one-way road the wrong way, was found to be 100% in the wrong (in fact I found out then that it’s best that you ARE given some blame, as if you are absolved of any, your insurance company will not act: it’s up to you to chase the other guy and his insurance company).

  • Fukushima James here says:

    This has not been a good month for you at all I see. It will be a good day when Japan gets its courts in order and starts abiding in international law. I really don’t know how or where you get the fortitude for keeping your cool and not going postal, but I’m just glad that you do. Please take care of yourself and eat correctly.

  • Debito

    I was saddened to hear about your experiences in June. It’s an unimaginable situation, but hopefully this is just a cycle that is coming to an end. But, then again, you are Arudou Debito, which is an advantage.

  • Hi Debito. So we’re both limping now. Wait – I’m not any more. Actually, tomorrow will see me back in the gym as authorized AND ordered by my physician. While dashes and sprints are still somewhat dull, I can walk as fast as ever.

    Re. police @ traffic accidents – I found them to be efficient as well. I’ve had three minor bumps so far (one with a perp fleeing the scene after bumping into my car on a parking lot & me not present, two with the other party present), and both were decided in my favor.
    Once things are 10:0 in your favor, you can charge basically everything to the other guy’s insurance company. If not completely in your favor, they’ll haggle among themselves. I had one repair to be done, and my car dealer said, it usually would take a day and cost a couple man, but he said, insurance will pay, so the bill was 15 Man, and it took four days. Needless to say, I got a replacement car for free, courtesy of the insurance company of the other party… ;-).

    To be recommended is Kashiwaba Neurosurgical Clinic next to the Dome. One of the docs has two years at a US hospital on his record, and they have a very good reputation in town. They explain diagnosis, prognosis and treatment, and they have a strict “informed consent” policy and even encourage you to obtain a second opinion, if you feel uneasy with what the doc explains. Waiting for outpatients is the same as usual, even with appointments, but the doctors take their time to answer any questions you might have. Staff is extremely nice and helpful, be it nurses, receptionists, pharmacists… They’re prepared for emergencies (accidents as well as strokes) and have state of the art equipment.

  • Sorry if this is a bit late. The headline caught my attention, and I thought I might bring up something else in case you were to update your “What to do if…” for traffic accidents. That is, what to do about hit-and-run accidents. I wouldn’t have a clue in that situation, although it seems to happen more than one might think.

    I knew someone (NJ) in Japan in such an accident, car vs. bicycle, indirect hit, no stopping. He was a little shook up, but mostly okay, and having freshly arrived in Japan, could have stood to know more of his rights. Another guy, friend of friend (Japanese), was not so lucky. Car vs. pedestrian, pedestrian dead soon after, don’t know much other detail. Lo and behold, similar contact happened to me walking on a Sendai street (narrow road, walls both sides, no designated walkway), but I was just grazed on the arm, nothing serious. I still have to wonder why the drivers didn’t stop. In any case, hit-and-run seems like a scary situation.

    As for police, I also had only good experiences (as a victim of theft), and they exceeded all expectations, and no problems with ID as NJ. I also had the good thought to get everything squared away over the phone first. Just too bad the people under suspicion were also NJ. Maybe if they get caught and raise foreign crime stats, NJ victims would also be perceived as guilty by association? Okay, enough 妄想…

    Also, sorry to hear about your June. That’s the first I read about your personal history. You are amazing. Best of luck in the future.


    Hi Debito,

    Your story about the bike accident brought back memories. About 19 years ago I had a bike accident in Japan as well. A car in front of me signaled that he was turning left and also moved that way. So I went on straight. Suddenly the car was in front of me. It had been a maneuver to turn right in one big sweep. It was about to rain and I had no raincoat, so I was going pretty fast because I wanted to be home before the rain really started to get bad. I hit the car and actually flew over it. It is amazing how time slows down in such situations. I remember clearly seeing the surprised face of the driver below me before I flew back to earth. My judo lessons while I was still at elementary school were well remembered. I expertly broke the fall with my arms instead of my head and thereby probably saved my life.

    I wanted to get up, but to my great shock couldn’t. It is a chilling experience to go, in the fraction of a second, from very active and healthy to not even able to get up from the ground. Within minutes, the police and an ambulance arrived and I was rushed to the nearest ER. Which happened to be the worst one in town. When they stuck me with a needle, the needle got stuck. “Oops,” said the doctor. “Oops,” said I. I got totally misdiagnosed and was sent home with the words that I’d be fine in three days.

    The police was very polite and helpful. They even took me and my bicycle back home.

    How badly wrong things were with me, I discovered the next morning when I couldn’t get up from my futon. The pain was terrible and I could hardly move. I somehow managed to crawl to a phone – I couldn’t walk! – and call a friend who had a key. With help of this friend I was able to get up and get dressed. I called another friend who ran a maternity clinic and asked if I could stay there for a few days (in three days I would be fine, right) because I needed assistance. When I arrived, my friend immediately knew something was wrong and took me to a hospital specializing in hernias and bone problems. One of the best hospitals in its class in Japan, as I later found it.

    They took new x-rays and right away registered me as their latest patient. One of my shoulder bones had been whacked out of place. You could clearly see it on the x-ray. I have no idea how the other hospital missed that… It had to be reset and I had to stay two weeks in hospital and another two at home.

    The driver had no insurance, but was very responsible. He paid for everything, including a large isharyo to compensate me for the time that I was unable to work. My Japanese friends complained that he didn’t show enough guilt and didn’t visit me enough at the hospital. But the last person I wanted to see was he, so I couldn’t care less.

    The police was very helpful, but spoke no English. And I still spoke limited Japanese at the time. I didn’t know words like “genba”. Instead of explaining it, using whole sentences or finding words to get his message across, the officer just shouted the word louder and louder, probably imagining that if he shouted loud enough the meaning of the word would somehow enter my clearly thick skull. If I hadn’t been in so much pain, it would have been comical.

    We worked it out, but the experience made me realize that with an increasing number of non-Japanese who couldn’t speak the lingo, the Japanese police would have some severe problems. So I volunteered to teach English. They wouldn’t take me as a volunteer, but instead had me teach special courses at the Hyogo Police Academy. I did that for many years until I changed careers just after the earthquake hit in 1995. Unfortunately, one of my students at the academy died in that quake.

    To make a long story short. My experience with the police was very similar to yours. They were very polite, deferential, helpful and understanding. And because of that and because I spent so much time with police officers at the academy, it will be very difficult to damage that good image I have of the Japanese police.

    Glad you’re fine and I hope you enjoyed this positive story of the Japanese police. 😉

    Kjeld Duits
    | — Photos & News on Japan
    | — Japanese Street Fashion


    Hey Dave,

    You get all the breaks! I always wanted to be a hood ornament.

    FYI the use of the fingerprint for statements has always be a standard practice. It is not recorded
    like the one for gajitoroku, it is just a manner that if the statement is ever called into legal question,
    it can be shown to be your document through the fingerprint.

    It probably started as most people never have their jitsuin hanko with them, or at least immediately
    available for verifying a statement. It must be the registered jitsuin or it would not stand the test of
    the courts for identification verification.

    You were right on the 10%. I assume the insurance companies have adopted that from the polite customs
    where you give or receive 10% for returning found items, or as 10-15% was always the considered
    tip if the old luxury tax was not applied to something.

    At any rate, the police, the doer and doee workout the percentages and/or just the police if it is a hard fought settlement. The insurance company is just trying to cut expenses and usually will get away with something like that at only 10$ (cheap at twice the price)!

    You spot on in telling them to kiss 10% of your formerly gaijin ass! Good show.


    Hi Debito,
    didn’t know you had an accident. Lucky you that nothing serious happened.
    I told you about my accident last November, didn’t I?

    Similar experience with the police, though I didn’t have to go to th police station. Everything was settled on the scene.
    My drivers license and meishi worked well.

    Insurance paid everything (26man for the broken Macintosh, and 6 man to fix my bike (costed about 3.5 times as much when I bought it that summer)).
    I could hear them gasping on the phone, but paid without hesitation and very promptly.

    Never was asked to pay 10 percent myself.

    By the way, did the driver followed up on your injury? Did he visit you, or asked if he could? Did he bring some ‘consolation gifts’?

    That happened a few years ago after my first accident, when I landed on the hood of a car and injured my knee.

    It is quite customary in Japan to visit the victim and follow up with lots of apologies.


  • In need of legal Guidance says:

    I was involved in a traffic accident in Kyoto. A scooter and bicycle collision. The criminal side was lengthy due to needing a court appointed translator, that takes time to arrange. First was the on-site police investigation with both parties present. Then a deposition is taken with a translator at the police office. They quote it takes about an hour, but realistically it took two and a half, because of the translation side. I was unfortunately the defendant due to the location and situation, however i was not charged with 100% fault. After the private court hearing, I was told they felt that the other party was also responsible a little. They sent me a ticket later that I paid, and the criminal side was finished. The story really begins now: After an accident the civil side of the case is to be negotiated by both parties privately. My insurance paid all of the plaintiffs medical bills, which were minor due to no real injuries.(Thank God!) I also paid for the door I crashed into and broke. When I went to meet the plaintiff to apologize for the incident and finish the civil side, they demanded money to be paid to them. At first, before the meeting they yelled and screamed at my wife on the phone for an hour and a half. When she said to them,” what do you want?” they replied with “Y50,000.
    When we met in person, they said that now they need Y100,000. Isn’t this illegal? I was not charged with 100% at fault. If anyone knows my rights, please advise. I really appreciate it.

    — They’re realizing they can scam you because they think you’re an ignorant foreigner. Get a lawyer and have him/her handle the negotiations from now on. See how in HANDHOOK and at

  • Hello Debito! i was researching about accidents involving vehicles and pedestrians when i came across this page. Im sorry about what happened, im glad youre okay and that you didnt have to spend a single yen on damage repairs. I was also involved in an accident last April 7, me and my friend were sitting on a bench in front of a supermarket here in Gifu. When a car suddenly charged towards us, my legs were pinned against the bench and my bag with all my valuables were crushed. The driver and the passenger immediately came out to help us, and immediately called the police. The police immediately came and asked only a few questions since i could only speak a little nihongo. In the hospital the driver gave me their full information as well as their insurance details and told me that they would call the next morning regarding the accident. They did and im expecting another call this monday. Can you give me anymore tips on how i should handle this? Im Japanese/Filipino. Japanese citizen but raised in the Philippines. Im afraid that they would take advantage of me not knowing how to speak nihongo.

    • Jim Di Griz says:

      He’s probably worried that you don’t know you can ask him for a million ¥ to drop charges of dangerous driving?

      • probably, but im aware i can go pretty high with the compensation, were currently working on it and im very mad that they are not willing to pay for my interpreter which i would not need if the accident didnt happened

  • Sanjeev Kumar says:

    Hi, I am almost in similar case, I was riding Oogata Motorcycle and at a Street Light, when it was green (Blue) traffic start moving, I was passing through left side space, when suddenly a young girl driving car turn right side & I hit with her, I got minor scratch on my legs & pain in arm ( which I came to know more on next day when I visited Hospital)

    Police came & examine the scene. They recorded both parties evidence on crime scene.

    I speak bearable Japanese, Police office told me it is mainly her fault, she should check before turning ride & moreover being light turn Green it was your right to go ahead as per Japanese traffic rule.

    Next day visited hospital & done X-ray of hand & legs, Luckily no fracture. Took half day leave due to this. ( Hopefully it will cover by other party insurance company).

    Regarding Medical bills, other party insurance company contacted hospital & paid medical bill plus medicine bills.

    But Major part will be Motorcycle, right after accident I came to know that Motorcycle front alignment was not right & might be bearing or other parts need replacement.
    Currently Motorcycle is at Bike Shop for estimation.

    What do you guys suggest on this.
    1. Medical bill- Other party agent called & told me medical bills will paid upto a month. After that if any bills come I need to pay for those.
    2. Motorcycle repair- I heard in most case if you are victim Insurance agent will force you to pay 10% – 20% of estimated value. Being Oogata Motorcycle & I bought a year ago, I am expecting estimation will be somewhere around 40-50 man yen.

    Do I need to push them to pay 100% ? also my office leave too.


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