Tuesday, 14 September 2004

The girls in blue

Now it might be thought that I have a bit of a thing about the police in this country, a bit of a negative attitude. This is of course completely wrong as I have a *extremely* low opinion of them. I have written in these pages, somewhere, about stories in the paper about crap things that they do, mainly because they seem quite funny to me, but then again because I'm usually quite aghast of the things that they manage to come out with.

But I'm beginning to realise, right now in fact, that this might just be because I come from such a totally alien cultural background that anything and everything the police do just seems odd because I am a foreigner. I wasn't going to write about this, probably because it was in the newspaper again, and that's not what we're meant to be about today, but we'll come onto that later. Anyway, letter in the paper from a chap whose wife/partner got knocked off her moped by a car. Chap, being dilligent, got the number plate details and so, when the police arose from their sloth long enough to scratch an armpit and arrive at the scene, he passed on said details. He then expected the police to leap into action, as it were, go to miscreant motorist's house, knock down doors, shout 'hut hut' a lot and effect a swift arrest (he is American). But no, and this is perhaps where the previously unheeded cultural chasm opens.

The police, being ever resourceful in finding ways to make their own job easier, telephoned the egregious automobile pilot and asked him, if it wasn't too much bother, if he minded wandering down to the nearest koban for a quiet word as he seemed to have nudged a motorcyclist whilst driving home half cut from his local sake-ya. Now if this happened in the UK, the response would be laughter followed by a few choice expletives and the connection being cut. But here the errant driver said 'right you are, it's a fair cop' and went to the station, apologised, bowed a bit and then buggered off - probably after paying a bit in damages, I would guess, but otherwise as free as scott, as the saying goes.

Now on the surface it seems like pretty shite policing to me, but the mere fact that the police did it, and the chap duly arrived, goes to show that no matter how strange you think this country is, and no matter how many times you think 'but they wouldn't do it like that in...' the fact is that Japan is a deeply, deeply weird place. I mean, even the criminals are polite and own up to their misdemeanors...but...I mean...huh?

Then again, some people have just no respect for the law whatsoever.

As I said earlier, all these stories about how crap the police are I have seen have been in the paper, but on Friday last week I saw this in action for myself. I was eating lunch with a couple of others from the office, this time at the curry place (good curries, no Japanese cooks there, all authentic Indian personages who, I'm sure I wrote somewhere before, have live cricket feeds over the internet when India are playing, which is just fine with me). Anyway they have a small terrace, big enough for one table and four chairs, where we were engaged in witless banter and curry consumption on the aforementioned sunny Friday afternoon. Along comes a black beamer that parks on the other side of the road but effectively blocking half the carriageway. These are residential streets and so are quite narrow, making passing tricky. Out jumps our plucky parker and dives into the curry emporium in which we are also scoffing.

About 10 minutes later a small car draws up. I have seen these cars before, they look a bit like police cars but have different markings on, are really small and always have three official looking ladies inside. So this patrol car slows and looks at the beamer and then quick as a flash a green and white cane is produced.

Fascinated, the terraced based foreigners watch agog...

The cane is tipped with a piece of chalk and in the blink of an eye, the chalk has marked the driver's side tire with a cross and written '155' on the road next to the mark. Then, blaring from the loud speaker atop the patrol car, the instruction "Oi! You! Wherevere you are! Move your bloody car toot sweet, we'll be back in 15 minutes to check on you" (may have been) barked.

Ah, '155' means it is five to two in the afternoon and so they will circle and come back to check at 3:10. Bouyed by our Holmes like deductive reasoning, we get up to leave, thinking what a jolly effective way to do the traffic warden thing, they don't even have to get out of the car (though quite what the lady in the back of the car did remains a mystery, moral support perhaps?) But then we saw the folly of the plan.

Beamer driver chap came out of the curry house looking a bit peeved. Got in, started the car, rolled it forward about a foot, then got out and returned to his lunch. Of course now the mark on the tire and the mark on the road didn't match up, so one assumes that the taffic ladies now had no hold over him, he had done exactly what they asked him to do. Though not quite in the spirit of the law, it was certainly within the letter of it.

We weren't able to hang around to see what happened when the ladies in blue returned, more's the pity, but it did increase my respect for law enforcement in this country.

No really.

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