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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Japan's Non-Curt Kōban Police Boxes

While there are indeed police stations in Japan - plenty of them - there are also the kōban (交番).

The kōban is a small neighborhood station… sometimes as small as the exterior of Doctor Who's tardis (though it is not larger on the inside), where the police work performed is community police work.

All kōban police stations are written in the kanji 交番, since the the time I was in Japan between 1990-1993, many have the romaji word written out as "koban" - a pretend English word.

Okay, I exaggerate when I say the kōban is as small as a telephone booth (though, come to think of it, that is something most young people have no concept of), as they are usually a two-story building with two rooms that can house anywhere from one to 10 police officers.

Inside a typical kōban... it's horribly, horribly grey! Image by Nesnad found on Wikipedia:
Basically, these guys aren't about solving the crime as they are about maintaining the community peace.

They do the whole neighborhood watch thing by:
  • patrolling; will respond to emergencies (There's a fire at old man Suzuki's place at no name avenue and the street with no name!); 
  • handle lost and found (Lost, one gaijin… please return to the Ohtawara Board if Education for a reward of thanks, and to check results to see if you were the winner in the "Where oh where can our gaijin have gotten lost to this time); 
  • Crime reports for property crimes like theft and burglary (Uh no, ma'am-san, we don't handle cases for stolen virginity) (Uh… I never had such trouble, by the way… never could find a virgin except for my self those first 30 days in Japan); 
  • will provide directions (I entered a tiny kōban and asked for directions once when I was lost in Osaka - to which they police officer did his best to convey to me in broken English that I was really lost, because this was apparently Kobe); 
And really, because they are a part of the community, they are seen not as something secretive, but as real people.

Think about this as something from an old black and white 1930s movie, where the Irish cop is walking down the street, twirling his baton, accepting the kind gift of an apple from a fruit vendor, as everyone says hello to Officer O'Malley.

You kids might want to hook up grandpa's old VCR and watch one of those old Betamax videos he has lining the basement wall.

Japan's community police force is kind of like that, but without the food theft, Irish cop, and baton twirling. Oh... Japan is also not in black and white any more.

Kōban does kindda mean 'police box', but, as mentioned, it is not a police box… at least not any longer.

The earliest such kōban was constructed in 1874, and it was a box for the policemen to be found within a community. Kōban is derived from two Japanese terms: tachiban (立番, standing watch) and kōtai (交替, in rotation)…  Kōban = standing watch in rotation.
Kōban (police box) from Sudo-cho, originally located at the foot of the Mansei Bridge in Kanda, Tokyo. Estimated to have been built during the late Meiji period (1878-1912), it closed down in 1943. Now reconstructed at the Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum. Photo by Michael Maggs, Wikimedia Commons:
By 1881, the standing watch in rotation boxes were enlarged to become a local police station for up to six police officer. This new such community police station was known officially as hashutsujo (派出所), but because it is Japan where acceptance of change is often quite slow, the term kōban was used by the general populace.

In fact… it wasn't until after I left (a coincidence, I assure you) Japan, that in 1994 the official term of hashutsujo was changed back to kōban.

I guess that Japan figured that if, after 113 years the term hashutsujo hadn't caught on, then maybe it should go back to the more familiar term of kōban.

Should you be so inclined to find a kōban and you have a map - a large 'X' is used to designate a kōban. Really… X marks the spot.

By the way… should you have an emergency and need to call for emergency services, in Japan (and Korea) you call 119 - and NOT the North American standard of 911.

I wonder if that's because they read from right to left?

But wait!

You only dial 119 when you need the services of the Ambulance or Fire Department!

When you need a police officer, you dial 110.

Photographer: User:Canley
A police box outside Earl's Court tube station in London, built in 1996 and based on the 1929 Gilbert Mackenzie Trench design. It's positively Doctor Who-like. Or the reverse is true.
And because you should know… while Great Britain's (United Kingdom) London was the first city in 1937 to set up a short number to get emergency help - 999.

According to Wikipedia, the Southern California Telephone Co. began using 116 as an emergency line for Los Angeles, California in 1946, while 999 was adopted in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada in 1959 probably because we always liked to follow the British way of doing things, what with the whole King/Queen of Canada thing going on.

Alabama was the first to go to 911 in 1968. I know… blows me away, too, but good for them.

On February 16, 1968, the first-ever 9-1-1 call was placed by Alabama Speaker of the House Rankin Fite, from Haleyville City Hall, to U.S. Rep. Tom Bevill, at the city's police station. I'm guessing it was a prank call or some sort of ceremonial thing.

While Winnipeg went the 911 way in 1972, it took until the 1980s—when VCRs were still in vogue as was the rock group Big Country and their bagpipe sound—when all other cities in North America saw the 911 flashing red light.

By the way… think about London in 1937 and the 999. That was difficult to call in an emergency. We (you mean YOU, Great-grandpa) only had dial-phones then… so it was quite the long, finger dial involved in getting a 9-click-click-click-click, 9-click-click-click-click, 9-click-click-click-click.

Lastly… in Japan… and I missed it… January 10 (First month, tenth day = 110) is National Dial 110 Day. No... really. I don't make stuff up when I'm trying to edumacate you.

This is the day that the police urge the citizens of Japan to properly use the 110 emergency police number… to urge its citizens to NOT waste time with prank calls, wrong numbers (how do you urge people not to call a wrong number?!); and not to seek advice (IE seeking information like where can one find adult diapers).

Wow… I wonder if Japan's Fire and Ambulance personnel require a special day (January 19 or November 9 - based on 119) to encourage people to make sure they are on fire before calling, or if the gaijin can walk it off after being hit by a car (I was hit by a car twice in one week whilst riding my bike. I walked it off, though one driver did drive me to the police station and not a kōban).

I'm getting silly here, but I do think it odd that there are two different emergency phone numbers and that there has to be a special day to encourage people to use the number effectively.

Okay, up against the wall and spread'em. You know what I mean,
Officer Joseph

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