The Peaceful World of Japan’s Police Force

It is common knowledge that countries have their own set of laws. There are groups of people who make those laws or a ministry, and then groups of people who enforce those laws - both of whose salaries are paid by the citizens’ taxes. A part of the system of enforcing laws is the police. 

Aside from enforcing the law, other jobs of the police include making sure that properties are protected, and keeping the security and peace of civilians by dealing with disorderly situations, and/or apprehending people that cause the disorder.

The police are granted many powers to preserve that order and are trained in dealing with these situations and people. The way in which they are trained to do this and the equipment that they use is not the same across the world. Some areas are known to have aggressive and discriminatory police who are quick to use violence as a way for the perpetrator to submit. 

Other areas wrap up the perpetrator in a futon until he is no longer harmful. Which country has police that would do that, you ask?

The answer is Japan.

The History of Law Enforcement; How Japan’s Police Force Evolved

Once the Meiji Restoration occurred, major changes took a hold of Japan’s police services. The once-traditional police system or “keisatsu seido” (written as 警察制度) turned into a European-style civil police system, established by Japan in 1874. Before this, Japan’s enforcement system was very different, where people were organized into “gonin gumi” or five-family associations and were responsible for each other’s actions.  

The late 1800’s and early 1900’s saw the growth of this newfound centralized system into something that made sure morals were upheld by the public, and that local leader was duly supported. The police were often involved in politics and were regarded highly in Japan’s rural districts, garnering the same respect that the village head received. This would be the root of the reason Japan’s authoritarian state that would occur later.

The police service used to control a lot of what went on in Japan; from fire prevention to public health matters, arguments about labor, licensing, permits – even regulating the content of movies. The war ended in 1945 and was followed up with a new system called the 1947 Police Law. Unlike the last system, this one was decentralized and different sectors in Japan – both big and small – established municipal forces.

The jurisdiction that police would be placed under would be public safety, wherein the National Public Safety Commission would be the institution of authority. The Police Law would be revised a few times after (which continues to exist until today), developing a system wherein the decentralized system would revert to the centralized system again, as the police force would be classified and given responsibilities in terms of the prefecture.

What Does The Logo of the National Police Agency Look Like?

The National Police Agency of Japan, known as “Keisatsu-chō”, written as “警察庁” has one symbol that represents it. It’s colored yellow and has many different elements to it. First is a circle in the middle which spreads out to different rays. ¾ into each ray, splits into two directions, forming a concave. There are 20 of these yellow rays that stick out from the similarly yellow circle in the center. The length that they stick out forms a pattern of a star.

There is a very high possibility that this logo symbolizes aspects of the National Police Agency, however, these possible symbolisms, metaphors, or meanings have not yet been brought to the knowledge of the public so far. 

Explaining The Police Box, or “Koban” System of Japan

Found all around Japan are Koban. Technically, they are just small police stations – in fact, in terms of organizational units in Japan, they are the smallest. They work to ensure the safety and order of the community, conquering them more efficiently in small sections (sort of like community policing), instead of having one grand police station handling a large area. 

Initially and officially called “Hashutsujo” (派出所) Koban developed from small boxes constructed in 1874 that were meant for police surveillance. Because the job involved standing watch, which in Japanese is “tachiban” (立番), and rotating (“kotai”, or “交替”) with other police to do the job, a combination of both words was created to name their stations. 

6,000 Koban were built around Japan in 2007. You can easily find them yourself, as “Koban” most often isn’t written in Kanji, Hiragana or Katakana – it’s illustrated using roman letters. They look like miniature, one (sometimes two) story houses, holding as many as 10, and as few as 1 police officer. In case an emergency was to happen – if you found something someone lost, if you were robbed, if you’re lost, or have an emergency, chances are there is a Koban nearby, with police officers you can ask help from. 

The Different Police Cars in Japan

Police vehicles in all of Japan total to about 40,000. There are both marked and unmarked vehicles that police drive around. Marked police cars are usually colored white and black, and can be as large as Toyota Land Cruisers or Mitsubishi Fuso Fighters for riot police, to microcars. Examples of vehicles used by police for both pursuits and highway patrols include the Mazda RX-7, Mitsubishi Lancer, Subaru Legacy, and Honda NSX, among others. 

Martial Arts over Guns: How Japan’s Police System Does Not Rely on Firearms 

Because gun rules are extremely strict in Japan, even law enforcers themselves rarely ever use them. Instead, to keep the peace, Japanese police rely on a special kind of martial art called “taiho-jutsu” (逮捕術), or arrest technique. Those who are taught this not only are the police, but the Imperial guard, Kamen Riders, Japanese Self-Defense Force, and others. 

Using taiho-jutsu, police learn how to disarm criminals using batons, their hands, and – only if utterly, necessary – guns. They also practice their different methods on each other in contests, sharpening their skills, and also getting to show what they’ve learned.

The use of taiho-jutsu has only been around since the police system was reformed in 1947. This martial art is a mixture of several different martial arts, including judo and kendo. Masters in each field came together to create the perfect cocktail of disarming techniques that would, in turn, be much less violent than tasers or anything that could directly draw blood.

Dealing with A Violent or Drunk Person? Let the Police Roll Him Up in A Futon

Speaking of drawing blood, crime rates in Japan have hit an all-time low, and crimes committed using guns is almost nonexistent. Aside from the reason of this being thanks to tough gun laws, it’s also because of the nonviolent way Japan’s society has taught itself to be. When they see a person, who is drunk on the street or is about to cause a ruckus, they literally roll up the offender in giant futons and take him to the police station.

This causes the citizens to be allies with police instead of being fearful, or even arming themselves against them. Guns in Japan are so taboo that when a policeman shot himself with one and died, he was still slapped with an offense, despite the fact he was already dead.

Why Are Killings Uncommon in Japan?

According to data from 2014, for every 100,000 inhabitants, there are .31 people who are murdered in Japan. Compare that to the USA’s 4.88 rates as of 2015, and you’ve got more than 10x the number of killings. The reason murders are so uncommon in Japan is because, according to a report from the united nations, Japan is a stable country.

Inequality among each socio-economic division is low, people are busy working thus helping the economy and businesses develop, leading to a prosperous system, thus reasons that contribute to wanting to kill are lower. Combine that with the fact that it’s just ridiculously difficult to own a gun, how likely one will get caught and get thrown in Jail (In terms of investigation, 98% of murderers are found out), and the great shame that comes with being - you’ve got a recipe for fewer killings. 

What Are the Titles of the Ranks When it Comes to Japanese Police?

There are two statuses; government official police ranks, and local police personnel ranks. The entire fleet of the local police personnel rank below government officials.

Local Police Personel

  • There’s the normal police officer or “Junsa” (巡査) which is the starting point of one’s police career, much like the western idea of a Private. 
  • Next is the Senior Police Officer, or Junsa-chō, “巡査長” in Japanese. This rank is honorary, sort of like a corporal’s rank.
  • Police Sergeant is next, called “Junsa-buchō”. They act as the leader of the police box, or as a field supervisor – comparable to a sergeant or warrant officer. 
  • The inspector comes after – known in Japanese as “Keibu-ho” (警部補), sort of like a Lieutenant or Captain. They can lead riot platoons and police station squad commanders. 
  • A step above is the Chief Inspector, “Keibu” (警部), who is the squad commander and leaders of their own riot company.
  • Lastly, above all in terms of the local police personnel is the Superintendent, or Keishi (警視). You can think of them as Lieutenant colonels. They can also have many jobs, such as being the chief of the police station, being a commander of a riot police unit, or holding the spot of vice commanding office of a police station.

Government Officials

  • In terms of government officials, you start with the Assistant Commissioner or “Keishi-sei”, written as “警視正”. They act as the chief of the police station and are comparable to that of a colonel. 
  • Next is the Commissioner, “Keishi-chō”, written as “警視長”. He would be the chief of prefectural police headquarters, the Japanese counterpart of what would be a Major general. 
  • After is Senior Commissioner, “Keishi-kan” (警視監), who could have many representative job titles, such as Deputy Commissioner General, Chief of Prefectural Police Headquarters, Chief of Regional Police Bureau, etcetera. This would be akin to be a Lieutenant general. 
  • Superintendent General follows, which in Japanese is “Keishi-sōkan” (警視総監), acting as the Chief of the Metropolitan Police Department. The comparable military rank of this is simply General. 
  • The topmost ranking is the Commissioner General, which in Japanese is “Keisatsu-chō Chōkan”, written in Japanese as “警察庁長官”. There is no comparable ranking in terms of western military ranks, as he acts as the Chief of the National Police Agency. 

A Japanese Police Mascot

Japan has many mascots that represent the police because they have one for each prefecture. The mascot of Tokyo is the notorious Pipo-Kun.

Depending on the prefecture, these mascots range from birds, rice, mountain ridges, dinosaurs, owls, and even a combination of animals, just like Pipo-Kun is. These police mascots usually symbolize what their prefecture is known most for, or for what the police aspire to be (alert, friendly, etcetera). 

Fukui, for instance, is known as an excavation site for dinosaur bones and has many dinosaur museums. Thus, their police mascot is Ryupi-kun; a combination of “kyourue” (dinosaur) and “pi” (police & people). 

What Number Should be Dialed To Call Police?

In case you experience an emergency that entails calling the police, simply dial “110”. If you are not sure whether your situation is worth an emergency call, you may dial #9110, or 03-3501-011. Tokyo’s emergency police number usually has English operators.

If the person on the line does not understand English, you may ask for someone who understands English by saying “English please” in Japanese, which is “Eigo de onegaishimasu” – written as “英語でお願いします”. If worse comes to worse, dial 0570-000-911, the Japan helpline, where you will be given assistance.

A Great Reason To Visit Japan

Japan is so safe that it’s perfect for those who want to travel solo. It doesn’t matter if you plan to stay for a few days or a month, in the middle of winter in February or on August when it’s summer, Japan’s police officers will make sure that you stay as safe as possible, and continue to fight crime by wrapping up criminals in soft futons.