392247478 D7d1e49317 O

License to Steal

People and property are much safer in Japan than in most other countries. The exception is bikes. There seems to be little regard for the ownership of unlocked bicycles. In fact, they are not so much seen as an opportunity for a joyride, as a means for commuters who arrive at the train station and do not fancy the walk to get home. It is against the law, but the practice is widespread and seems to be socially acceptable.

Chasing the Cherry Blossoms, Lowell Sheppard

A poorly written book with blatant errors (the bomb was dropped on Nagasaki on August 19th? I think not), but there were a few decent quotations.

I’d say this mentality about bikes is just as much true on any university campus as it is in Japan. I only had my bike stolen once. As I mentioned in 2007, my wrist injury was due to poor bike maintenance – the brakes locked up and caused me to sail over the handlebars.

Once I was casted and sent home, the demon machine lay unlocked near my out-of-the-way apartment in Yoshino Town. The brakes were still faulty, and I had hardly any traffic passing by… so you can imagine my surprise when I left for work one morning and discovered someone had taken the bike in the middle of the night. If the guilty party happened to break their wrist sometime in the process, I wasn’t going to shed any tears. No such luck, though – the police called the next week and reported the bike had been abandoned about six kilometers from my apartment near a Sunkus convenience store. How the thief managed to get it even ten meters from my door is a mystery.

In any case, Sheppard is correct about the mentality in stealing bikes. 99% of the time it’s not to resell them as scrap or acquire a new bike, but merely a convenient way of getting home or to some other destination.

The same is true for umbrellas. A disproportionately large number of Japanese stores and businesses have racks for customers to store their umbrellas before entering. Well, you can imagine how desperate people get during the rainy season – all it takes is one forgetful slightly wet person thinking he’s entitled to stay as dry as possible, with someone else’s umbrella. I’ve done it myself; in fact, I had acquired four decent umbrellas during a period of particularly bad weather.

Yet you can leave a bag of personal belongings on the street or in a train station, and it’s likely to be returned to you in the same condition; I don’t recommend experimenting with this, though.