Note: this post was referenced as a resource in the book, Law and Justice in Japanese Popular Culture: From Crime Fighting Robots to Duelling Pocket Monsters 日本の大衆文化に見る法と正義 (Amazon) (Google Books) (Kinokuniya)
Koban 交番 are police boxes or small police stations that occupy street corners throughout Tokyo. I’ve never used a koban other than asking for directions as a tourist (once), and handing in a found cell phone (once). There are over 1200 koban in Tokyo (source); a list, with addresses, of Tokyo koban can be found here: Navitime
Here are some that I’ve encountered:
Hard at work in Shibuya:
An empty koban, late at night:
Scene from a koban in in the 1960’s; see YouTube video around the 12:17 mark. (For more about these films, see: Films of 1950’s and 1960’s Japan, via an old Dutch man).
The Saginomiya Eki-mae koban 鷺ノ宮駅前交番, at right, next to the Seibu-Shinjuku line, west of Saginomiya Station 鷺ノ宮駅 (map):
The oldest koban in Tokyo, located in Tsukishima (map):
And a wonderfully-designed police box outside Chofu station, which was demolished circa 2007:
The ubiquity and small size of koban help to make the police seem more friendly; there is something cute about the tiny little buildings with their spare furnishings. In addition to koban, the police cultivate a friendly image through use of cartoon characters. Tokyo has the ubiquitous Pipo-kun, and nearby Saitama has Poppo-kun ポッポくん and ポポ美ちゃん, which are a type of dove シラコバト:
Do the ubiquitous koban (and cute police mascots) help explain Tokyo’s famously safe streets?
General koban information:
- Koban unwrapped: Tokyo’s colorful police boxes (CNN Travel)
- Origins of the word ‘koban’: As noted in a recent Japan Times article (“The stories behind familiar Japanese words“), early koban were staffed by a rotating group of three men. The word 交番 derives from the idea of the exchanging (交代する) of the guards (番).
Crime in Tokyo:
Koban historical pictures:
- Movie review: Japanese Cinema: Police Station Diary 風流交番日記 (1955)
- Koban outside Shinjuku Station, East Exit, circa 1955
Old-fashioned crime-prevention and police history:
- Statue of a Meiji-era night watchman (link)
- Old-fashioned night watchmen (fuchinban; 不寝番, I think) would clap wooden sticks/clappers 拍子木 (hyōshigi) (source 1) and call-out “hi no yojin” 火の用心, meaning “beware of fire” (source 2, source 3); this action is called yomiwari 夜廻り “night rounds” (source 4)
- SO WHAT THE HECK IS THAT: Yomawari (The Japan Times)
- Japan’s Women Police, 1946 and beyond
Mascots and other:
- Japan’s Police Mascots (Gaijin pot)
- ポッポくん・ポポ美ちゃん紹介ページ Poppo-kun & Popomi-chan introduction
- Mascots in team photos: “This is the police force’s Poppo-kun, who research indicates also has a lady friend, Popomi-chan, to assist in law enforcement-related promotional duties.”
- A short-story idea that’s been in my head for some time: a story about a non-Japanese person who starts working at a koban…getting overwhelmed on an unusually busy night. I know there’s a good story there somewhere!
- Police, fire, earthquakes, and emergencies (Funny Japanese street signs)
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Hello there, I’m one of the authors of the essay in Law and Justice in Japanese Popular Culture that you mention. Your site is really informative – thank you!
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One item that may be of interest to you (and which you may already be familiar with) is the 1956 film 真昼の暗黒 (Mahiru no ankoku) “Darkness in the Noon”, which is the first depiction of a false conviction in Japanese cinema (I believe). Based on the real-life Yakai Incident 八海事件 (1951).