For all Japan's vaunted lack of casual crime, bicycle theft is a problem in a country where the bicycle is such a common means of transport. (Only just yesterday, for example, although my locked bike was okay, the new rear LED light I bought for it last week was removed and stolen.)
Japan therefore has a system of bicycle registration to guard against bicycle theft, known as the Jitensha Bohan Toroku (Bicycle Anti-Theft Registration) system. According to a 1994 amendment of the 1980 Act for the Promotion of the Safe Use of Bicycles and the General Implementation of Parking Measures for Bicycles Etc., every owner of a bicycle in Japan is obliged to register.
This weekend, I went to Costco in Misato City, north-east of Tokyo, primarily for grocery shopping, but ended up buying a Northrock mountain bike, a brand that seems to be proprietary to Costco. For 42,000 yen, it seemed like a good buy. I was tempted by a similar Cannondale also on display for about another 8,000 more, but the Northrock's having a bicycle stand was the deciding factor. Bicycles are not normally the kind of thing you buy on a whim, but there it was, it looked good, and my trusty almost-ten-year-old Giant had been costing me more and more in terms of replacing worn and torn parts.
Once I'd got it home, the first thing I did was assemble the front wheel, the handle bar and the seat, and I was ready to go. I took it to nearby Ueno the next day, found a bike shop, and registered it.
Most bicycle shops offer a bicycle registration service, and are obliged to register even bikes not bought there. I was asked to bring my bike inside, show the purchase receipt, and fill in a form. They took down the bike's serial number, completed the paperwork, and a registration sticker was stuck to my spot of choice on the frame, and I received my receipt. It cost 500 yen.
The anti-theft registration system is a good idea: the registered information is sent to the relevant authorities in the jurisdiction in which the registration took place, and is kept on record for a set number of years, usually five, but differing by jurisdiction. However, there is no confirmation of the bicycle having been registered - you simply have to trust the bike shop people to do it properly, yet it's a service they don't get remunerated for.
The sticker is sturdy and looks quite difficult to remove, but it is hard to imagine anyone who has gone to the trouble of stealing a bike not scratching the registration sticker off. There is still the serial number identifying the bike, by which the true owner can be found, but random checks of bicycle registration are not particularly common.
Also, as anyone - especially a foreigner - knows who has gone to the local police box or police station with a complaint, the response is initially non-comprehending then generally bored and lethargic: the wheels turn as far they have to with as little effort exerted as possible, and then return to complete stasis. I have never heard of any lost property returning as a result of reporting it to the police in Japan. You need clout - the kind that those who rely on bicycles for transportation aren't usually much endowed with.
Be that as it may, I have my registration sticker, giving my brand new bicycle the added sheen of official legitimacy. You touch-a my bike, I show you my paper.
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