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Maximum Pace
Nov 4, 2006

Back home, we usually refer to them as "Law Enforcement Officers".
In Japan however, it seems that their job is as a "Peace Keeping Officer".

There are various other words that many of us use to describe these Government Employees, but I will endeavour to refrain from using such terms (Pigs, Fozzers, Fuzz, Boys-in-blue, Bastards, *******s, CLINTS, etc.) , and stick to the two descriptions above; LEO & PKO.

This is also a cultural review, showing the differences between police in each country, and an attempt to explain why they are different.
American Police (along with the British Police, the Australian Police Force, as well as many other Western European Police Forces) have a policy that says, "Catch the bad guy, no matter what!" The Japanese Police policy however says "Don't make waves in the fabric of society, no matter what!"

From hereon in, so as not to discriminate one from the other, I will refer to all Western Police Forces (whether they are Australian, Canadian, German, South-African, U.S, or New Zealand) as "WPF".
And so as not to discriminate the Japanese Police Force from those of other Asian Nations, I will hereby refer to them as the "JPF".

With that out of the way, we can all turn to the problem at hand:
IS "Law-Enforcement" better than "Peace-Keeping"?


I will start on the Japanese side:
A great majority of the Japanese population are what many westerners would term, "Law-Abiding-Citizens". From a very early age, they are taught the "rules", and they mostly (more than 90%) abide by them. Because of their upbringing, if they break the law, they will be made to feel like an outcast in society.
The flip-side to this is that we westerners pretty much know the "rules" from birth (referring to the Ten Commandments), and then once we understand them completely, we spend most of our time (our youth) questioning these rules and trying to find ways to break them without upsetting the natural balance of things, sometimes without even understanding why we want to break them!

Switch back to the Japanese; they feel so much shame for breaking even the slightest rule, that they have no time to question why the rules are actually there.
One of the most difficult questions you can ask a Japanese person will start with a "WHY?"

- Small example: Why do Japanese take their shoes off in the house?
- Answer: Cobbled and paved walk-ways for pedestrians were the norm for most Romans, Greeks, Italians since before 100-200BC. And this custom was passed down to Spain, France and England around 1000AD, then transported to the New World (America) in the 1500's. Paved walkways allowed most people to avoid getting their shoes dirty, no matter what kind of errand or journey, and hence wearing shoes indoors has become standard practice.
The Japanese however, never had "paved" roads – except for the Emperor – and always had to walk on dirt-covered surfaces until the late 1950's… The 2,000 year old practice of taking ones shoes off outside the door is not easily broken.

It's not that taking ones shoes off in the house is a good or bad thing, but the fact that the reason "why" never gets questioned. There is a logical reason for it, but no-one ever asks why?!

Now for a bit of bad against the Western-Police-Force (WPF).
The WPF are mostly out for "revenue" and to catch as many "law-breakers" as they can! How many cars can we book today? How many "bad guys" can we put away? Can I shoot someone?
The most appropriate description might be "Too Gung-ho"!
But that's what most of us are used to!
For better or for worse, we feel we need someone to "put away" the guys who wrong us. Our sense of justice now becomes, "if someone has done something wrong – whether it be against us personally or not – that person should be punished!"
And for some of us, after sometimes having been the "bad-guy" ourselves; with all the contemplating (in our youth & maybe later in life, perhaps) of the laws that might be "breakable" as long as we didn't get caught, we started thinking if we know the law, and if we can break the law and get away with it, why shouldn't we?
This is where western society loses to the Japanese!
Crime-rates in EVERY other country are far higher than in Japan – Japan is still the safest country in the world to live in.

Perhaps because we know the "rules" so well, and know how to question them and then break them equally efficiently, we've become Rulers-Of-The-World, but, Monsters-Of-The-Planet.

Back to the road…
Back home, we can get in our cars, turn out of the driveway and be picked up by the WPF immediately for failing to turn on our indicators. Or, if we inadvertently run a red-light, we can be sure to see the WPF behind us in quick order to remind us that we "messed up & here's your $80 fine".

Here in Japan, that never happens! The JPF are there to "Keep the Peace" only!
When a driver who has broken a "slight" law such as, failing to indicate, or running a red-light etc, the JPF will generally do no more than issue a warning from the loud-speaker in their patrol-car.
With over 90% of the population being law-abiding, the police don't have much to do except to sit around and wait for an altercation to occur… once they get there though, you'd better look out!
In any incident between two people, the person who looks the most "calm & collected" when the JPF arrive will have the least to worry about. The person who is standing up, screaming and raving about how "the other guy started it!" will be taken away for questioning (despite whose argument is more solid & reasonable).

If a car runs into you….There are three scenarios:
1. You ride off as if it never happened! – Nothing more will come of the incident except for a few bruises.
2. You lie down and feign an injury – THIS IS THE ONLY TIME the JPF will be on your side.
3. If you get up and scream at the driver for going through that red-light when you're LIVID at his / her complete negligence of the law!; All the JPF want you to do is "calm down"! However, YOU will be found to be in the 'wrong' because you were the loudest at the scene of the crime.

With the "Peace-Keeping" system, the only wrong is to be LOUD! They will not accept that! It doesn't matter who's right & who's wrong; if you are the loudest at an accident-scene, YOU will be wrong.
"JUSTICE" as we think of it does not work to their logic. "Justice belongs to the one who keeps his/her mouth the shuttest!"
Whoever can remain the most calm and explain everything to the police, JPF, with the most self-control will be the winner in any argument.
This is called "KEEPING THE PEACE"!

Let's step back home for a bit, to get some balance:
I've been driving (a car) and turned a corner. Just after that intersection I heard the sirens, and had to say, "What's the problem Officer?"
"We noticed that you didn't indicate before turning… It is noted in question 43b in the driver's manual, and you failed to acknowledge that particular instruction. Do you have any extenuating circumstances that might explicate you for attempting such a manoeuvre whilst operating a motorized vehicle, sir?"
That will cost you $50 for violating traffic ordinance No. 862576…….
This is called "LAW ENFORCEMENT"!

This never happens in Japan!
For the simple fact that "Law Enforcement" will always be diametrically opposed to "Keeping The Peace"!

A "Peace-keeping" Officer who pulls over a reckless driver is contradicting his own motives – He's "breaking the peace" by "enforcing the law".
A "Law-Enforcing" Officer who tries to break up a fight will be the one to get shot by trying to keep the peace – He's "breaking the law" by "enforcing the peace"!

LEO's treat silence as a sign of guilt, and assume that you haven't raised your voice to defend yourself because you know you did something wrong.
PKO's treat silence a sign of self-control, and assume that you wouldn't have been doing anything wrong before the incident – the louder person will be deemed "out of control".


The Japanese opinion of a quiet person is thus: The person is already dealing with the "shame" in their heart, and there is no more we (the JPF) can do to punish the perpetrator.
The Western opinion of a quiet person is thus: Anything you say can and will be held against you in the Court of Law! But, state your case; and scream & shout if you must, to defend what you obviously think was an incursion of your basic rights!

The final point: Back to where this affects cyclists here:

Although the majority of drivers over here are well-taught, and quite proficient behind the wheel, they are also "undisciplined" – In the literal sense of the word!
They know the "rule-book" says to indicate 18m (55 feet) before turning a corner, but they also know they will not get pulled over for failing to do so. And running a red-light will also only get them a "warning" over a loud-speaker.

ie. When in Tokyo, do as the Tokyo-ites do!

Any other opinions from members/riders who have had similar experiences are most welcome.
Interesting and thoughtful post, and for the most part right on the money, methinks.

Another example of the differences you describe can be seen in the show COPS compared to the Japanese versions that occasionally airs (not really related to traffic, but...):

Amercian cops (at least, on the show) are on a hair trigger when it comes to disobedience/arguing back etc. Try to give them a hard time and you're face down in the asphalt in handcuffs before you can shout "I have my righ--mmmph!" Japanese cops on the other hand seem to put up with all kinds of (often drunken) abuse, mostly verbal but even the kinds of shoves and slaps and knocking off of hats that would land you in jail for "assualting a police officer" in many states of the union...

You've all probably seen this doing the rounds on cycling blogs...


Thanks Lee,
I did enjoy reading the blog from "bikesnobsNYC", and although he was a little wordy (wordier than me anyway) he did make a fair point (also quite funny)! I appreciated the remark about "people in New York walking out in front of traffic like sheep"! So, it DOES happen on both sides of the Pacific!

As for the second link, I suppose we should be thankful that police in this country don't actually do anything! Hope that cop "CLINT" was sacked in disgrace!

Seriously though, there has to be an even balance out for the LEO's... Otherwise, CHAOS will reign.
Thanks for the post. T
BTW, thanks also to Phil, who posted, and to Steve, who told me he'd read it, and to Thomas, who is currently preparing a reply.
It's a difficult subject, but one that needs input if we want it to improve.
I used to be a "WPF" officer, and I am very much aware of the differences in police attitudes among "JPF" officers.

Law enforcement in the west is not about revenue collection. How much do you think it costs in time and real money to prosecute and imprison a criminal? In some cases, more money than I made in 5 years as an officer. A capital case can cost a million dollars or more to prosecute, and imprisonment runs about $28k per year, per person the last I checked.

You might think of western cops as quick to knock you down or shoot you, but in the west (America in particular), a great number of criminals do not like to go quietly to jail. As a police officer I was hit, bitten, kicked, spat on, and threatened in ways that you can't imagine. There are millions of guns in America, and like number of knives or other dangerous weapons. To stay safe, you always have to assume the worst.

In the west, arrestees can more or less act up as they please, western law enforcement may be seen as rough and tough, but the actual powers of police officers are not that great. Arrestees are permitted immediate access to counsel, and police officers can be held personally liable in cases of abuse. That's not to say it doesn't happen, but it's not as common as many would believe. A western lawyer will use every tool in his toolbox to get defend his client, no matter how ridiculous the story or excuse, and abuse by arresting officers will often arouse doubt or anger in jury members.

In Japan it is much different. The police may not seem as rough and tough, but they do have greater powers. They do not need to provide arrestees with immediate access to counsel. And when an arrestee does get a lawyer, the lawyer in nearly every case will advise his client to apologize, plead guilty, and accept responsibility. At the moment there is no jury system in Japan, so lawyers cannot plead to the sympathy of a jury, or to try plant seeds of doubt through clever words or presentation of evidence.

As for traffic citations, I was generally too busy with other matters to write them. Most of the time, when the driver had a clean record, valid insurance, license, etc., I would let him or her go with a warning. If the offense was blatant, dangerous, or if the driver had a poor record, lapsed insurance, or a supsended license, they were very much going to get a ticket.

The biggest difference between Japan and the west lies in the culture. Japanese for the most part are educated and hard working. There are some problems in Japanese society, but for the most part, it is very uniform, the people are basically alike in thought and action.

Western societies are increasingly multi-cultural. These cultures often have different ideas of right and wrong. Some cultures are educated and hard working, others are quite the opposite. (For those of you who might be interested, of all the nationalities which live in America, persons of Japanese descent earn the highest per capita income.)

Law enforcement to me was a depressing job. There seemed no end to the stupidity of people, people who would risk decades of their freedom over things so trivial as a wallet with a few dollars in it, or a tourist's Rolex watch. A fast food restaurant was robbed, 3 workers shot and killed, and the robbers got away with $1200. The robbers were former employees of the restaurant and were quickly caught. Both men are now on death row. 5 lives gone for $1200. They would have made more money in a month had they continued working at the restaurant.

I worked the quietest of the three shifts in my district, and I saw an average of 3 homicides a month during my last year. I can't begin to imagine how a Japanese police officer would handle working in such an environment. I still can't look at a Japanese police officer and consider him a "real" cop.
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