How is the Japanese police

Mini guards in JapanWhere the cops live

There is always a lot going on on the Ginza - the police officers have their hands full on one corner of the busy shopping street. In blue uniform they stand in front of the local guard, called Koban in Japan.

A man lost his driver's license. The officer asks him inside, there isn't much space. Two small desks, three stools. After ten minutes he can walk again:

"They kindly explained everything to me, how I can apply for a new driver's license straight away, because I can't wait that long now. Of course, they also recorded my personal details and I was able to file a complaint right away."

He is happy that despite the loss he now has one less worry:

"For me these Koban houses are the symbol of security. I haven't lived in Tokyo for long, I often feel unsafe and I'm glad that I always have one around here."

In the countryside, the police also live in the sentry box

There are around a quarter of a million police officers in Japan, and one in five works in a Koban. However, women are rarely among them, and not even one in ten Koban policemen is female.

The system of local sentry boxes with a standing officer originated in Tokyo in 1870, says Fumitsugu Takemura, deputy head of everyday security in Japan:

"From 1988 the Koban system was extended to all of Japan, in such a way that the police in the country also live in the guards."

Because the guards should be manned around the clock. In cities, civil servants work in a three-shift system.

"The Koban police have several tasks: firstly, taking up the concerns of the residents and taking care of them, secondly running patrols, thirdly recording loss reports."

Contact point for all possible concerns

And at a popular intersection like the Ginza in Tokyo, above all, showing people the way here and there. The police officers are constantly spoken to in front of their watch.

For most Japanese people, the sentry box principle is a matter of course and has long since become part of everyday life, as these mother and daughter say:

"If we are strangers somewhere, we always go to the Koban or if I find something, I bring it to the Koban. And even without direct contact, these little guards make you feel safe."

This Koban is no longer in operation. (Deutschlandradio / Kathrin Erdmann)

Nearly a million complaints were received across Japan last year, most of them for theft, says Fumitsugu Takemura, of the Daily Security Division. The clearance rate, however, was only 30 percent. This is shown in the police white paper. So maybe Koban stands for friendly siege rather than effective crime-fighting?

"The policemen from Koban try to maintain constant contact with the residents of their neighborhood, explain to them how they can protect themselves from burglary or provide information about new cycle paths, they rely on cooperation rather than controls."

With a view to the Olympic Games, everyone should learn English

The officials in a city like Tokyo naturally want to be cooperative and helpful to tourists as well. With a view to the Olympic Games, everyone should slowly start learning English. Knowing that the success of the measure could be rather modest - even Japanese students hardly speak English - the police are already working on alternatives:

"We started using officers who speak Chinese and English on five guards, and we are currently testing tablets with appropriate translation software."

In addition, the multilingual explanatory slides popular in Japan are available. Tourists then only have to point to the appropriate picture and they will be helped.