I had my bicycle stolen. Yes, it is true. And I am not telling this to ruin the reputation of Japan. I am telling this to remind everyone that, Japan, like the rest of the countries, is inhabited by humans – of all forms. Good and bad. Although, generally, Japan is safe and secure, there is always a mishap. There is always that hungry wolf, ready to attack the weak and the over-confident, strayed sheep. And even if we think there are no wolves, there is always that black sheep in the family. There is a danger anywhere we are, anywhere we go.
I am the victim and let me tell you my story. Even before I came to Japan, I heard so many good things about it. That it is such a wonderful country. Very clean, very safe and very advanced when it comes to technology. That the people are not only very disciplined, but also very kind. I was so amazed with what I’ve heard and it made me so excited to finally have my foot step on its soil. When I finally came, it was ecstasy! It was incredible! All the things I’ve heard about the country were true. All the words came to life. It made me really confident. I’m safe. Everything is safe. I’m in good hands. I’m in Japan.
So, I had this bicycle that was given to me as a gift. On my first months in Japan, I explored my new environment with it. I cycled here and there with my friends and more often just by myself. I was amazed by how people just park their bicycles anywhere. So many bicycles are lined up on the side of a road, that if it was in my country, many of those would be gone in a short. I was confident. There’s no stealing in Japan. This is a country of honest people, I thought. So I started parking my bicycle just outside my apartment, beside the road without locking it. I did it for more than a month and every time I went out and looked, it was still there, it made me even more confident. Then, that one fateful afternoon came. I went to my university to submit a paper which only took about ten minutes, then I had to go back home. I went to the parking area to get my bicycle but to my surprise, it was not there. I looked around in the hope that maybe somebody just moved it somewhere, but it was not there. It was gone!
In just ten minutes! I could hardly believe it! My bicycle was stolen inside the university campus! My confidence crumbled like a sand castle hit by a wave. A fellow Japanese student helped me report the incident to the police station. The policeman said that they will try to help me find my bicycle and that maybe somebody just “borrowed” it and will soon return it to where I parked it.
But on my way home, I found my bicycle lock. Just the lock (which I never use but is always in the front basket of my bicycle.) So, I realized at that moment, that whoever “borrowed” my bicycle has no plan of returning it, seeing that he/she had to throw the lock on the road.
Don’t make a victim of yourself by not doing what you are expected to do. We can believe in whatever we are told, in whatever we think is right, but it is our responsibility to be cautious. Protect yourself. Don’t invite a thief by leaving your house open. Lock the door or a thief might come. If only I had locked my bicycle, it wouldn’t be stolen. It was my fault for inviting a thief in the first place. It was just a bicycle, but worse things can happen if we keep on being careless. Not only in Japan, but wherever we go, we need to be careful. Bad things happen everywhere. Lesson learned.
In Japan, there are certain things that should be done to protect your bicycle.
1. Bicycle Registration
After buying a bicycle from a shop, it is highly recommended to register it right away in the same shop for an extra 500 yen, and you may also register it at a police station. Upon registering, you will fill out a form and will be given a receipt, which you should always keep, and a small sticker with the registration number on it called ‘toroku bango’ in Japanese, post it in your bicycle. If you buy it online, complete the registration at a police station. If you receive it from a friend, complete an ownership transfer, again, at a police station. In case police will stop you for bicycle registration check, the receipt and the sticker will tell them if you are the owner. If your bicycle is stolen and abandoned somewhere else, it will be easy to return it to you, when found by the police. In my case, because I was new to Japan and during that time could not speak Japanese well, I did not register my bicycle. I did not know how to do it and said to myself I will do it next time, then next time, until I completely forgotten. In Japan, even though it is cumpolsory to register your bicycle, there are no penalties for not doing so.
2. Bicycle Parking
There are designated bicycle parkings in Japan. Look for the sign 自転車駐車場 or 駐輪場, which means bicycle parking. It is read as ‘jitenshachu-shajo’ or ‘chu-rinjo’. Jitensha is bicycle and chu-shajo means parking. In big cities, if you park your bicycle just anywhere, you will receive a yellow ticket and will be fined. Most parkings are free but there are also pay parkings. Pay parkings are unquestionably safer, because the parking spaces have locks which keep your bicycle in place. In my case, although I parked it in the right place, it was not locked.
3. Bicycle Lock
Most bicycles have built-in wheel lock. This is what I had in my bicycle. Wheel locks, also called O-lock or ring lock are mounted in the frame and immobilize the rear wheel. It should always be locked when the bicycle is not in use. This is what I failed to do when parking my bicycle. Moreover, it is highly advisable to double lock your bicycle. You may use U-locks or D-locks, chains, or cables. It is best to attach your bicycle to an immovable object when using a double lock for extra protection.
Bicycle Riding Rules
Since we are talking about bicycles, let me give you some bicycle safety tips in Japan:
- Always ride on the left side or on designated bicycle lanes 自転車用.
- No riding in tandem.
- No using umbrella when riding.
- No using cellular phones when riding.
- No riding with another passenger.
- No drinking alcohol and riding (even for bicycles)
- Use the bicycle flashlight when riding in the dark