We've all heard the story "I left my bicycle unlocked at the station and when I returned it was still there. Isn't Japan a wonderful country." I've heard the stories, I've even left the key in our mama-chari overnight only to find it right where I left it the following morning. While acts of bicycle theft are low in Japan, bicycle theft is far from non existent.
So who are Japan's bicycle thieves?
Organised bicycle thieves
Usually individuals rather than gangs, these cretin target bicycles that have a high resale value including expensive road, mountain and Piste bicycles. They're not adverse to breaking a lock, or dismantling public property in order to capture their prey. These thieves will often re-sell the stolen bicycle via an Internet auction site. In one recent case a cyclist tracked down his stolen bicycle to a seller on an Internet auction site and alerted the police who arranged to meet and subsequently arrest the thief. In questioning it arose that this individual bicycle thief had stolen and resold over 1500 bicycles over his career.
Disorganised bicycle thieves
Opportunistic high school students who find an unlocked bicycle in front of the station or convenience store, take it for an afternoon joyride and abandon it when the day is done. Not criminal enough to risk breaking a lock they see an unlocked bicycle and act on impulse without thinking of the consequence of their crime.
Really disorganised bicycle thieves
Drunk salary men, sometimes I call them accidental bicycle thieves. After a few too many drinks with his workmates the drunk salary man finds himself in the parking lot of his home station staring upon row after row of bicycles. He spots what he thinks is his bicycle, fumbles with his key in the lock only to discover that it won't unlock. Eager to get home and sleep it off he applies some force to, and subsequently breaks, the common horseshoe lock. Deed done he wobbles his way home. Imagine his surprise the following morning. No damage done he'll park the stolen bicycle back in the lot and pick up his own when he returns home in a more sober state.
Of course less inebriated late night revellers who find themselves stuck after the last trains have stopped running will often resort to "borrowing" a bicycle to get themselves home. The less malicious will choose one that looks to be abandoned, thus justifying the crime somewhat in their own minds.
So while the stories of unlocked bicycles remaining in place for days are true, if you have an expensive looking bicycle, or leave it parked around the station at night then you're risking having it stolen if it is not securely locked.