Three types of Japanese bicycle thieves

Byron Kidd

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.

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  1. I left a pair of Rayban sunglasses in my mamachari basket at a busy Fukuoka eki, easy to see by anyone passing by, they were still there when I returned that evening.

  2. And one more thing the stupid Japan lovers do not mention is that Japan has a lot of bicycles. So, if you leave it unlocked, you leave it among other hundreds of bikes parked at the station. Of course the chances of a thief going exactly for yours are slim, it is all about the numbers. But anyway, after living in Jp, I have noticed that there is no logic or reason in those who are so in love with that country.

  3. Haha, Anonymous, I hear what you are saying. It must seem daunting to a thief to have to choose just ONE to steal...and with so many, if you forget to lock it, it doesn't stand out.

  4. I had mine stolen two days ago outside a station north of Tokyo. Obviously my own fault for leaving it unlocked while I was at work in the city and it must have seemed abandoned. Nevertheless there were at least a dozen other bikes within 10 metres at any time of the day outside the station. Sometimes they are impounded for being parked in the wrong place (mine wasn't, I checked) so it was stolen and did not appear the next day, so must have been a petty thief. It was though a very old bike that rattled as you went along which makes me think the thief did not think it worthwhile bringing back. Seems then you should avoid very very good bikes and rubbish ones and go for the most average one you can, and lock it.

  5. If you value it, lock it up. Common sense really!

  6. My bicycle was stolen today This makes the second time I had a bicycle stolen. I left it at the bicycle parking at my apartment. Yes, it was locked and yes, it was registered. But like the last time, I'll probably never see my bike again.

  7. I just couldn't resist stealing an abandoned bicycle. It was sitting there by the station for days with 3 violation tags on it, and a key in the lock. And no registration sticker on it. It was a cheap-o bike with near flat tires. But I have a friend coming to visit and she'll need some wheels, so why not? Filled the tires with air and it rides just fine...

  8. I just had my $6,200 Cannondale full Dura-Ace System six stolen after leaving it for 20 min at the front door of Tokyu Store across from Naka-Meguro station.. my key had fallen out of my chain so I just leaned it up against the door area... gone.

    Gutted.. the best sprinting frame cannondale ever made, discontinued because it cost them too much to build with the carbon aluminium bridge.

    1. Hi Anton,
      Did you ever see your bike again? My Son just had his locked Trek Madone stolen this weekend from outside Yabe Eki Kanagawa

  9. About two months ago I bought my son a new road bike as the one I bought him six years ago was getting ridiculously small. One month ago (after endless nagging from me for him to care for it more) it was stolen from outside the medical clinic he was visiting. Needless to say I was fuming. $2000 down the drain. I made him print out many "lost bike" leaflets and got him to distribute them to nearby shops etc. 50 metres from where it was stolen is a hair-salon whose owner is into road bikes. On Sunday, on his way to work, he spotted the bike outside a local Ramen restaurant and noticed it had a permit allowing parking at a local university. He phoned us, and we staked out the Uni, and lo-and-behold the bike thief and bike turned up on Tuesday. Under-cover cops swooped on the thief and we got the bike back. happy ending so far.

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