Bicycle Crimes in Japan

Byron Kidd
When you think of crimes involving bicycles, you probably think about bicycle theft or hit and run crimes. But here in Japan the bicycle features in a whole host of crimes which, in a strange way, goes to show just how deeply the bicycle is rooted into daily Japanese life.

A bicycle policeman in Ebisu, Tokyo.

Bag Snatching
A bicycle crime you'll hear about in Japan is bag snatching. Criminals cycle at high speed past a pedestrian and grab their bag, letting the speed of their bicycle snatch it from their victims grasp. This crime is not always successful as there have been cases in which the victim has clung firm to their bag causing the criminal to come crashing off their bicycle.

Another common form of bag snatching is to is to grab an unsecured bag from the front or rear basket of another cyclist before speeding away. Some cyclists use a net or cover to conceal their bag, while others loop a handle around their handlebars, although if snatched this could cause a nasty accident for both victim and criminal alike.

Be it a bank heist, or a convenience store robbery, the bicycle has been used on numerous occasions as a getaway vehicle in Japan. It has the advantage of being able to leave the scene in a hurry, its unaffected by traffic, and the criminal quickly blends in to the crowds of pedestrians and other cyclists.  Many a cycling criminal however has come undone by mechanical failure using a poorly maintained, often stolen, mamachari in a heist. Flat tires are common, and one thief even lost his key, returning to the convenience store he had held up at knife point to see if he could recover it.

Now this one is odd and possibly unique to Japan. Bicycles have been known to spontaneously combust where their unsuspecting owners have left them. Close investigation of the cases reveals that disputes between neighbours are often the cause. In Japan where direct confrontation is customarily avoided, one disgruntled neighbour will often vent their anger by damaging the property of another rather than confront them directly over the cause of the problem, be it loud music, or the social faux pas of putting recyclables out on the wrong day.

Creepy stalker types also use this as their trademark calling card in Japan. If your bicycle has been sacrificed then you've been handed a clear message that someone is not happy with you.

Continuing on the insane stalker theme, recently a divorced man used a bicycle with a camera hidden in a box on the rear rack to film the entrance of his ex-wife's apartment for weeks. Angered by what he saw he used the information he had gathered about her daily routine to time his terrible attack.

Traffic violations
So common its barely worth mentioning. But for the sake of completeness and to avoid an avalanche of "What about traffic violations I witness every day?" comments, lets just say: Cycling laws are poorly enforced and even more poorly understood. This has led to the evolution of cycling customs and what society decides is appropriate cycling behaviour is not always in line with the law. You can read about this in many other places on this site.

Finally, police in Japan recently reported that shoplifting crimes committed by the elderly now outnumber those committed by teenagers. Its entirely possible in the future we'll see a rise in crimes which feature tricycles designed for the elderly.

The convenience and utility of the bicycle truly knows no bounds, legal or otherwise.

Do you have other stories of bicycles used in crimes that you can share?

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  1. Great post.

    Here in Portugal, the bicycle culture is not so spread as in Japanese culture, however it is increasing . We do have traffic violations, specially not stoping in red lights, but the most commom way of stealing is robbery. A small group or even a single guy, cut the lockers and put it on a van or not. Therefore, the U-locks are becoming popular because they are the strongest. Here the police force is lazy and they don't give a damm for that.
    I hope in the future things can change.

  2. Hi, the portuguese police succeded to get my robbed bike. The policemen of the station all rode bikes. That helped a lot.

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