You see them all of the time stopping rebel teenagers riding their bicycles across streets where they are supposed to walk, ticketing motorists who drive through stop signs, and blowing whistles to indicate it is safe to cross the street in case you missed the traffic signal, walk sign, chirping noises, and hour-glass light. They are the Japanese police.
In downtown Shizuoka, I saw one officer chase after a speeding moped. This was after the officer stopped the moped rider for riding with a passenger. His friend got off of the moped, and the officer started writing out the ticket.
Then, with no warning, the guy sped off leaving his friend behind yelling, "baka!" The officer sprinted after the criminal at full speed, and although he made a good showing, he was outdone by the moped. He returned to the friend, whom I assume ratted out the moped rider. I don't know for a fact, but it is hard to imagine the officer taking him back to police headquarters to coerce information from him about the renegade moped rider.
I got a first-hand look at Japanese police efficiency as a victim of underwear theft. This was not my first experience with this particular crime. My underwear had been stolen out of my apartment's laundry washing machine in the States years before I moved to Japan. I later learned from my father that someone stole my diapers from a public laundry dryer.
Both of the offenses in the States went without criminal investigation. They were considered little more than an annoyance, and, in one case, a good excuse for shopping. However, the crime of underwear theft in Japan is taken very seriously, as it turns out.
At the time of the offense, I lived in Sena in Shizuoka, on the first floor of teachers' housing apartments. Like most foreigners in Japan, I lived alone and didn't follow the "laundry rules" that I'd heard about in orientation meetings when I first arrived in Japan.
According to the "rules" laundry is not to be left out overnight. Bedding is to be brought in by 15:00 and the rest before dark. Advice to women included not putting your underwear outside to dry because it was a sure sign of a single woman living alone.
The woman giving this advice said she hangs up a pair of men's boxers to give the appearance of a man living there. Interesting deterrent tactic, but would it work?
The night of the crime, I heard a sound out on my "verandah." The next morning, I understood that it had been the sound of the plastic clothes hanger hitting the metal laundry pole after someone had pulled two items from the hanger. Suddenly, having rules concerning laundry and coming up with deterrent tactics didn't seem so silly.
I thought this was an interesting story, but really didn't understand the criminal side of things until I told my supervisor at work about it. She was obviously upset. "We have to report this to the police."
What? Next thing I knew we were in the police investigations office talking to a man about my underwear.
The investigations office was not the right place to report such an offense (There is an explanation of the Japanese police organization at npa.go.jp and we were referred to the local koban (police box) in Sena.
There were two officers there, and they were completely serious and took notes as they asked me what brand, color, type, and size of my underwear. Worse than having your underwear stolen, is having a report written on it, in my opinion. Of the four of us, I, the victim, was the only one who thought the entire ordeal was unnecessary. Are the police actually going to go on a hunt for my underwear? To be completely honest, I wouldn't want them back.
The report made, we headed over to the crime scene to investigate. The police stood in front of my apartment and drew diagrams. They stepped up on the ledge of the "veranda" and reached to the laundry pole. I was instructed to put the laundry hanger back out where it had been, and the police wrote pages of notes. They measured the parking lot and walked around the apartment buildings.
I expected to see some dusting for fingerprints and photos taken - perhaps some-sort of chalk outline, but none of that happened.
The conclusion: a woman stole my underwear. Why did they believe the thief to be a woman? Because it was a two-piece matching set that had been stolen. Therefore, it was a woman out shopping for underwear rather than a perverted man. I didn't have the heart to tell the investigating police that the two pieces were hung up to dry on the same pin of the laundry hanger. That most likely had more to do with the fact a matching set was missing. Are there women out there in the middle of the night looking to snatch underwear off laundry lines?
Isn't it strange a Japanese woman would shop for my underwear, as I had to order it online because I couldn't buy it in stores due to my Western figure? It was explained to me that a woman was caught in the vicinity stealing laundry from lines. She wasn't stealing underwear. She was stealing children's bathing suits. My supervisor admitted to me that she collects underwear (I assume she buys it as opposed to taking it from her neighbors), so the thief could be a woman. This woman is just adding it to her collection - not wearing it. OK.
I did start following the laundry rules and got up early with my Japanese neighbors to do the wash in the morning and rush home after work to pull it in before dark. I never had underwear go missing again.
That's right, I stopped contributing to peoples' underwear collections. As far as I know, the case hasn't been solved, the criminal hasn't been caught, and my underwear is still at large. I read the Reuters article, "Serial lingerie thief arrested in Japan" about a 54-year old construction worker who stole 4000 pieces of women's underwear. Now that's a collection!
It certainly beats that 50-year-old man in Nagoya who stole a mere 1700 pieces. And the police did solve these cases, caught the men, and recovered the underwear (They laid the underwear out very neatly for a photo op.). There is still hope police will catch the thief who has my underwear. It'll be interesting to read what a woman has to say in her defense.