By on February 24, 2013

They can cuff me anytime.

Hot girls in short skirts are the first things that leap into my mind whenever anyone says anything about the Japanese. The internet has not helped to change that, in fact it may have made things worse. If you add the word “Japanese” to any noun that describes a group of people and enter it into your favorite search engine, pictures of hot young girls will always appear near the top of the results. Look for Japanese tour guides, Japanese students, Japanese beach volleyball players or Japanese anything and you will see I am right. Try it, I’ll wait.

Now that you’re back, did you look for Japanese Police? I did, and despite my prior confession I was surprised at what I found. The main reason for that is because I have met a lot of Japanese police officers over the years and I can tell you from my own personal experience that they are, for the most part, nothing at all like the ones pictured above.

One of the most respected and professional police forces in the world, the Japanese “keisatsu” is a no nonsense outfit that takes its work seriously. Detectives pour over crime scenes and mark even the smallest bits of evidence with dozens of tiny red flags, rank and file officers patrol the streets on foot in groups or individually man “police boxes” in virtually every neighborhood and Japanese traffic police hone their driving and motorcycle riding skills to such perfection that only an idiot would think about running. The keisatsu is not an organization to be disrespected or trifled with and anyone who does, does so at their own peril.

Like any modern police force, the Japanese police have a tremendous amount of equipment. I could write several articles detailing armored cars, motorcycles, disaster response vehicles, buses, etc. but the most instantly recognizable vehicle in any police force is always the police car and Japan is no exception. Decked out in stunning black-and-white livery, Japanese police cars command instant attention and respect on the street. Unlike the United States, where most police cars are one of just two or three common types of sedan, the Japanese use an astonishing variety of cars, each especially suited to a specific role.

This photo is a bit dated, but I still love it.

Without a doubt, the coolest cars in the Japanese police’s motor pool are the interceptors, and well they should be because they are based on some of the baddest rides going. Some of the more famous examples have been Skyline GTRs, Mitsubishi 3000 GTs (Called the GTO in Japan), the RX-7, RX-8 and even the Fairlady Z. However, the Japanese police seldom engage in high speed chases and the rules of the road are usually maintained by speed cameras and the good old fashioned speed trap. So, while they look glorious wearing their official colors, these cars are used more as public relations tools than they are as true enforcers of public order.

One tool the keisatsu does use to great effect on the road is the unmarked car. These can be virtually any make or model and generally they hide their lights in the grill or under trap doors in the roof that pop open when they are triggered. I imagine that, like the unmarked cars used by American police forces, these cars are easily recognized by the locals but to me they were a real threat. On at least two occasions I ended up having polite conversations at the side of the road after cutting around a line of slow moving cars on the freeway to find one of these at the head of the parade. In both cases I got a firm talking to, but fortunately no tickets.

The Toyota Crown at work – check out those raised lights!

The backbone of the Japanese police fleet is the “patto-ka” and the most common patrol car on the Japanese roads today is the Toyota Crown. I have seen three versions of the Crown in action. One wears police livery but goes without the overhead lights and I presume this type of car is used by high ranking officers as a part of their duties. Actual “siren cars” as every little Japanese boy calls them, come in two flavors, those with regular, fixed red lights and those with red lights that can be raised for better visibility at accident scenes. Toyota Crowns, by the way, are also used in Japan as taxi-cabs and medium sized limos. The sheer number of them on the road makes me think they are pretty tough cars.

The Japanese police car Americans know the least about are those most often assigned to small neighborhood police stations. Because the Japanese police are committed to community policing, officers are often assigned to these small “koban” and they generally stay close to their duty station. The cars attached to these outposts are usually small econoboxes, with the cars most used being from the tiny 660cc kei class. These little cars are a great fit because they work well on narrow roads and offer the ability to carry a passenger. They are by no means fast and they would not serve as good patrol units, but they were never intended to.

A typical around town police car.

That’s because when posted to a Koban, Japanese officers are most often found on foot or on bicycles. Of course, we have bicycle patrols in the United States as well, but unlike the expensive high tech multi-speed bikes that specially outfitted and uniformed police use in our country, the Japanese approach is more mundane and makes a lot more sense.

Decked out in their regular uniforms on the same type of plain, single speed upright bikes often used by Japanese housewives, complete with handlebar mounted baskets and small cases on the cargo racks, the keisatsu are able to see and hear things that they might miss were they to patrol using motorized transport. They use the bicycle to its best advantage and their accessibility to the public makes the cop on the beat an easily approachable and welcome part of any neighborhood. How many American children know the names of the police officers who patrol our neighborhoods?

Bicycles patrols are more than just effective ways to reach the public, the are also environmentally friendly. As the sponsor of the Kyoto Convention on Climate Control, the Japanese government is especially concerned about going green wherever possible and, as a result many of the newest official vehicles are either hybrid or battery powered and police cars are no exception. As with the kei class cars, these vehicles are used in for short trips rather than day long patrols, but the fact they are relied upon at all shows that the Japanese police are constantly looking to modernize their fleet. Like the interceptors, these cars garner a great deal of public attention and often appear at public events. I expect that the numbers of these in service with the police will continue to increase as time goes on.

The Japanese police are a good organization that works hard to ensure public safety. They are serious about the job they do and the variety of vehicles they operate says a lot about their commitment. Like police forces worldwide, the Japanese police must work within a budget and one way they do so effectively is by using the right tools for specific jobs. I hope you have enjoyed this limited look at some of the cars they utilize in their effort to protect and to serve.

The average Japanese cop is more about kicking ass than he is about showing it.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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42 Comments on “日本の警察の車: The Cars of the Japanese Police...”


  • avatar

    When last I was in Japan, I wandered the streets of Shinjuku-Ku at odd hours taking note of the Japanese streetlife/nightlife. The cops – with no guns – couldn’t do much but stare up at me. I’m about 6’6 and the tallest JCop I saw was just 5’0″. I love seeing societies that are so relatively safe the cops needn’t carry guns. Those billy clubs they carried around sure did look mean though…

    And if I were to base my prejudices on JCops from Takeshi Kitano movies, I’d be in fear of most of them.

  • avatar
    Joss

    Thanks for the heads up. The bicycle police look to me like old-fashioned postal workers, perhaps a bit too spiffy. If I had a Japan visit on the itinerary I’d be playing close attention to these photos.

    Is it true Berlin city police deck NYC style uniforms?

  • avatar
    mpresley

    I do not know about the Japanese police. Chinese police are very corrupt. However, you’ll never encounter elsewhere the discipline, integrity, and esprit de corps shown by the DPRK Pyongyang traffic girls.

  • avatar
    raph

    What! No giant mecha police robot that can transform into flying police station? Japan you disappoint.

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      The popularity of Honda’s Today micro car among US fans can be directly traced to the influence of the Taiho Schichauzo/You’re Under Arrest animated series as imported during the 90s.

      My favorite episode involved the interception and pursuit of a major smuggling operation, whereupon the drivers of the transport vehicles are dumbfounded as the heroines list the moving violations they’re being cited for. “We’ll let the rest of the force deal with your real offenses.”

      • 0 avatar
        luvmyv8

        Oh I remember that series.

        It’s been a long time since I’ve seen it, but I remember that the main female officer that does the driving modified her Honda Today patrol car under the hood and it regularly humiliated cars that were supposed to be faster.

        • 0 avatar
          otaku

          Didn’t her partner, Natsumi Tsujimoto, keep a mini-motorbike in the hatchback (and occasionally use her shoes as a type of brake-assist)?

          • 0 avatar
            Felis Concolor

            Indeed she did; Honda’s Motocompo, the collapsible, stowable minibike was an optional feature of the Today and the prior model City. One of the few vehicles the duo couldn’t catch was an old Mini Cooper S driven by – they later discovered – a retired police officer who spent his golden years watching over a temple and its feline inhabitant.

            And the most romantic girl in the show – was a guy. Aoi is a versatile word: could mean green; could mean blue.

    • 0 avatar
      otaku

      >What! No giant mecha police robot…

      Pretty sure you might be thinking of an anime series called Patlabor.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Is the model on the far left recovering from a head injury? I see less vapid expressions on my dog when half-asleep

  • avatar
    MrWhopee

    The 70′s Mustang police car is just so much full of win. I’m sure it inspires a lot of fear for the typical tiny, meek ’70s Japanese cars.

    • 0 avatar
      Joe McKinney

      The Mustang Mach I does make a cool police car. In the early 1970′s muscle cars were not commonly used by law enforcement. During this period the AMC Javelin was used by the Alabama Highway Patrol. It would be another decade before the U.S. State Police and Highway Patrol agencies began using large numbers of Mustangs and Camaros.

    • 0 avatar
      ccode81

      http://crxnado.blog.fc2.com/blog-entry-166.html
      Believe or not. Mach1 police car in Japan

    • 0 avatar
      luvmyv8

      If you were chasing down Hakusaka and KPGC110 Nissan Skyline GT-R’s and Nissan Fairlady Z 432′s, then you’d need something like a Mustang. Those cars were pretty speedy for Japanese cars of the day…. 160hp in a tin can can be fun times.

  • avatar
    Xeranar

    I find it interesting because per capita the US has some of the smallest police presences in the developed world. Sure cities like New York, Chicago, and LA have small armies numbering over 20,000 but most major cities in the US have 1-3K and smaller towns and suburbs could have as few as none. The fact that Japan has actual walking patrols amazes me.

    My father ended his working career as a police officer in Pitrsburgh, retired due to a bad back. He never walked the beat and used crown vics then an impala for the last few years. Really the entire system is for show anymore. Police in cars that have to patrol 5-20 square miles aren’t effective. But I digress.

    The japanese seem to take this work seriously and are rather effective at their work. I wonder what kind of budget rhey have comparatively.

  • avatar
    silverkris

    Neighborhood policing is definitely a part of Japan’s law enforcement philosophy. Individual policemen are often called “omawarisan”, which means one who makes the rounds. Sure, if you have local cops walking the beat and everyone knows everyone, it makes public safety easier to maintain.

    The Koban, or police box, has also been adapted by various local US municipal law enforcement agencies – I saw one of the LA County Sheriff’s office at CityWalk Hollywood, a shopping/entertainment complex next to Universal Studios Hollywood (Universal City is unincorporated LA County and doesn’t fall into LAPD jurisdiction).

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Love the police edition RX-7.

  • avatar
    daiheadjai

    FYI – that’s a R34 in the pictures, rather than R33.
    IIRC, the Brits do have some Lancer Evolution interceptors.

  • avatar

    Japanese are extremely very well organized, everything around is squeaky clean and well maintained, you will never see a trash and streets do not stink, people are well dressed (unlike in CA), there are no homeless, everybody is polite, customer service is unmatched, public transportation works like a clockwork, you can trust your life to post office, everything is carefully though out, people are honest, they don’t take tips, engineers get paid for overtime, there is no crime and there are cute girls in miniskirts everywhere you look (well there are lot of people around you any given time) and Japanese are patriots. It is perfect society in other words. You would never imagine that they may commit crimes, let alone war crimes or genocide or even start a war. What they need police for? My impression is that Japan is something from 50s era Hollywood movies.

    Almost all taxis are old style Toyota Crowns and interesting that it is as big and looks similar to Ford Crown Victoria, even names are identical. Is it imitation? I wonder if Crown is based on some kind of Lexus sold in US.

    • 0 avatar

      On this subject, someone once told me something very wise and I have carried it with me ever since. Japan is like the pond in the center of one of their perfectly raked Shinto rock gardens. From the outside it is placid and tranquil and a perfect mirror image if the sky – not even ripples disturb the surface.

      Under that surface, however, the entire life cycle goes on. Frogs are eating bugs, fish are eating the frogs, turtles are eating everything – all the same things that happen in the less than perfect ponds everywhere in the world. The pond’s tranquility is an illusion, what the gardener wants to see.

      Until you actually live there, and to a certain extent until you learn to read a Japanese newspaper, you will never really understand all the crap that really goes on in that country. The Japanese do a good job of managing their image to the outside world, especially after the things they did in WWII, but it is a country like any other, warts and all.

      I will say I do hero worship their police a little, however. I have met a lot of them, I had several policemen, including a detective inspector, as a students in 2000 and they were very impressive people. Someone asked about corruption in an earlier comment and I can say it is almost non existent in the Japanese police force.

      • 0 avatar

        May be. But how such a small country produces almost everything possible consumed all around world and offer such a wide choice in any product category if it is not a perfect country? You need perfection in almost everything to achieve what Japanese were able to achieve given distractions caused by war, earthquakes and tsunami. Japanese are very cooperative and care about each other. I cannot imagine Westerners wearing masks when they get cold. Try to wear mask all the day to appreciate. I do it when working on brakes and other stuff and eager to take away mask as soon as I can.

      • 0 avatar
        daiheadjai

        Nice to read such a balanced verdict.
        Outsiders are often prone to overlooking the dark sides of many “perfect” societies.
        Kudos especially for not overlooking/minimizing the heinous pre-war and war-time conduct of the Japanese (something all too many people choose to do).

        • 0 avatar

          There are dark sights in any society. Regarding USA – it is a rat race and God forbid if you get sick, lost job and not multi-millionaire. How many crazy people there are around you, massacres become a fashion of the day, sex abuse and forcing children to change sexual orientation early in the life is becoming a norm, there is full attack against family values.

  • avatar
    Summicron

    Fantastic article. More Japanese insights, please. Thank you, Kreutzer-san.

    BTW, Japan seems to be immune from the diabesity affecting the rest of the industrialized world. Even most otaku types appear healthier than Western counterparts. With all the looney diet trends we’ve had in America (son & wife just announced they’re on Paleo Diet) why hasn’t there been a “Japan Diet”? Or has there?

    • 0 avatar

      Thank you, I appreciate every complement I can get.

      Just from my own observations, I think the Japanese suffer low obesity and type 2 because they walk so much. 10 minute walk to the train station, thirty minutes standing on the train (unless you get there really early or travel at off peak hours, getting a seat is pretty tough) and then a 10 minute walk to work. That’s 40 minutes of walking a day 5 or 6 days a week.

      I’ve also noticed that traditionally, Japanese meals feature a lot of different types of food served in very small portion sizes. For example, my favorite bento chain “Hokka Hokka Bento” (Hot Hot lunch boxes) sells a lot of different types of meals and my long time favorite is the “Chicken nan-ban special.” It is about 60% steamed rice, has a piece of deep fried flattened chicken breast with some tartar sauce on it, a tiny lettuce salad, a scoop of potato salad, Japanese pickles, and a tiny pork weiner. And this is fast food, all for less than $7.00 US.

      Real dinners might have a dozen little courses and I can tell you that, as an American, I get full really quickly when I eat like that. I can eat a huge steak, a baked poatato, green beans and a roll (and still be hungry) but about five of those little Japanese serving hits every sensor in my brain that tells me I am satified and my apetite just shuts off. If I try and eat everything I walk away feeling like I am so stuffed I will die.

      Suddenly switching over to a Japanese diet without taking time for your body adjust is to be avoided. I don’t know what it is but when I was a homestay student I started off my experience by not going to the bathroom for three weeks. Pappy Boyington’s book says he had a similar experience when he was a POW – that’s a great book that will teach you a lot about the Japanese, by the way (and about how alchohlism and gambling addiction destroy a person’s potential.)

      Then you have to think about a billion other things, like the portion sizes, the source of the protien – beans and fish mostly – on and on. But, like I said at the beginning, I think the magic bullet is walking. If Americans did more walking we would probably be pretty fit.

      • 0 avatar
        rodface

        I agree that walking is the key. The average American office worker is seated for the majority of the day, at their desk, in their car, while eating, etc. Many people in my office sit for 1-2 hours at a time before they need to get up for a meeting, or to go the restroom. I can’t get away from my 25 minute highway commute, but to reduce my seated time I requested and received a standing desk for my cubicle, and the health benefits of standing and walking more are readily apparent.

      • 0 avatar
        Summicron

        Thanks for your reply. I agree about the importance of highly varied meals and constant low-impact activity. Living up to that every day is a different matter in suburban America. It’s really a conundrum; I’m from an upbringing that held bounteous meat & starches, maximum separation from other people and labor-saving everything as the epitome of achievement. An environment like Tokyo would drive me buggy even as it probably made me healthier.

        Anyway, keep up the fresh and resourceful work!

  • avatar
    rpn453

    Good read, though I don’t agree with your take on the bicycles. Maybe they don’t go very far or very fast, but as a regular bicycle commuter I’d consider it a hardship to spend much time on such inefficient and ergonomically poor bicycles, especially while wearing a regular uniform. Our locals cops aren’t riding anything terribly expensive. A $600 rigid mountain bike with riser bars and street tires does as good a job as anything.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Most bad ass looking Z car I have ever seen!


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