The Great Bike Theft of 2006

So I was reading through the blog the other day and was like “woah, it sounds like I’m pretty down on Japan sometimes.” Now lest you all get the wrong idea, I actually love Japan quite a bit – it’s just that the negative stuff makes for so much better blog material than the run of the mill good stuff. That having been said, I was all set to write up a few positive entries when out of nowhere a horrible day like today comes and smacks me upside the head.

stolen bike

Can you guess what is missing from this picture?

Today was wrong for so many different reasons I don’t even know where to start. However, I think I’ll focus on one thing: my fucking bicycle was stolen this afternoon. Now long time readers of the blog might recall this is not the first time this has happened to me, and even recent readers might recall that this very expensive bicycle of mine didn’t even make it TWO AND A HALF MONTHS before some lowlife punk absconded with it.

Now you would think that the theft of a yen50000 (~$500 USD) bike that you depend on to get to/from work would be enough to ruin anyone’s day, but alas gentle readers, that was just the start of it. The real dramas began when I headed over to the police box located less than 20 meters from the scene of the crime to report the theft. Two middle aged men look up from behind their desks when I slide open the door. Their skin is worn and leathery, and they are furiously chain smoking their way through a shared pack of cigarettes like their lives depend on it (how ironic). The entire room smells like cigarette smoke.

“Ummm… Hi. I think, my um, bike just got stolen.”

“Really?” begins the elder of the two – Seniorcop, if you will – motioning his partner to get out of his seat.


stolen bike

If you guessed Panda’s bike, you win a prize!!

“Okay. You’ll need to show us where it happened.” With that, policeman #2 grabs a huge wind up measuring tape on a reel, a crumpled piece of paper and a pencil and we head towards the door. I lead him out to the front of the train station and stop in front of all the bikes.

For those of you who do not live in Japan, allow me to describe the scene in front of any given urban train station. There is a long sidewalk leading up to the main entrance from either side, and along this sidewalk are lots and lots of bikes. Lots and lots and lots of bikes and they all look the same (granny basket in the front, low seat, no gears). In my particular train station, we’re easily talking 200-300 bikes lined up in a long row stretching from one end of the sidewalk all the way to the other. Three hundred.

“So… can you show me where you parked your bike?” Policeman #2 begins. I shall dub him “hatcop” cuz he had this funny looking pointy-in-the-front-round-in-the-back cap that reminded me of something Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men might wear. All he was missing was a feather.

“Umm, over here kinda” I reply, gesturing towards the general vicinity of where I remember leaving my bicycle 9 hours earlier.

“No, no I need the exact location” Hatcop replies. “I have to measure…”

[In My Head]: “you have to what…?
[Out Loud]: “Umm, I don’t remember exactly” I begin. Remember friends, there are more than three hundred bikes lined up here.

Hatcop however, won’t accept my general motions and continues to insist that I tell him – precisely – where I left my poor panda pedaler. Finally I give up and pick two random bikes.

“Here. I left it right here exactly between these… uhhh.. two bikes.”

“Are you sure?”

[In My Head]: “no I’m not sure motherfucker there’s 300 identical bikes here!!”
[Out Loud]: “Yes I’m sure. I remember this…uhhh…. crack in the sidewalk” (I really said this)

“Okay” Hatcop seems satisfied with my answer. He whips out the crumpled piece of paper and without another word, begins sketching the scenery around us…!! Dear readers, I kid you not when I tell you it looked almost exactly like this:

stolen bike

Colored using our supar l33t photoshop skillz here at michaelpanda HQ

Oh. My. God. I stood there in dumb disbelief, not daring to trust what I was seeing. I mean, he was even talking to himself while he did it, something like “okay and umm put a tree here… and maybe the road kind of looks like this.. and another tree..” I was like “DUDE WE’RE IN FRONT OF A FREAKING TRAIN STATION NOT MORE THAN 20 METERS FROM WHERE YOU WORK!”

But oh lord, hatcop was far from done. When he finished his sketch, he whips out the wind up measuring tape.

“Hold this and stand here” he says, handing me one end of the tape. Unsure of what’s happening, I mutely acquiesce to his demand and take the tape.

Without another word, hatcop proceeds to walk across the street and measure the distance to a random spot on a wall of an arbitrary building…!

[In My Head]: “….Uhhhhhh….”
[Out Loud]: “….Uhhhhhh….”

He jots down the number and then heads over to another random spot on the wall of another arbitrary building and measures the distance from there. Then he heads back to where I’m standing, jaw agape and pops over to the other side to measure the distance from where I’m standing to the wall of the station. He writes down all these numbers.

This situation is incredibly retarded for three main reasons.

  1. You are a policeman (supposedly) not a fucking cell phone triangulating Doppler radar. And this is a stolen bicycle, not a recreation of the Kennedy Assassination. I am fairly sure tape measures should not be involved in any part of this investigation.
  2. More to the point, my more mathematically inclined readers might realise that you cannot triangulate a location just by measuring the distance to three random spots on three arbitrary walls…! Guy, you’ve got three random numbers. What information do you think that gives you? “Well lessa’see… I know I’m 10.8 meters from some arbitrary spot on this wall… and 6.5 from some arbitrary spot on this one… err wait a minute..”
  3. Finally, man, why on earth do you need to know the exact location where my bicycle was parked when it was stolen? Do we really need to start giving GPS precise headings of 40.3 degrees North Latitude by 30.5 W. Longitude at a distance of 1.3 meters from the station wall, or is it possible writing down “in front of train station” might suffice?

stolen bike

The scene of the crime…

After completing this exercise in ridiculousness, we head back to the police box, whereupon entering I discover Seniorcop has finished the previous pack of cigs and is now starting in on a new one. I sit down and the two begin to grill me.

“So ehhh.. where are you from?”


“I see. Are you a permanent resident here?”

“No. I’m on a work visa.”

“How long have you been here?”

“This is my fourth year in Japan, and I just moved to this city about 3 months ago.”

“When will you go back home?”

“Well I don’t know, but I’ll probably be here at least one or two more years.”

“sssssssttttt” <-- This, ladies and gentlemen, is the textual representation of the infamous sucking sound Japanese make when they rapidly draw in breath between their teeth when they're about to fuck you over.

“…eeeto… I’m afraid you’ll need a dairinin (designated representative) to continue.”

My jaw drops. “…uhhh, excuse me, but WHAT!!??

“Yes, well we can’t record you as the honnin (person to whom the incident happened) because you are not a permanent resident of Japan.”

“…b..b..but it’s my bike…!”

“Yes, yes of course. See if we find your bike next week or even next month, it’s no problem, but what about if we don’t find it until 5 or 6 years from now and you’ve already gone back to America? Then who can we contact to return the bike? “

stolen bike

My morning commute (even before my bike was stolen!)

[In My Head]: “Somehow, Scotland Yard, I’m not holding out much hope you’re gonna find my bike next week, let alone in 4 or 5 years given that your investigative technique to date seems to consist of drawing a map in crayon on a crumpled piece of paper and measuring the distance to random buildings. Not exactly C.S.I. up in this motherfucker, is it?”
[Out Loud]: “…ummm, if you find my bike in 6 years, you can just keep it as I’ll probably have bought a new one by then.”

“No, no, someone must take responsibility for the bike, even if just to pay for the disposal fee. More importantly, what about when we arrest the criminal? A case like this will remain active in Japan for seven years. If we arrest the criminal and send them to court, someone needs to press charges. If you’re gone, who will do this?”

“…umm, that’s okay, I don’t want to press charges. I just want my bike back.”

“No no. It’s impossible. We are the police. We must uphold the law. Now, who can you name as your representative?”

“I don’t need a representative. Please record me as the honnin (person to whom the damage was done)”

“It’s impossible, for the reasons we just explained. Now, do you have any friends in (the city I live in)?”

Now of course I have friends here, and co-workers and all sorts of people who I could ask to be my representative. But that is not the point. The point is:

  1. don’t need no stinking representative, it’s my bike that was stolen.
  2. If I name a representative, it will be like I didn’t own the bike in the first place – the police will call my representative if they find my bike (not me!!), they will have to come down to the police box and sign for it, and then afterward they will have to give it to me themselves. Way more trouble than I wish to cause any of my friends.
  3. Not only that, they will have to give their full address and phone number, as well as their official name stamp…!
  4. This is fucking retarded.

Standing on principle and a strong desire not to inconvenience my friends, I refuse to give any of their names as a representative, and continue to insist that they record me as the primary complainant. Now I have friends here, people, I just declined to name them to the cops. Clear, right? Apparently not to hatcop, as we shall soon see.

“Okay okay.” Seniorcop seems to back down for a second. “Well where do you work?”

Not seeing any harm in this, I tell him. He then asks for my boss’s name, and I tell him too. With this, Seniorcop nods subtly at Hatcop, who heads over to the phone.

“Okay, we’ll just call your boss and ask him to come down to the station and act as your representative.”

stolen bike

iPod, please tell me this is all just a bad dream!

OH MY GOD WHAT. THE. FUCK!!!????!!! I almost flip the fuck out. What the fuck is wrong with these people?

“..WHAT!? No! Don’t call my boss! THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH HIM. I’m not a child!” It’s all I can do to avoid jumping leaping over the counter and snatching the phone from Hatcop hands before his bunny slipper clad ass knows what hit him.

Now, I know this is Japan and the senpai-kohai relationship (and other forms of amae – dependence on superiors to care for you) are very important, but there is no way I am going to trouble my very busy boss to drop everything and come down here to act as my representative for my stupid stolen bicycle. This is just plain retarded, and I’ve had enough. I get up and threaten to just leave.

At this Seniorcop stops his chain smoking long enough to argue with me a little bit. Finally we reach a compromise – I will permit them to phone my boss to get his permission to record him as a “secondary” representative but only if they record me as the primary complainant and agree to phone and interact with me first and foremost if my bicycle is found within the year (after that they will call him). People, I had to hand write a note asking the police chief to grant me fucking permission to do this and stamp my name on it! I only wish I was kidding about this.

Hatcop calls my boss.

“Hi Mr. Panda’sboss. This is Hatcop from the world’s-most-useless-police-station. Do you know the guy named Michaelpanda? Yes? An American right? Yes..? Yes, yes, how long have you known him?”


“So yes… anyway, today at the train station, there was an incident involving Michaelpanda and we need to consult with you because he work at your place right? Yes..?”

[In My Head]:: “Oh my god, based on how Hatcop phrased it, my boss probably thinks I was arrested for looking up a high school girl’s skirt of something on the train!!!” I slump down in my chair, my energy almost completely expended.

Finally, Hatcop gets to the point and explains my bicycle was stolen and requests my boss to act as a secondary representative. Now do you remember how even though I have plenty of friends in this prefecture I declined to name any of them to the cops? Well this is how Hatcop decided to phrase this to my boss:

“Yes so anyway, we need a representative who lives close by, and when I asked Michaelpanda he said he doesn’t have any friends so I guess we need to ask you for help.”

OH. MY. GOD. Readers, someone please slap me and tell me that I’m dreaming and THE COP DID NOT JUST TELL MY BOSS I DON’T HAVE ANY FRIENDS!

I almost fucking died. Are you shitting me!? Did this motherfucker not only call my boss to about my stupid fucking stolen bike, thus making it look like I can’t handle even the simplest thing by myself, but then compound the error by mistakenly telling my boss I don’t have any friends!?! I was mortified!! I wanted to die. I want to stab him in the eyeball with the closest thing at hand (a flyer advising us to “buckle up for safety first”). I wanted to just wake up and pretend this is all a bad dream.

Short of lighting me on fire and kicking me in the head, I do believe this is about as unhelpful as the police possibly could have been. I almost collapse in complete surrender on the spot.

Long story short, my boss agreed, I was positively mortified, my bike is still missing, the culprits are still at large and not likely to be found anytime soon, I wasted 2 hours (TWO HOURS!) of my life filing was is possibly the most useless theft report in the history of humanity with a pair of policemen that I can only describe as “a living farce”, and to top it all off, I had to walk home hacking and wheezing and smelling of cigarette smoke from the 3 packs they burned through while I was there.

In addition to the retarded police report, humiliation in front of my boss and theft of my $500 USD bike, I have a horrible cold and fever, I argued with a co-worker for 3 hours (and ultimately lost) that “Excuse me so late for to be the game” is not a valid English sentence, and discovered when making dinner that my gigantic 20 kilogram sack of rice which I had been counting on to get me through the winter is infested with bugs.

Japan, you win today. I’m fucking going to bed.

Now listening to: Less Than Jake – The Science of Selling Yourself Short

18 Reactions

  1. Johnny Boy

    I was waiting for the cop to measure the distance to the police station. hehe

  2. nishah

    Ack, hell of a shitty day, wasn’t it? Have fun shopping for a new bike, I suppose. That’s the only enjoyment you could possibly get out of this. I like the ‘subtle’ head signal of Idiot Cop 1 to Idiot Cop 2. At least this experience will take some bad karma off you ^_^

  3. Shay

    Ohhh that’s too bad. A guy I know recently had his bike stolen too and he acted like his puppy died for a few days thereafter. Those Koban people may win today, but I’m sure you’ll show them! ;)

  4. bellish

    :( Why does Japan hurt the people who love it most.
    I apologise for the fact I was laughing aloud as I read about the ridiculous police. At least if it had been in America you could have held out the hope someone was going to say “you’re on candid camera”.

  5. Anonymous

    ah, eff it! this kinda junk happens everywhere in the world (but probably a bit less in japan). getting mad, sad, or just beating yourself up over it only makes you tired. really really tired.
    at least that’s what i’ve been telling myself, lately. year 4 in japan for old vets like us can be taxing–i guess when it gets TOO taxing, it’s time to bounce the eff out ninja-style.

    i keep my pics small on purpose. not sure why. maybe so others can’t use ‘em without permission, i guess, but not really for that reason.
    but thank you for the super nice words on my blog. being that i also appreciate your photos, i am quite happy to be complimented by someone else who loves to take pictures. it’s like were both part of some secret, super nerdy club.
    keep your head up over that bike. it’s junk, but not super-bad junk relative to some of the other injustices in the world.
    i never asked, hows the new job?

  6. midori_lotus

    thought u were going to post something on my blog once a wk! you stopped!

  7. moritheil

    Hey there,
    That totally sucks, and I’m sorry to hear it. It sounds like the cop was irritated at getting a report and took it out on you.
    Regarding my last comment, I seem to have touched a nerve. My last post was not in any way a condemnation of either you or the poster (I thought it was Andrew, not Kitty, but I guess my memory was off.) As you said, it was a very matter-of-fact statement, and I think the fact that it was a very matter of fact statement is what is interesting and worth thinking about.

  8. gwen

    aww panda, thats shit; losing the bikes bad enough, but then all that bull…
    ive had 8 bikes stolen from me before now, i know the suckage it causes
    and damn the rice bugs… just eat them – free meat ;)

  9. tim

    Just dropped in from Mantilo.
    I like your blog layout and features, the skin switcher etc. Great content too.

  10. Ben Tong

    shit man… that got to suck. Now just hope the thief gets run over by a bus and or a huge truck or something while he’s riding your bike… and somehow the bike survive! :)

  11. momolo

    You know what that means…ICECREAMTIME!!
    Try sending one of your stories out and see if it gets published. Sometimes I feel they need to be shared with the world!

  12. kitty

    when i got my bra stolen, they brought out that damn measure thing too, and chalked the exact place my bike was when my bra was taken. oh and i loved the hand written reports and the hand written copy of the handwritten report, all written at the desk with a laptop sitting on it. grrrr

  13. kitty

    unrelated. the sign in the 2nd bike picture advertises a 900 yen ticket to… Hakata? Fukuoka?

  14. coolnahalf

    and wouldn’t you know it, holmes. my buddy’s bike gets tolen from right outside our apartment the daya fter you made this post. the theif even left the crappy bike he was riding, as if exchanging bikes is okay.
    ah well…

  15. ashan

    I’m sorry to hear this — the whole ordeal sounds quite awful. Reminds me of a chinese saying that goes: “A roof leak is followed by torrential rain; the late ship runs into a headwind.” Basically, misfortune rarely comes alone.
    However, I think something good is *bound* to happen after something like this (it should!). Hope you’re feeling better now — chin up!

  16. Alex

    Well that means you’re The Chosen One (remember Matrix :D )
    Sorry for your loss, but seems like the thieves like you very much!
    And I would have to say it like someone else said it here : “Why does Japan hurt the people who love it most?”. So true.

  17. Shawn

    Was your bike locked up? I would assume you had some sort of lock on a 500$ bike.
    Well I could see why the cops did what they did. These cops think that they will never catch a criminal in the act of stealing a bike nor will they sit there and scope the place out and wait.
    Their job is to probably patrol along the area affectively warding of potential thieves.
    So if someone does report to these cops that their bike was stolen those cops will probably want to say “dude… there is 300 f-ing bikes out there and japan is like the biggest cyclist infested inhabitance known to man. Your bike is GONE. We’re sorry.”
    What they probably should have have asked for was the bike make, model, ID/Registration number (if you had one), and description.
    …More like what they should have done was ask in what time frame the bike was stolen and then checked their camera surveillance system which they should have for a clusterf–k of 300 bikes.