Thursday, November 02, 2006
Since the Police Have Nothing Better to Do
I've been reading in several different blogs about a general crackdown on cyclists who violate the rules in the smallest way and being fined as much as 50,000 yen (a little less than $500). These stories mainly revolve around drunken riding but also include having two people ride on the same bike, using a cell phone while riding, and riding without a light at night. The only one of these things I'm at risk for is riding without a light.
It's not that I have a problem with using the little friction-powered headlight that came with my bike. In fact, I'd be very happy to use it. The problem is that mine appears to have been improperly installed and won't work. The strange thing is that my husband has the same model bike and his is installed in the same non-functioning fashion. Since we both bought our cheap, houswife model bikes from Seiyu, the same person probably put each together.
In the past, I had an experience which led me to believe that the police target foreigners specifically when it comes to bicycles. My husband and I were riding to the local library in a perfectly normal fashion when a policeman in front of a police box waved his hands in such a way that he made it clear that he wanted us to stop. We stopped, of course. The policeman proceeded to question us in broken English about our bikes. He asked us where we got our bikes and if we could prove that we actually owned them. We told him where we bought them and said we had receipts but we had them at home. The way he continued to question and react to our replies, one would think that we were the strange ones for not carrying a receipt for our bikes with us at all times. At the time, I was pretty angry because I asked if he only stopped foreigners and asked if they were riding stolen bikes and he said that only foreigners were targeted.
Given that the police are inclined to stop foreigners on bikes anyway, I wanted to be extra cautious about this point. The last thing I want to do is pay some ridiculous fine over my non-functioning headlight. I figure, based on the prejudice I experienced before, that this may be an issue where a Japanese person might be given a warning and cut some slack but a foreigner may not.
So, I bought a cheap headlight from the local 100 yen shop and installed it. It's not a bad light in some ways. You install a little bracket on the bike and then slip the light on and off of it using a click-lock on the underside (pictured below).
The reason you have to be able to remove it is that it can't be left out in the rain or it'll stop functioning. It uses 4 AA battries and can also function as a nice flashlight if you need one in a pinch. I've decided to remove and attach mine as needed despite the hassle of doing so. My husband had me tie a plastic bag around his to protect it. We'll see if his gives out. We'll also see if someone steals mine next time I go into a grocery store and leave it attached. People in Tokyo will steal anything, no matter how low the value of that item is, so long as they think they won't be seen.
As a somewhat related aside, this truck was parked outside my apartment building. Because of the crackdown on illegal parking in Tokyo, it has a special permit displayed in the window so the fellow working on the building across from ours doesn't get fined while he does his job.
I realize that there are problems both with illegal parking and cyclists in Tokyo but I think the police have got to have better things to do with their time than deal with relatively benign situations like these.