Koban: Unique elements in the Japanese security system

All throughout the streets of Japan, you can come across Koban, one of the fundamental factors that helps Japan make it to the list of the safest countries in the world.

In Japan, there is a place where people always go when facing difficulties and dangers in life; that place is Koban. This is a place to ensure social order and safety, bring peace to the community, and help the country of the rising sun become one of the countries with the lowest crime rate in the world.

What is Koban?

The name “Koban” (交番) means “take turns guarding,” and it refers to checkpoints, which are stations erected in strategic parts of the city where police officers work in shifts guarded 24 hours a day.

Koban is considered as the smallest organizational unit in the Japanese police system. A typical Koban is normally a tiny, two-story facility, staffed by up to 10 policemen. Koban is frequently placed near train stations, on main shopping streets, or near key government buildings. According to the 2014 figures, there were 12,807 Koban appearing throughout Japan; in May 2019, the number of Koban in Tokyo was 826.

Koban’s foundation and development history

Koban’s precursor was Kobansho (交番所). Formerly, Kobansho was founded in 1874, afterwards called as “Hashutsujo” (派出所), alluding to the nearby police station. In 1994, Hashutsujo was renamed Koban.

Via Flickr

The notion of constructing Koban originated from the Meiji period. At that time, the German government consultant from 1885 to 1891, Heinrich Friedrich Wilhelm Höhn, investigated local authorities from Aomori to Kagoshima, and suggested greater police force for efficient monitoring for urban and rural populations.

Accordingly, the government built a European-style centralized police force to solidify its influence over the country. This squad works around the clock to manage, police,  and support local residents.

This model later evolved into today’s Koban and steadily invaded, affecting security systems around the world. Countries in surrounding Asia or Latin America are also learning from and emulating Japan’s model.

As in Brazil, in 1997, the Sao Paulo state police department opted to adapt and apply the Japanese Koban system. Since then, similar security strategy has been established in numerous cities around Brazil and has worked, as the crime rate has progressively fallen.

Koban’s Interesting Facts

Those who work in Koban are not members of Japan’s elite police force, but rather young or old male cops; female cops are uncommon in the Koban suburbs of Tokyo and do not work the night shift.

Each Koban is often assigned a force of four police officers, with three officers executing responsibilities under the supervision of a sergeant. They rotate through three 8-hour stints per day and are overseen by the local police station.

Via Web-Japan.org

The police force working in Koban has the major job of ensuring the safety of the residential community in the area they administer. The main activities are patrolling, supporting crime investigation, and responding to and helping people in the event of natural disasters and accidents. In addition, Koban’s policemen also do a lot of other things, such as offering directions, taking care of missing children, keeping dropped belongings, returning lost persons, and even listening to people’s confidants and sharing their concerns.

Koban’s police also know English to communicate with foreign tourists. They are supposed to be friendly to the public, always bowing and inviting, to build the most comfortable connection with the populace. Koban of Japan is the sort that “always makes you feel the safest in any scenario.”

Via Flickr

In the countryside, Koban is substituted with “Chuzaisho – 駐在所”, this is the site where a policeman and his family reside and work around the clock. As for major city areas, the density of Koban is higher, and the Koban system is dispersed according to the amount of people concentration—the more populated the places, the more Koban emerges. Tokyo is the place with the most Koban in Japan; every 1 km, people come across a Koban.

Usually at Koban, there are signs of the Japanese police and buildings built in the style of a solid two-story office building. Today, Koban is designed with many new and unique images, creating a feeling of closeness and friendliness and making it easy to find. Koban is now a place that attracts people to come and create its own unique features in the security system originating in Japan.

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