The HigashiTamachi Job

The second time I got fingerprinted....


This was originally written about ten years ago; it is only now seeing the light of day...


In recent times much fuss has been made in Japanese media about the rise in "Picking". I often wonder why no such fuss is made about the totally substandard nature of Japanese locks. One night in January 2002, I found out first hand what it feels like to be a victim of crime.

I arrived home from the bar just before 1AM, having gone there straight from work at around 10:30. When I went to put my key in the lock, I found that the key would not fit in the lock because the cylinder of the lock was pointing in the wrong direction, which could only mean one thing. The door was already open!


I cautiously stepped inside and turned on the light in the entranceway. I stepped into the kitchen to see pots and pans on the floor, definitely not where I had left them. The pots and pans belonged on a shelf in front of the window above the sink, which was closed but unlocked. I presumed that someone had dislodged them while climbing in the window. (A friend of mine had once tried to do the same thing years before, when I was too deep asleep to hear his ringing of my doorbell.)

Now fully conscious of the fact that somebody had been in my apartment, I removed my shoes as normal, and proceeded into the other rooms of the house, hoping that whoever it was was not still here.


Turning on the lights in all rooms, I ascertained that I was alone, and that my passport, bankbooks and hanko were safe. The rooms seemed mainly undisturbed, and I wondered what, if anything, had been taken. My camera remained untouched on the kitchen table, and my stereo system and TV were also intact. For a moment I thought my mobile phone was gone, but then remembered it was in my pocket! (DON'T PANIC!) Then I noticed that the large plastic bottle I was using to collect 500 Yen coins was empty! A check in the bedroom of my coin collection also revealed that the large denomination coins had been taken. (I had for some weeks been attempting to gather each Japanese coin denomination in each year of issue. The set was about half complete, but was now reduced to 1, 5 and 10 Yen coins.)


The few beers I had had were now wearing off, and I decided to call the police. A female voice answered and identified herself as being from the Saitama Police Headquarters. I explained what had happened and she took down my address, name, and finally (presumably prompted by my name,) my nationality. She was careful to acknowledge that my Japanese was very good before doing so, which makes me wonder why it was necessary to ask. After ensuring that the perpetrators were no longer on the scene, she told me to wait for the patrol car to arrive and to touch nothing until they did.


I stood in my living room for about 15 minutes before the two officers arrived, wondering if it would destroy any fingerprint evidence if I turned on the heater. (I remembered seeing in a movie once that humidity makes it difficult to recover fingerprints.) When the officers arrived, they removed their shoes, turned off the light, and went to work looking for footprints with a torch. (Apparently illuminating from a low angle makes them easier to see.) They found one in the middle of the kitchen, and one officer set off to get the necessary equipment from their car to take an impression. While he was gone I explained to the other officer about the mess in the kitchen and the missing money.


Curiously enough, even with the mess in the kitchen clearly indicating that the window had been the point of entry, the officer told his colleague who returned from the car that this was clearly a "Picking" incident.


A third officer soon joined them, but once he heard about the amount involved ("only seventy thousand!)" he immediately left to go on to what he deemed a more important case that had just come over the police radio.


The first officer apologised that his colleague was leaving, and assured me that the two of them could gather any evidence required. He took an image of the footprint on the floor, while I confessed that I had initially stepped into the kitchen with my shoes on, but the image from the floor was clearly a different shoe. He then dusted the plastic bottle for fingerprints, finding one usable print, while his colleague drew a map of my apartment with the positions of the stolen money. The first officer wrote out the complaint ( a "Higai Todoke" or report of damage), and as he looked around the kitchen for any other evidence, I pointed out to him what looked like a footprint on my kitchen drainer and then went through a "Columbo"-like reconstruction of how the perpetrator had most likely come in through the window rather than picking the lock. The officer eventually agreed, and added this to the complaint. He then asked me to sign and stamp both it and the two pieces of evidence. Then, he began to explain how they would need my fingerprints to compare to the sample taken to see if it was actually mine. (He seemed to be almost afraid to ask, given the long running and recently successful objection of the foreign community in Japan to obligatory fingerprinting.) Almost enjoying the irony, I gave him a full set of finger and hand prints, bringing back a surprisingly fresh memory of my other experience of being fingerprinted for alien registration more than twelve years previously.


They gathered up their things to leave, and advised me that if I noticed anything else missing I should contact the police again and have another complaint drawn up. I asked for their contact details, and got the phone numbers of the Local police station, local police box, and their names. They informed me that this was probably the work of "Chinese or other foreigners", (I wondered how they could determine that from a footprint?) who were targetting the type of apartment block in which I lived. (I was too tired to take them up on this, so I bid them goodnight and locked the door.) Now that all evidence had been gathered, I turned on the heater, and set about cleaning up the mess in the kitchen. 

Finding myself to be not in the mood for this, I opened a beer, and started to work out how much my losses were. I had recently counted the 500Yen collection, and had a record of all the coins I had or had not collected for each year of issue. My total damages; seventy five thousand and fifty yen, one broken plate, a kettle with a broken handle, and a little bit of a dent in my sense of security.



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