• 11 . 06 . 04
  • Having parked my bike illegally, it gets impounded, but without a penalty.

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Breakin’ The Law

I arrived back in Gifu yesterday morning after a night out in Nagoya, only to find that my bike wasn’t where I’d left it. First thought; it’s been nicked. Then I remembered that this was Gifu, not Manchester, and that petty crime doesn’t happen here. You could leave a car with the keys in it in the center of town for a week here and it would still be there when you came back. It would probably be cleaned and polished for you too. No, it was in fact I who was the criminal. I’d parked in a my bike in a ‘no bikes’ area one too many times and had been towed by the police!

As mentioned previously bikes are ubiquitous in Japan. You literally can’t walk 10 meters without seeing one. In a measure that strikes me as somewhat peculiar, almost every available open space is marked ‘no bikes’. There are some bike parks, but these are regularly full and in any case, you have to pay ¥120 each time. Not that this is a high price, but I don’t see the problem with parking in an open plaza big enough to get the a bus through sideways. Apparently the majority of people agree with me, and so the notices are routinely ignored. In fact, the presence of a ‘no bikes’ sign often indicates an incredibly unobtrusive and convenient place to park.

This is a great example of over-employment in Japan. Firstly, people are paid to staff the bike parks for about 20 hours a day. Secondly, inspectors are paid to visit the ‘no bikes’ zones and ticket bikes that are parked there. Thirdly, a collector will visit the same zones and remove any bikes that are ticketed and deliver them to the impound. Finally, people are paid to staff the impound and return the bikes to the owners free of charge.

That’s right; my only punishment from this episode is a sense of embarrassment, bruised pride and the inconvenience of having to make a journey halfway out of town to the impound (which is about the least accessible place in Gifu). Given that the problem is so widespread, this must cost the city quite a bit of Yen. If I were on the council, I’d be charging people left right and center for this, but I guess that’s what comes from growing up in a society where a charge is made for everything.

Shame is a currency itself in Japan, so maybe that’s what they’re going for. Luckily, being an uncouth Gaijin, I’m merely happy to have it back and glad it wasn’t taxed by some scally. Oh, but I did get fingerprinted…

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