What a scam! I have uncovered an overt Japanese government-sponsored project to steal ordinary citizen’s bicycles and extort money from said citizens in order to have their bikes returned.
This extortion plan has been running for years but it has come to my attention only recently. Before I explain the details of this vile scheme, let me give you some background information.
Last Friday was a really bad day. Probably one of the worst days I have had since I’ve been in Japan. Here, all this time, I thought the “crime” in this country was basically inconsequential, but my illusions had been shattered: Someone stole my bicycle.
What a bummer. I had that bike for over four years! I had never locked it even once. Figured I didn’t need to.
I won the bike playing Pachinko, so it was free. I took it home and gave it to my daughter who didn’t want it. So it sat for a few years in the rain, getting rusty, until one day I decided to ride it.
I had actually begun to enjoy riding the old bike around. I didn’t care if people laughed at me for riding a little girl’s bike. Everyone in this town knows me. After all, I don’t intentionally live my life to make a fashion statement. I don’t need the approval of my peers to know that I am cool.
I mean, what could be cooler than an almost 50-year-old ex-punk rocker riding around town on a little girl’s bike?
Chiba-San — Yoga’s Rock & Roll grocer
My old “wheels” were rusted and worn. One of the pedals was broken off and I had screwed a bolt in its place so I could pedal the bike.
Sure, it was a piece of junk. But it was my piece of junk and I loved it. Now it’s gone…
I straddled up to my favorite seat at my favorite bar and ordered a strong one to drown my tears. I sang to the bartender about my missing friend, and all the good times we had together. Next to me sat Mr. Chiba. He is the “Rock ‘n’ Roll” vegetable guy in town. Mr. Chiba is cooler than cool.
I guess I should tell you about Mr. Chiba right here. Chiba-san runs a vegetable stand here in Yoga. You folks in the States go to your super-markets and stock up on a week or two worth of groceries and that’s that. In Japan, most people don’t do things that way.
In Japan apartments are very small. So most people go grocery shopping daily. Of course super-markets sell vegetables, but most people buy from vegetable stands that are everywhere you go here, including Tokyo. So we have direct, fresh-from-the-farm veggies available daily. Vegetables sold at large supermarkets are not as fresh.
Everyday, thousands of people park their bikes in front of the train stations.
Anyhow, most of the vegetable guys are out in front of their stands hawking for customers. But Mr. Chiba is too cool for that. It seems like he could care less if you shop at his vegetable stand or not. While the other guys are out in front shouting out to prospective customers to come by, Mr. Chiba is just sitting in his stall, listening to 70′s Rock music and “chilling out.” The guy don’t talk too much.
Perhaps it’s because he has confidence that he has the best produce at the best prices. Maybe he does. He kicks everyone’s rear-end when it comes to discounts on fresh Strawberries and Bananas.
Anyhow, I’m at the bar, complaining to Mr. Chiba that someone stole my bike. He tells me that it probably wasn’t “stolen.” He says that probably the government took it away.
“When did you leave your bike in front of the train station?” He asks.
Aerial reconnaissance photo of Stalag 13
“Friday.” I reply.
“Yeah, I saw where they were taking away all the bikes on Friday,” he tells me.
That makes sense. I mean, “Who in their right mind would steal a rusty old piece of junk with a flat back tire, like my bike?” I say.
So he tells me to go to the station and ask the guys there about it. I do. And sure enough, those government-backed criminals went and scooped up every single bike that was parked in front of the train station on that day.
I go to where they have interned all the bikes. Before I can walk in, the two old guy guards ask me to fill out a form with my name address, phone number, etc. I have to show them a picture I.D. too.
Red arrow indicates rusted out, old clunker
They tell me where the bikes that were confiscated that particular day were. I walk into the prison grounds. There must be ten thousand bikes in this “bike penitentiary.” I walk around and there she is! I spot my bike.
“Wow! Japan is a great place!” I think (a bit too soon).
I wheel my bike to the gate and tell the guard that this is my bike. He tells me that I can take my bike, but I have to pay a small parking fine. I reach into my pocket and start to pull out a couple of dollars.
“How much?” I ask.
“Two thousand, five hundred yen.” He replies.
“Two thousand, five hundred yen!? That’s about $25 dollars!” I’m shocked. “Wait a minute! You guys go and steal my bike from in front of the train station and you want me to pay you about $25 bucks to get it back? No way!” I protest.
The old guy just says, “Two thousand, five hundred yen.”
“Look, this bike is old, worn out, and rusty. The back tire is flat. I got it for free. I’ve never even locked it. I’m not going to pay you $25 dollars for my own bike back. Come on, let me have my bike!”
But the old guy wouldn’t budge. Finally I said to him:
“If I don’t pay you the money, then you guys will have to keep the bike. Is it okay if I don’t pay?”
“Yes.” He says.
So I walk out of the bike jail and I’m mad. Those scum steal my bike and then they want to steal my money too! Well, I’ll show them! I’m not going to pay.
A few days later, I’m back at Chiba-San’s vegetable stand and he asks me if I found my bike. I tell him I did. I also tell them that they wanted two thousand, five hundred yen for the bike, so I didn’t pay. Chiba says I shouldn’t have spoken Japanese to those old guys.
“You mean if I acted like I couldn’t speak Japanese, they would have let me have my bike back for cheaper?” I ask him.
“No. But at least that way, you could have given them a hard time.” He takes a drag on his cigarette and laughs at his own dry jokes. I like this Chiba guy’s sense of humor.
I tell Chiba that I have a plan to steal, er, I mean “rescue” my bike. I figure that I could go back to the bike prison late at night and scale the fence. Once inside the compound, I would locate my bike and carry it out of the grounds.
But wait a minute! How am I going to carry a heavy bicycle over a 13-foot-high fence that has rolled barbed wire at the top? I would need help. I ask Chiba if he’d help me rescue my bike.
“You are going to “rescue” your bike!?” He asks with a chuckle.
“Yeah! I’m an American. We are good at these kinds of things. We do it all the time…. Of course I don’t have a helicopter. But are you going to help me or not?”
He just grins, and says, “Sure. Anytime.”
We both just start laughing.
At least there are no machine-gun towers or spotlights
So I have considered my bicycle rescue plan thoroughly: The dangers and the risks involved. I have also considered the possibility of a loss of life. (Mine — I mean, what if I got tangled up in that barbed wire?)
Well, I was going to steal back my bike. But I have decided against it. Why? Two reasons:
First, I know Chiba-san; If he saw some cops coming, he’d probably just light up a cigarette and mosey along like he didn’t know me. Leaving me to my fate. If the enemy police did show up I know I cannot depend on my Japanese ally to stick it out and fight for me.
And, second; I might be an American, but I’m not as dumb as these people we’ve got running our federal government. I think these things through; all the scenarios, all the possibilities. I am a firm believer in Murphy’s Law.
The problem with my plan was that once I got into the compound and got my bike, how was I going to get the bike and myself back over the 13-foot-high fence covered with barbed wire?
Nope. Couldn’t be done without a big ladder or a helicopter. And I’m not about to go walking around the neighborhood at night carrying a big ladder. Do you think that might look suspicious? Nah!
That was it. And so, “Operation Enduring Rescue” has been….. Cancelled; I had no good exit plan. And now, I have no crummy bike either….
But at least I’m not trapped inside a barbed wire compound with a bunch of broken down transportation in the heat of the night with no exit strategy — Like some Americans you might know.
(Final note: I found out what happens to the bikes that are never claimed by their owners. The Japanese government ships them to North Korea under the guise of Economic Developmental Assistance. This is such a despicable ruse. Why? Well, the government steals our bikes and if we don’t claim them, they send the bikes to the DPRK and most probably count each one as $25 in economic aid. But, when you realize that any bike that is not claimed is just abandoned by it’s owners, then you realize that the bikes are just trash. And they are — if the owners think the bikes are worth the money, they pay to get their bike back. The rest? Garbage.
So in order to help fight Japan’s mounting trash burden, the government "donates" the bikes to North Korea and looks, to the rest of the world, like it is helping out a destitute country. When in all actuality, it is just disposing of junk that has to have parts cannibalized in order to make a running vehicle…)
Mike (in Tokyo) Rogers [send him mail] was born and raised in the USA and moved to Japan in 1984. He has worked as an independent writer, producer, and personality in the mass media for nearly 30 years.