Author Advocates Adoption of Japan’s “Police Box” System

TOKYO–Murder and other kinds of violent mayhem have become endemic in the United States—a dramatic change from the social order of the past, brought on according to many critics by a combination of films, television and digital games that glorify violence; rap singers who promote it, migrant smugglers, and crime syndicates fighting to control the market for illicit drugs.
In fact, violence of the most horrendous kind has become as American as apple pie, and this, says Japanologist Boyé Lafayette De Mente, is more than enough reason for all American cities to adopt the famous Japanese system of street-corner and neighborhood koban [koh-bahn], called “police boxes” in English.
According to De Mente the literal meaning of ko is “to take turns” and ban literally means “to guard” or “to watch,” and the term can be traced back to the bansho [bahn –show] or “check points” manned by samurai warriors on Japan’s major streets and roads during the country’s long shogunate period.
A number of American cities have experimented with koban—San Francisco in particular where they were championed by Senator Dianne Feinstein, and Columbia, South Carolina—but they have been mostly ignored by the country at large.
“The value of the koban in reducing crime and violent behavior in general has been proven beyond any doubt not only in Japan but also in foreign cities that have tested the system,” De Mente says
De Mente, the author of more than fifty books on Japan, notes that the term “police box” is misleading because the majority of the koban in larger Japanese cities and towns are mini-police stations that are manned 24 hours a day by rotating offices, are equipped with communication facilities and computers, and have detailed maps of the streets and buildings in their vicinity.
“Tokyo alone has approximately 1,250 koban, with over 15,000 police officers assigned to them, and there are over 15,600 koban in Japan—whose populated areas combined are the size of a single county in Arizona, New Mexico and other western states,” he adds.
De Mente says that in addition to acting as information kiosks for residents and visitors, Japan’s koban police patrol their neighborhoods, watch over everything going on in their vicinity, report any suspicious situation or behavior, quell street violence, and function as “lost and found” repositories.
“Policemen assigned to koban become intimately familiar with the businesses, employees and residents in their neighborhoods, and in effect serve as their personal security guards,” he says.
Larger koban have small rooms where the officers can take breaks, and small kitchens where they can fix snacks for themselves.
Another aspect of the Japanese koban system De Mente says is worthy of adoption is the practicing of retaining retired policemen as advisors to officers newly assigned to the stations, and to fill in at smaller stations when the officers are out patrolling the neighborhoods.


Boyé Lafayette De Mente has been involved with Asia since the late 1940s as a member of a U.S. intelligence agency, journalist and editor. He is a graduate of Jōchi University in Tokyo, Japan and Thunderbird School of Global Management in Glendale, Arizona, USA. In addition to books on the business practices, social behavior and languages of China, Japan, Korea and Mexico he has written extensively about the moral collapse of the U.S. along with books on his home state of Arizona. To see a full list of his books go to: Recent books include: CHINA Understanding & Dealing with the Chinese Way of Doing Business; JAPAN Understanding & Dealing with the NEW Japanese Way of Doing Business; AMERICA’S FAMOUS HOPI INDIANS; ARIZONA’S LORDS OF THE LAND [the Navajos] and SPEAK JAPANESE TODAY – A Little Language Goes a Long Way!