A recent article in another local newspaper about a sub-police station being located on a school campus — in housing provided by the school — reminded me of something I have been advocating for the United States since the 1960s: adopting Japan’s Koban system in all urban areas.
Koban, pronounced Koh-bahn, translates as “police box,” and refers to sub-police stations that are manned by two to five police officers in urban areas, and one to two officers in rural areas.
Most of Japan’s “police boxes” are independent structures that are just big enough to accommodate one desk, one to three chairs, and a filing cabinet.
Urban Koban are located at transportation hubs, on the corners of main intersections, and at strategic locations in entertainment, shopping and residential districts of the cities. A few are located in corner or front sections of buildings.
At least one police officer remains in the Koban at all times, rotating with the other officers to patrol the neighborhood to keep tabs on residents, workers and visitors.
The Koban police provide information for both residents and visitors, help people in distress, and late in the evenings keep drunken revelers quiet. The presence of policemen and policewomen in the “boxes” and patrolling their neighborhoods acts as a deterrent to criminal and violent behavior.
The precursors of the Koban first appeared in Japan in the early 1600s, following the establishment of the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1603. These were local offices established by the Shogunate to quell public violence by rogue samurai who no longer had any wars to fight and became notorious for getting drunk and cutting down passersby.
Japan’s present-day Koban system was adopted nationwide in 1874, seven years after the fall of the Tokugawa Shogunate. There are now some 6,500 urban Koban and a similar number of rural “police boxes” in the country.
These numbers become much more meaningful in relation to the size of the country. All of Japan is about the size of the American state of New Mexico or Montana. The inhabited area of Japan is about the size of a single county in one of the larger states.
The implementation of the Koban system in the United States would not eliminate violence, but it could reduce it significantly. There is no doubt that thousands of public and private businesses and schools would donate space to help make the system a reality.
• Paradise Valley resident Boyé Lafayette De Mente has been involved with Japan, China, Korea and Mexico since the late 1940s as a member of a U.S. intelligence agency, student, journalist, editor and author working out of Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong, Singapore and Mexico City. He is a graduate of Jochi University in Tokyo, and The American Institute for Foreign Trade (in 1953), now Thunderbird School of Global Management, in Glendale.