Stealing a Bicycle in Nagoya Japan. Part 4 – The Showdown


Read Here First:

The Bicycle Thief.  Part 1 – The Mama Chari

The Bicycle Thief.  Part 2 – The Sting

The Bicycle Thief.  Part 3 – The Specialist

Looking from under the swerving curving Kurokawa Expressway Ramp at night.


Amanda met me in front of the School at oh-nine-hundred and she was pissed off. I felt horrible. But I was surprised to find out that her anger was not directed at me.

“Those guys are always trying to pull this kind of shite,” she said in her heavy Australian accent.  “They are not going to pull it on me.”

It’s funny how when people get pissed off, they revert back to their hometown accent. Normally as English teachers you clean up your speech, and slow it down to the point where everyone sounds the same. But when someone is pissed off they tend to turn it up a notch. I wished she would use the cleaned up version, I thought, I could barely understand her accent.

On the walk over to the station she explained to me that the Police always try to blame the bike theft on the foreigners. I asked her about the serial number? There are ten thousand bikes under the Kurokawa Expressway. They can’t possibly run all the numbers to try to catch bike thieves, can they?

“They didn’t,” she said. “They only checked your bike.”

Wow… I thought to myself, even wearing a suit and tie with my beat up old mama chari, I still stick out like a Mormon on a mountain bike.
Somebody saw the white guy ride in and must have checked the serial number when I was working. They must have jumped up and down when they found that it was registered as stolen. I can’t believe I fell into a “stereotype trap!”

Amanda came in to the glass room and sat directly across form the Sergeant. Looking directly into people’s eyes is not really common in Japan. It is considered a little uncomfortable. But here in the Police station it seems like staring is the norm. Tanaka and Nakagawa are trained to read peoples faces and look into their eyes.  They have surely read my face to find out I am scared to death and don’t know what the hell is going on. But Amanda was obviously not what Sgt. Tanaka was expecting. This is no doubt, the first time he had to look directly into the eyes of a blonde hair, blue eyed, Australian girl. And best of all, she was just as big as he was. They make a cute couple I thought.

The Sergeant started asking her questions in his rough mumbling voice. He spoke to her in Japanese, and she responded in Japanese. She would stop him and calmly say,

“I don’t understand what that word means.”

Special Agent Nakayama would tell her what the word meant.  The Sergeant would go on, asking more questions. Then she would stop him again saying,

“I don’t know what that word means either.”

and again, the Special Agent would tell her what the word meant. This constant interrupting seemed to anger the sergeant, and Amanda started getting fed up with him as well. She finally snapped back at him,

“Stop using big words to try to confuse me…  Just say what you want to say.”

Tanaka grumbled in anger and went on. He continued asking Amanda similar questions to the ones he asked me. Both of them were losing their patience as he asked the one big question that still remained:
Why would somebody throw out an expensive bike if it only had 1200 Yen in damage?

“Why?” He asked.

She responded quickly, confidently, and loudly,
“I  don’t know… maybe because the Japanese are stupid!”

Everyone was shocked into silence. Including me.

My heart sank. What the hell was she doing? I am going to be deported. And now we are both going to get arrested. We may bring down our whole company by getting them marred in a public relations scandal.

Sgt. Tanaka was outraged and let out a rant of loud intimidating Japanese that made me crawl back in my seat. Special Agent Nakayama had to start yelling to calm the sergeant down. The two young officers had white faces and looked more scared than I did.  During all this Amanda was unfazed. Her face flushed red but unchanging.

I leaned toward Amanda and said,
“Maybe this is not the best time to…”

She cut me off and continued.
“IN FACT,” she said loudly, “The bicycle was the cheapest thing in that garbage pile. There were TV sets, VCRs, and whole stereo systems.”

She looked directly into Sgt. Tanaka’s eyes.
“Every teacher in this country knows to check the garbage on the second Thursday of the month.” She snapped.
“You can furnish your whole apartment with what you guys are throwing away. How the hell am I supposed to know WHY they would toss out a bicycle!”

This is the recycling schedule for Asahi. A Small town in Nagano Japan. It shows how serious they are when it comes to what you are putting out in the trash.

It was a good point. I did not think of it until then. The Japanese recycling system is built around convenience to the recycler. It’s not built around convenience to the lazy America consumer, like I am used to. So all the garbage in a Japanese house needs to be broken down into its separate elements to be recycled on different days. The Japanese recycling schedule is on the wall of everyone’s house. It is a poster that looks as confusing as a Tokyo subway map. It tells which items are thrown out on which days of the month.
 One of these days used to be designated as a “large” garbage day, on which oversized items can be put out into the trash and hauled away. Nowadays, even that day has been broken down into The actual elements that make up the garbage.

So it’s on this large garbage day that you see the most interesting things out in front of people’s houses, apartments, and condos.
 Japanese houses don’t have attics or basements or places to put old stuff. When technology changes as fast as it does in Japan, you pick up the new thing and get rid of the old thing. They don’t sell them because everyone is in the same technology-boat. It’s kind of the price they have to pay for living the Japanese minimalist lifestyle.

An awkward silence fell upon the room. Amanda and Sgt. Tanaka were locked in a staring contest. They were either going to fall in love, or start to arm wrestle. Officer Short-fat-guy and Tall-skinny-guy were staring at Special Agent Nakayama who was in turn staring at me. I was staring at everybody trying to take it all in. I had no idea where this was going to go from here.

Special Agent Nakayama was the first to talk.

“I think we are done here!”

He reached into his jacket pocket, took out a pack of cigarettes, and pulled one out from the box.

“Bike theft is a serious problem in Japan…” He said as he lit the cigarette in his mouth, and threw the pack onto the table.

“We are serious about this serious problem… You should look serious when you garbage take.”
He said with confidence. Another nugget of wisdom from the Specialist.

Amanda and I looked at each other in confusion. I was actually starting to understand Nakayama’s bad English. I was thinking that this is the point where they take my passport or give me a huge fine.
Amanda stood up.

“I have a class in Chikusa at 12:30. Can I go now?

Nakayama bowed his head. Amanda turned to me, said she’d see me later, and walked right out the glass room door.  Officer Tall-skinny-guy chased after her to make sure she got out ok.
Sgt. Tanaka sat in his chair and stared at where Amanda was sitting.  He then got up and began speaking to me. He looked me directly in the eye and mumbled some Japanese before walking out the door. Special agent Nakayama took out his mobile ashtray and tapped some ashes into the container.

“Tanaka san says that you and him both work in the same intersection. He says that he knows where you work, and he will be watching you.”

I told Nakayama that I’m sorry for all the trouble that I caused. I swear if I had known what was going on I would have tried to do something about it. I thanked him and the Sergeant for being so understanding.

“You may go also.” He said.

“That’s it?” I asked, “no paperwork or anything?”

“No paperwork… like they say in America… THE END.” He replied.

As I got up and began walking out he said,
“Just one thing… Can I have the keys to the bike?”

I froze again. Tanaka reached out his open hand.
“The keys?” I said slowly to buy some time. “The keys…”

I repeated it again like an idiot. Was this another trick?  Did he think I was going to re-steal the bike?  Do I have the keys? Wait a minute, I thought to myself. I gave the keys to the guy when he rolled my bike into the station.

“I gave the keys to the guy with my bike.” I said

“Which guy? What was his name?” he asked

“The Officer that rolled my bike in” I said incredulously, “I don’t know his name.”

Furuhata Ninzaburō
Detective Furuhata Ninzaburo doing his best “gotcha” pose.

Tanaka lifted his open hand and pointed at me in a “gotcha” gesture. A big smile came across his face as he revealed the key to the bike in his other hand. He stood up and patted me on the back.

“You are a good man Richardo San. Please stay out of trouble.” He said smiling.

A few weeks later I was standing in front of the building with one of my adult group classes. They were taking me out to drink for my Birthday. It was about 8pm.  I heard a deep voice behind me yell,

“Richardo san… Konbanwa…”

I turned around to see Sgt. Tanaka. He was an imposing figure at night and in full uniform.
My students were in awe.

“Konbanwa Tanaka San” I said in a half smile. I was wondering if he was going to say something that I would have to explain later.

“Wow. You know Richardo Sensei?”one of my students asked him in Japanese.
He replied back in Japanese.

“Of course. He is very popular around Kurokawa.” he said.

“How will you be getting home tonight Richard San?”

“Train.” I said in a dejected voice. “I’ll be getting home by train.”







  1. Awesome story! I could almost hear your voice. 🙂 I particularly enjoyed the “color commentary” that you included; I think the incident must have been kind of scary at the time, but you do a great job of rolling past that to share the details of each scene. I love the characterizations of the officers–types, but not stereotypes.
    I’ll definitely keep reading your site.

  2. Love it Richardo San. I’ve been wanting to know that story for around 4 years but now know the walk to Tully’s wasn’t long enough to give it justice. Thanks for posting it.