Koban unwrapped: Tokyo’s colorful police boxes

Koban unwrapped: Tokyo’s colorful police boxes

Law and order have never looked so appealing as these little gems of quirky architecture
In Japan, neighborhood safety is placed in the hands of middle-aged, no-nonsense cops. And it works.

Tokyo, and Japan in general, are justly praised for their overall safety. Part of the reason for the low crime rate, some people say, is the network of more than 6,000 koban (police boxes) scattered around the nation.

Each neighborhood has its own koban and the officers who man them (there are not many female constables) closely interact with the local people on many levels, from patrolling the area to responding to emergencies, effectively creating a sort of community policing.

A typical koban is a small two-story building with two or more rooms. What differs wildly from place to place, though, is the exterior.

From traditional Japanese architecture to art deco and ultra-tech futurism, every style is represented in these quirky little boxes. Here are just a few examples you can find around Tokyo.

Ebisu Ekimae Koban

KobanExcessively naughty people and drunk salarymen often spend the night on the upper floors of these police stations.

This koban is right next to Ebisu's JR and subway stations. As you can see from the pedestrian traffic outside -- and the area map on the right -- many people use these places as information centers and often stop by to ask for directions.

According to many people, this is how most officers spend their time on duty -- telling shoppers where to go.

Nearest stations : JR Ebisu (Yamanote line) and Tokyo Metro Ebisu (Hibiya line).

Kaminarimon Koban

KobanUp to ten policemen are known to crowd these Lilliputian bastions of law and order, day and night.

Kaminarimon koban stands at the entrance of one of the most visited tourist spots in the world: Sensoji, Asakusa's famous Buddhist temple.

Note the mug shots plastered on the right. They belong to the most wanted criminals du jour including some yakuza and a couple of Aum Shinrikyo cultists the cops haven’t managed to nab, 16 years after their deadly sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway. 

Apparently everybody -- Japanese and visitors alike -- keeps thinking this is another tourist information center.

Nearest stations: Tokyo Metro Asakusa (Ginza line) and Toei Asakusa (Asakusa line).

More on CNNGo: Tohoku disaster a real-life drill for Tokyo police

Ginza 1-chome Koban

KobanIt wouldn’t be Ginza if the koban wasn’t done up to the nines.

The police can sometimes go to great lengths to blend with their surroundings. Take this austere-looking, fake brick building that guards the northern limits of the chic Ginza district.

With a little interior renovation work it could be turned into one of those classic kissaten cafés that were all the rage in the early 20th century.  Incidentally, this koban faces the equally stylish Police Museum.

Nearest station: Tokyo Metro Kyobashi (Ginza line).

Ginza 4-chome Koban

KobanMany police stations are so cleverly camouflaged in the urban landscape that they can go unnoticed.

Can you spot the koban? This mirror-walled beauty sits just near Ginza Crossing, one of the most famous places in Japan.

What do the cops do in the shopping capital of Japan? Why, they give directions to crowds of shopaholics while trying to look inconspicuous -- hence the mirror camouflage.

Also, here you will likely see some of the rare breed of female police officers -- an unusual event in a male-dominated field.

Nearest station: Tokyo Metro Ginza (Ginza, Marunouchi and Hibiya lines).

More on CNNGo: Police turn a blind eye to Tokyo sex clubs

Shibuya Ekimae Koban

KobanA “koban safari” is a fun alternative way to explore Tokyo.

Steel and sharp angles -- a cool look for one of the more-visited police stations in the whole of Japan.

Here, the brave copsquad is constantly in danger of succumbing to the relentless assault of a mixed bunch of lost tourists and nightlife-loving high school girls.

Nearest stations: JR Shibuya (Yamanote line) and Tokyo Metro Shibuya (Ginza, Hanzomon and Fukutoshin lines).

Shibuya Udagawa Koban

KobanPossibly not by chance, this stunning-looking koban is just a few meters away from Mandarake’s underground anime and manga megastore.

One of the best-looking police stations in the city. Note the bicycles, with their white rear clipboard boxes, parked in front of the koban. Many officers use them to make their rounds throughout the day.


Nearest stations: JR Shibuya (Yamanote line) and Tokyo Metro Shibuya (Ginza, Hanzomon and Fukutoshin lines).

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Gianni Simone is a mail artist and freelance writer from Italy. When not editing and publishing his many 'zines, he writes on all things Japanese for "Vogue Italia."

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