My right brake cable snapped the other day while I was skidding to a stop at the Nagai intersection. I haven’t had the time to go get it fixed, and riding to and from the station with a loose cable flopping around my bicycle basket like a wounded appendage of some sort is both bothersome and a little worrying. The company where I work has already announced that we should always walk to the station, never take a bike. A student told me the same thing about his company, and we both concluded that it had more to do with the stinginess of the insurance policies our companies had taken out than anything related to highway safety (after all, the way people drive cars in this town, pedestrians aren’t much safer).
Besides my fear of sliding into traffic at a red light, or flying over the handlebars after reflexively hitting the remaining front brake (luckily the brake pad is loose, so I could probably catch myself), I also don’t need the song-and-dance of being stopped by the police. Osaka police have proven deaf over the years to the million-lawn-mower racket of motorbike gangs (who tend to express their individuality in groups of 20 or more) and the drag-racing sons of yakuza on the Nagai-koen Dori, and blind to all those drivers with their kids in their laps talking on their mobile phones (both against the law here, as far as I know). But try slinking home one night with a broken light on your bicycle (especially if you’re Driving While Foreign), and a couple of Boys in Blue will chase you down on their bicycles and demand to see some ID. Something equally suspicious, like my madly waving brake cable, might also give them reason to suspect the obvious : stolen! A lot of information is amassed and stored about foreign residents and is at the disposal of the police for a reason. The reason is usually, I assume, a stolen-bike check. Like a line from Casablanca : round up the usual bicycles. Yet why all the stolen-bike checks (there is always a spate of them every few months)? Dunno, because one thing is certain in Osaka – if your bicycle is stolen, you’ll probably never see it again.
About six years ago, it was found that a long-exiled member of the Maoist Japanese Red Army terrorist cell (in the days before “terrorist” automatically meant Muslim) had been living for some time in Shin-Imamiya, not a ten-minute walk from my old apartment in Daikokucho. If she’d been doubling a friend (Carlos the Jackal, say) on her back bicycle rack, a SWAT team would have taken her out in 5 minutes. Osama bin-Laden could live here for years as long as he only used public transit, or rode his horse.
But I digress.
Of the seven bikes I’ve had stolen over the years here, I’ve only ever gotten one back. And that was by a mistake on the part of the Osaka Police. I must tell that story sometime.