Japanese police logoLast Sunday afternoon, while I was busy working, it rang on my door. When I opened, I got worried: There was a policeman with a small file in his hands and an inquisitive look on his face.

It was pretty harmless though, because once he had made sure that I was indeed the person living here, he explained why he had come. Once a year, the local Koban – a very small type of police station with only a handful of officers – sends out their officers into their neighborhood to visit every household. There, they make a list of the people who live there and then ask for a contact person in case of emergency.

The idea is that if you had an accident for example, and you would need assistance (going to a hospital), the police would call that contact person for you so you don’t have to face things on your own. For most people, this is a family member, like a spouse or parent. Since I have no family in Japan, I gave the name and number of a friend of mine. The officer assured me that this information would be kept only at the local koban, and not entered into an online database or even into a computer. Just the paper, ma’am (Japanese LOVE paperwork).

Since then, I have asked a couple of friends whether this is usual, and they said yes, this was normal all over Japan. It is one way of showing concern for the citizens, and also a way for the officers in the Koban to know their neighborhood.

I think this is a smart idea, especially for people who live alone or have no family nearby. When you have an accident at home, your neighbors probably know whom to call, but if you’re collapsing on a trip somewhere, then at there is that knowledge that there is a phone number somewhere at a safe place. Always good to know that you’re not completely alone.