You may have heard that Tokyo is virtually crime-free, and that’s really not an exaggeration. Your chances of being a victim of a mugging, burglary, or some other illegal affront to your safety or possessions while in Japan’s capital are extremely low.
However, “virtually crime-free” means that, yes, even in Tokyo, crimes do happen. One of the more common is bicycle theft, and not long ago Tokyoite and Japanese Twitter user @bercy23555 had his bike stolen.
Thankfully, though, his bicycle later returned as suddenly as it had disappeared. What’s more, the thief not only left a note apologizing, but also a present to try to make up for the inconvenience he had caused.
Sitting in the basket of the returned bike was a large watermelon, and taped to the frame was the following note:
"I ended up borrowing your bike without your permission, and I’m sorry. As an apology, I am leaving one watermelon in your basket. Please eat it. It will taste best if you chill it before eating. I will probably borrow your bike again when I go to my part-time watermelon job (LOL). I will leave a note again at that time. I apologize.
P.S. Don’t forget to lock up your bike. Someone will steal it…"
While watermelons are popular gifts when visiting the home of a friend or acquaintance in the summer in Japan, it’s pretty unusual to receive one from someone who took your bicycle for an extended joyride. “I’m surprised at how unbelievably safe Tokyo is,” tweeted @bercy23555. Online reactions to his tale have included:
“All’s well that ends well. You got your bike back, and even something extra.”
“What a fine, upstanding crime.”
“So the next time he borrows it, I wonder if he’ll leave some cauliflower on your seat or something.”
“There are some really kind people in the world.”
But while just about everyone was surprised by the gift, not everyone was impressed by the attitude of the person who’d taken @bercy23555’s bike, especially since in his note he glibly talks about doing it again to get to his vague watermelon-related job.
“He wasn’t being kind when he stole the bike.”
“So he stole your bike but brought it back with a watermelon. Hmm…not sure if that makes your neighborhood safe or not.”
“I bet the watermelon is poisoned.”
That last fear turned out to be unwarranted, as @bercy23555 is feeling fine after eating the apology present. Still, given the bicycle thief’s criminal record, one commenter had a pretty plausible theory.
If the fruit was indeed pilfered fruit, the evidence is now long gone. Still, we recommend procuring your watermelons in one of the old fashioned ways, either buying them at the market or growing your own, since even in Japan, most thieves aren’t known for their generosity.
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Still a crime, albeit a criminal with a certian sense of honor to apologize and gift. But why not just save the money from two watermelons and buy your own bike? Pain the butt?
I wouldn't eat that...
Mr. thief, you've just bothered to return the bike with the apology letter and the watermelon. Please just go out of your way to buy your own bike and don't steal someone's bike. Besides, I wouldn't feel safe to eat your watermelon after all.
Special preview of tomorrow's edition of JT: Tokyo Man Dies After Ingesting Poisoned Watermelon.
six bikes stolen here. no gifts or letters. one bike had the chain cut, which was more expensive than the bike. what is it with bike thieves? i never lock my car. never stolen. but bikes...i have three cause i never know if i have 2 tomorrow.
Interesting legal factoid: Technically speaking, this might actually not be a theft. If he is truly borrowing it (from the start) with no intention to possess it, technically his action would be 無断使用 (unauthorized use) rather than theft, and this is considered a "sub-crime" that is non-punishable.
Yes, I wonder too, is "borrow without permission" really the same as "stealing"? I guess it depends on what the meaning of "is" is.
Gokai wo maneku
I guarantee you if I "borrow" something from you without asking, you would be in no doubt that I stole it. The only people who are allowed a pass on this are friends and family.
Many years ago when living in Osaka Ghetto Nishinari, my friend and I awoke to find his bike missing from in front of the apartment. When we walked down Den Den Town there was a stall set up and a guy was selling his bicycle.
We walked up to the guy and told him he had our bike and that we will be taking it back now, and he nodded and agreed. Lol!
Strange how understanding differs regionaly,, in japan there is more good than elsewere, id eat that watermelon anytime!
Umm, I don't think so. He had the intention of depriving the owner of the bike the moment he took it. It wouldn't matter whether he had the intention to return it at a later date. Am I not guilty of theft if I steal your Rolex watch but return it 5 years later? I think the unauthorised use you are talking about is closer to an embezzlement situation where the individual has legal possession, like where a delivery driver uses a company truck to run personal errands.
Either way, this is Japan where legal technicalities are an afterthought. The courts will find you guilty of theft if you take something, you're an unsympathetic character, and you don't have a good enough excuse.
We will never know what he thought. But he wrote (if the translation is correct), that he was "borrowing" it. If we take him at his word, then he never meant to deprive the owner of ownership, just the right of use.
Of course, if you took my Rolex watch for 5 years, you will have enormous practical difficulties convincing people you always meant to only "borrow" it. However, if you weave together a sob story that establishes this, then the fact you "used without permission" (not STOLE) my watch for a long period of time will not qualify you for the crime of theft.
I will, however, be able to fire a civil suit at you concerning the losses caused by you depriving me of my "right to use" my Rolex watch. It's still a tort, just not a crime.
I can't claim to be an expert on criminal law in Japan, but let me ask you this. If we accept that the law in Japan says the key element of theft is the intention to possess, where does it say that the intention must be to permanently possess or that the amount of time must pass some de minimis test? In my view, this is where you might be going wrong. You seem to be reading that into the law where it doesn't actually exist.
When he took the bike (or I took your watch) he clearly intended to possess it, even if only for the duration of his journey. His actions alone would be decisive evidence of his intention. Whether his intention to possess was temporary or qualfied in some way is irrelevant in my view. If he had changed his mind a split second after physically taking the bike off the rack and put it back, he would still be guilty of theft in my opinion. Anything less would lead to absurdity. For example, could I sign an affidavit before robbing a jewellery store swearing that I only intend to 'borrow' the jewels until the police catch me? :)