Perhaps nowhere in December do throngs of commuters, shoppers and visitors hustle and bustle more that at Osaka's Umeda station, a sprawling rail terminus and shopper's mecca where private lines, subways and the JR converge.
For this reason Umeda is also the just kind of place that attracts pickpockets. In mid-December, reports Yukan Fuji (Dec 27), one of the busiest members of the team belonging to Investigation Section 3 of the Osaka Prefectural Police, which is responsible for pickpocket and similar crimes, is veteran investigator Nobuharu Fuchiwaki, 48.
"When we look for suspected pickpockets, we watch their movements, especially their characteristic suri-me ('pickpocket eyes') that are a dead giveaway," says Fuchiwaki. "It is that instant that enables us to spot them, so we really have to be on the ball so as not to miss it."
At one time, a common activity of pickpockets was to pry into unwary victims' briefcase or handbag. Such crooks came to be referred to as mosa.
"The term originally was a word meaning a 'man of valor' or 'warrior,'" Fuchiwaki explains. "We would use it it because these were the only type that could be nabbed."
He added that on the average, members of his team might walk up to 20 to 30 kilometers per day, on the look-out for pickpockets at stations, department stores, supermarkets and other places where crowds congregate. Then later in the evening, they shift to "neon streets" -- the entertainment areas where pickpockets are known to target drunks.
The police develop their skills for identifying pickpockets through scanning crowds, watching for people who, for instance, abruptly change the distance from a target or who subtly alter their speed while walking.
In October, a Chinese national was caught in the act while trying to slip precious metals from a bag a passenger had placed on the overhead rack of an express train. The man was arrested and charged with attempted theft. Again, it was his unnatural movements that alerted a nearby police officer.
The good news is that police efforts to curb pickpockets have been remarkably successful over the past decade and a half. Compared with 25,338 reported incidents nationwide in 2003, the number in 2018 was down to 3,281 -- an almost 90% drop.
"These days, advanced technology is needed to identify suspects as pickpockets," a police source told Yukan Fuji. "More professional criminals been shifting to less risky activities like telephone fraud."
For Osaka, which will play host to a world exposition in 2025, this is an especially encouraging development.
Fuchiwaki's team has been so effective at culling pickpockets from the city that its manpower has been reduced by 40%.
"Still, even with fewer incidents, we can't let our guard down," he says. He also underscored the necessity of passing along knowhow to the next generation of police. Section 3 presently has two newcomers undergoing training. They patrol areas of the city as part of a team with two veterans and learn their profession through on-the-spot observation of ikkyo shu, itto soku (every move they make).
Certainly with the reduced number of cases over the past 15 years, Fuchiwaki accords full credit to lessons learned from his predecessors. "Now my job is to pass the baton to the next generation," he says, with a stern expression.© Japan Today