On Monday morning, the Nozomi 114 bullet train was making its regularly scheduled run from Hiroshima to Tokyo. Its route along the Sanyo/Tokkaido Shinkansen line provides views of some of Japan’s largest cities and, if the weather is clear, even Mt Fuji, but one passenger spotted something much more startling.
Smoking isn’t allowed in the seating area on the shinkansen, so smoking rooms are set up between certain cars. The passenger noticed three men in suits had congregated near one of the rooms, and that one of them had a handgun attached to his hip.
The passenger notified the train staff, who called in the report to Japan’s 110 police emergency line at roughly 9:20. When the train made its stop at Nagoya Station, officers from the Aichi Prefectural Police boarded the train and conducted a search, and sure enough, all three of the men were discovered to be carrying firearms.
Luckily, the three men had no ill intent, and even though gun ownership regulations in Japan are extremely strict, none of them are in trouble with the law, because it turns out that they are the law. The three men are members of the Osaka Prefectural Police’s escort and security division and were en route to a training exercise in Tokyo.
It’s extremely unusual to see or hear of not-in-uniform police officers carrying weapons in Japan, and the Aichi Prefectural Police say that this is the first case in record of plain clothes police officers being mistaken for criminals and reported for carrying guns. All three were found to be operating within the allowances of police regulations, however, and thus no disciplinary actions are pending.
That said, in a country where it’s rare to ever see anyone who’s not a uniformed police officer or Self Defense Forces member carrying a firearm, it’s surprising that the officers didn’t make their presence and status known to shinkansen operator Japan Railway, or at least to the crew of the train they were travelling on. Granted, as mentioned, they weren’t under any legal obligation to do so, but with the incident last summer in which a Shinkansen passenger took out a knife and began slashing the people around him, leaving one person dead and two injured, still fresh in many people’s minds, a heads-up before they boarded the train while packing visible heat might have saved everyone a lot of trouble, not to mention fear.
Sources: Livedoor News/Kyodo via Hachima Kiko, Asahi Shimbun Digital, The Sankei News, Sanspo
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