Important Japanese words: 警察 (けいさつ) – Police

So, it’s a rainy old Sunday and I’m sitting in my apartment, drowning in TOEFL textbooks, when the doorbell rings. This in itself is almost blog-worthy, as nobody ever just turns up at my apartment (not that I’d want them to…). I’m wearing my PJs and haven’t even taken a shower today, so I decide to try out the telephone system for answering my door.

“Hello?” (I figure it’s better to start in English and, besides, I’m not sure if it’s appropriate to answer the door with “moshi moshi”.)

The response comes in fast Japanese. I half catch one word: keisatsu (警察). I think I know this word.

“Um… sumimasen. Uh… chotto wakaranai. Gaijin desu.” I reply. (Um… sorry. Uh… I don’t really understand. I’m a foreigner.)

The man says some more words I almost understand. I’m frustratingly close to being able to catch his meaning. The one word that jumps out again is “keisatsu”. I’m pretty sure this means “police”. He asks me if I will come to the door. I do, knowing that, despite my PJs, face to face conversation will be much easier.

So I throw on my dressing gown, attempt to brush back my fluffy hair (god I need a haircut!) and climb over my exploding laundry basket to answer the door.

What a find is a surprise, and I begin regretting my decision not to shower this morning. There is a very very cute policeman standing at my door. He’s a little short and skinny but, well, I’m in Japan. Still, the uniform is nice, and no match for my PJs.

Why is there a cute Japanese policeman at my door? I begin to wonder.

He smiles, seeming almost to apologise for not speaking English. He speaks more slowly now, and I can catch more of what he’s saying. It’s weird how you can begin to understand a language even though you don’t really know half of the words you’re hearing.

He’s doing a routine check, and today it is my “mansion”‘s turn (“mansion” – マンション – is the Japanese word for apartment building). He’s trying to find out who lives in each apartment, in case there is an emergency or something. I show him my ID and he asks me questions about when I came to Japan and where I work. This is all pretty routine stuff that I can do, albeit badly and in broken Japanese.

Then he starts asking me something else. I catch words like じしん (jishin) and I know this means earthquake. Ah… he’s asking me what I would do if there was an earthquake. He’s asking me who my ‘in case of emergency’ is, and… I don’t know! I actually manage not to answer that question, but it has left me thinking that perhaps I should have one who lives in the same country. Having an ‘in case of emergency’ person who  lives in England is probably not much use if there is an earthquake here.

Anyway, after I answered most of his questions, he seemed satisfied and pulled out some stickers. He told me he worked at the police station by the train station. I think his name was Suzuki-san. He showed me this shiny yellow sticker and asked if it was ok to slap it on next to my door. I felt like a Japanese school kid being rewarded for my good work – I got a sticker! The second part of the sticker was for me to keep inside – phone numbers to reach the police on, should I need them. In a real emergency situation I doubt I would even be able to use my phone. I only have a cell phone and the networks would probably be down. Or the battery would run out – damn Xperia ‘smart’ phone…

But that made me realise another thing – I didn’t even know for sure what the 999 equivalent was in Japan!  (I just looked it up: 110 for police and 119 for ambulance/fire.)

I realise now how complacently I’ve been living here in Japan. In England, something like calling the police wouldn’t be something I would need to think about. But here in Japan, it is. if I had a problem, would my Japanese be up to it?  I could probably muddle through, but I don’t want to spend my whole life here muddling through with broken Japanese and flailing arms.  Time to shape up – time to swap those TOEFL textbooks for my Japanese textbooks, which are getting shamefully dusty…

5 thoughts on “Important Japanese words: 警察 (けいさつ) – Police

  1. It might be worth checking with your embassy to see if they keep a register of citizens in case of emergencies.
    The last time we were home in Nagoya we spent a day doing earthquake proofing stuff. Like securing heavy free standing furniture (which you oughtn’t sleep near), putting film on glass so it won’t shatter and stuff like that. I believe many households have an emergency kit as well. Maybe worth asking a coworker or neighbour about. Hopefully you never need it. But having seen photos of Kantou and Kobe quakes it might be best to have some plan.


  2. Hi

    There is also an English help line for the police- not sure how you reach it by phone but if you go to a koban and need help they can ring someone for you and you explain to them in English and they relay it to the policement in your koban for you. I am sure there is a number you can call for English assistance too- maybe worth looking into. THey never asked me who our emergency contacts were though- maybe because I am married to Japanese and they would just contact my husbands family?! I don`t know.

    I have had the police come check us here- they ask me who is living in the apartment, how long we have been here, do we have any issues etc. I guess because everyone, not just foreigners, have to register where they live etc. They also remind me where I am supposed to go if there is a big earthquake!


  3. It’s really easy to forget that anything bad can happen when you’re in Japan. 🙂 I visited the US Consulate in Osaka the other day and got a speech about the dangers of earthquakes, etc. and how we should all be prepared. (Which they admitted was because regular crime is so unlikely that our most plausible threat is really natural disasters.)

    I ran across your blog randomly, and it looks really interesting! I’ve lived in Japan on and off for work and research and am moving back for the better part of the next year. Anyway, I linked you on my blog, so if you feel inclined, feel free to link back:


  4. About 3 years ago, I had a pair of police officers visit my apartment for something similar. However, they weren’t checking IDs or asking who I was or where I work. They were going to all the apartments to remind people to keep door and windows locked to prevent thefts. I didn’t really understand much of what they were saying, but they did say they’d get an English speaking officer to call me. I never did get that phone call.


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