Tokyo Police Cars Are Extremely Weird and Very Good
From small kei vans to tall Toyota Land Cruisers, Tokyo’s cop cars mirror the eccentric Japanese auto scene.
Police cars are pretty uniform across the United States, with most departments relying on old Ford Crown Vics, Tauruses, and lots of Dodge Chargers out there. Nowadays, interceptor SUVs are taking over, but unless a 1,000-horsepower Hellcat is seized from a convicted criminal, American law enforcement vehicles are normies. Well, that's not the case in Tokyo, where a wide variety of police wheels left me perplexed. Even more peculiar, however, was the fact that some of these cars were used as rolling watch towers.
I was recently in the Japanese capital to interview the Honda CEO to learn how the automaker will transition into an electric future over the next few years. While strolling Tokyo streets I couldn't help but gawk at the kei cars, boxy minivans, three-row Nissan Cubes(!), and that one funky-looking Mitsuoka Orochi (h/t D. Golson) I came across. But the cars that truly caught my attention wore the distinctive black and white livery of the city's police department. Not because I'm a cop car aficionado, but because they're so far removed from anything else I've seen in North America and even in Europe.
The tiny patrol cars are just hilarious. I just can't imagine a police officer conducting serious business—let alone engaging in pursuit—in a Daihatsu Hijet kei van. I would have a hard time fitting my Newfoundland dog in that thing, let alone a couple of baddies. Perhaps the responding officer would have to radio for a larger vehicle should a situation arise.
Then there were the decked-out Toyota Crowns, which look nothing like the new Toyota Crown that was just launched in the U.S. These stately sedans had a presence to them, especially with all of their police adornments. They reminded me of the U.K.'s BMW 5 Series patrol cars. These Crowns seemed to be a hit even with the locals, as I caught a couple of kids wearing police officer Halloween costumes taking photos with them.
One night I ventured out to the Shibuya area to witness what is reportedly the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world. Sources claim over 2.4 million people walk this five-way intersection every single day. Now that I've witnessed it, I fully believe it. And given that it was Halloween weekend, things were just a bit crazier than normal. There, I came across two vehicles being used as watchtowers to control pedestrian traffic.
One of them was a Toyota Hiace van decorated in a livery that I still can't figure out. If you know what the green design stands for, or what agency that eagle-looking shield belongs to, please let me know in the comments. Anyhow, atop the van was a rather sophisticated contraption more akin to a NASCAR fan's party trailer than a cop car. There was a fully enclosed platform for police officers to stand on, which was surrounded by LED light panels. It also had an enormous, painted-to-match speaker. Officers observed foot traffic from their watchtower and issued marching orders to officers on the ground via a handheld microphone that projected through the large speaker.
It was the same story for perhaps the coolest cop car I saw while in Japan; a similarly decked-out Toyota Land Cruiser. This one was finished in the traditional police livery, but its roof platform appeared even more rugged than the van's. It was also equipped with a caged speaker, and what looks like some advanced camera system or maybe some sort of crowd-control tech. While I may not know the hardware, I do know that in just about every light post there were signs warning pedestrians of government-ran security cameras with facial-recognition technology.
Either way, it may be the first and last time I come across a Toyota Land Cruiser police car. I'm not sure how much off-roading goes on in Tokyo, but the high-ranking official who gets to drive it probably feels like they can conquer everything.
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