A kōban (Japanese: 交番) is a small neighborhood police station found in Japan. The term also refers to the smallest organizational unit in a modern Japanese Prefectural police department.[1] Small kōban buildings, staffed by uniformed officers at around 6,000 locations all over the country,[2] are the bases for community policing activities which complement the work of larger, central police stations.

A kōban in the Ginza district of Tokyo
A kōban in Kameari, Katsushika, Tokyo – the model for the kōban in the manga Kochira Katsushika-ku Kameari Kōen-mae Hashutsujo

Since the 1990s, many of them have been equipped with signs reading KOBAN in Latin script.[3][4]


A kōban is typically a one- or two-story building with a couple of rooms (although there is wide variation), staffed by one to ten (or more) police officers.[5]

The officers assigned to kōban belong to Community police affairs sections (地域課, chiiki-ka) of police stations (警察署, Keisatsu-sho).[6] They are able to keep a general watch, respond to emergencies, give directions, and otherwise interact with citizens on a more intimate basis than would be the case if they were operating from a more distant station. Although often translated into English as "police box",[7] kōban bear little resemblance to the police boxes formerly found in the UK or the police call boxes formerly found in the US.


A relocated Meiji-era koban from Sudo-cho, Tokyo, today at the Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum

The name kōban derives from the name of the earliest structure built in 1874, which were indeed simple boxes meant for standing watch (立番, tachiban) in rotation (交替, kōtai), thus creating a compound word consisting of () and ban ().[8] Soon after, in 1881, kōban were transformed into local community stations with as many as six officers and a new official name hashutsujo (派出所, "local police station") was given to it — although its common name, "kōban" survived.

"Kōban" was further systematized and spread out nationwide, playing an important role in the Japanese police system over decades. In 1994, the official name hashutsujo was changed back to kōban. One of the issues recognized in the last several years as most significant around the kōban system was the existence of unmanned stations (空き交番, akikōban). According to the National Police Agency (NPA), this issue was addressed and solved by 2007.[2]

In 2017, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department has been posting officers in kōbans who speak more than one language to help tourists and foreign expats, using the Kabukicho Kōban in Shinjuku and the Shibuya Ekimae Kōban.[9]

In 2019, the NPA has ordered a risk assessment ever since a series of attacks on officers manning the kōbans, who were wounded or killed just to steal their issued items, usually their sidearms. This was in the wake of an attack on a lone officer stationed inside a kōban on June 16, 2019 in Suita (the stolen sidearm was recovered after an arrest in a manhunt).[10][11][12] An initial suggestion was to prioritize the issue of special holsters that can easily protect an officer's sidearm from being easily taken.[13]

Other countriesEdit

A restored Japanese colonial-era kōban in Taiwan

Small police stations similar to the Japanese kōban could most prominently also be found in Singapore, which are known as neighbourhood police centres (NPCs).[14]

Additionally, the kōban system has become popular with international police training and assistance programs, particularly those of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). JICA has invested money in establishing kōban-style community policing programs in several countries, including Indonesia, Brazil,[15] and Honduras.[16] In 2016, a kōban was built by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) at The Grove Mall in Los Angeles, California, USA; the LAPD also operates a kōban in the Little Tokyo neighborhood.[17][18]

Services providedEdit

Inside a small kōban

Police officers stationed at kōban serve several roles:

  • Maps and directions – providing maps and directions to local addresses, sometimes even personally guiding those unfamiliar with local street layouts and addressing schemes. Additionally, officers can refer people to local hotels, restaurants, and other businesses.
  • Lost and found – accepting reports of lost items and accepting found items from members of the public and, if a matching lost item is turned in, notifying the owner of the item to come pick up the item.
  • Crime reports – taking police reports, typically for property crimes such as theft and burglary.
  • Emergency services – dialing the emergency telephone number "110" in the case of police, fire, or medical emergency. Direct contact can be made with the kōban and assistance will be dispatched.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Jones, Trevor; Tim Newburn (2006). Plural policing. Routledge. pp. 232–33. ISBN 0-415-35510-9.
  2. ^ a b Enhancement plan of kōban functionality (今後の交番機能の強化対策の推進について) Archived 2009-07-18 at the Wayback Machine, National Police Agency of Japan, viewed April 8, 2009 (in Japanese)
  3. ^ Parker, L Craig (2001). The Japanese police system today. ME Sharpe. pp. 38–58. ISBN 0-7656-0762-X.
  4. ^ "Landmark", Kōban, Japan: Metropolitan Police Department, archived from the original on March 15, 2013, retrieved April 9, 2009 — official signs
  5. ^ Toyozaki, Yoko; Stuart Varnam-Atkin (2008). 日本風物詩 [Are Japanese Cats Left-handed?]. Translated by Sawada Gumi. IBC Publishing. pp. 19–21. ISBN 978-4-89684-581-5.
  6. ^ National Police Agency Police History Compilation Committee, ed. (1977). Japan post-war police history (in Japanese). Japan Police Support Association. pp. 916–933. NCID BA59637079.
  7. ^ "'kōban' translated as 'police box'", Books (search)
  8. ^ Activities of kōban (交番・パトカーの活動) (in Japanese), Japan: Metropolitan Police Department, archived from the original on July 16, 2012, retrieved April 8, 2009
  9. ^ "Koban(交番) 警視庁".
  10. ^ "Suspect fired stolen gun in residential area 30 minutes later:The Asahi Shimbun". www.asahi.com. Archived from the original on 2019-06-18.
  11. ^ "Japanese police officer's loaded handgun stolen after he was stabbed in chest on patrol". The Straits Times. 16 June 2019.
  12. ^ "Man stabs police officer, steals his gun in Osaka Pref; 33-year-old suspect sought".
  13. ^ "Shocking though they are, attacks on police officers not very rare:The Asahi Shimbun". www.asahi.com. Archived from the original on 2019-06-17.
  14. ^ "S'pore's Neighbourhood Police Posts were inspired by Japanese "kobans"".
  15. ^ "White Paper on Development Cooperation 2015 | Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan".
  16. ^ "4. Consolidación de la Democracia", El Salvador (in Spanish), JP: JICA, archived from the original on July 13, 2009, retrieved February 13, 2009.
  17. ^ "Koban Substation Opens at the Grove". 29 November 2016.
  18. ^ "The LAPD Kōban".

External linksEdit