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Eye-catching Police Boxes Throughout Japan! Check Out These Kobans with Designs Ranging from Cute to Modern

People in Japan are extremely familiar with koban (police boxes), as that is where they turn for help when they’re lost, when they’ve lost something, or whenever they’re in trouble. Out of the 6,260 koban in the country, we’ve picked out five with particularly unconventional designs.

What are koban?

Koban are the lower levels of a police station and are the center of activity for an area’s policemen. They can mostly be found in cities, and are open 24 hours a day, with policemen switching in and out. Policemen on-duty at a koban stand on guard, go on patrol throughout their area, question suspicious people, and supervise and control local traffic, all in the aim of maintaining peace and order in the area. They also give directions, handle reports of missing belongings, and otherwise help out locals in need.
Patrolling the local area is such a core part of the job, that “patrolman” (omawari-san) has come to be synonymous with “police officer”. Even when the on-duty officer is out on patrol and isn’t at the koban, you can always get in touch with someone using the telephone in the koban.

1. Owl Koban (Tokyo)

This koban by Ikebukuro Station’s East Exit features a cute design of an owl, and locals have come to know it as the Owl Koban (Fukuro-koban). The koban was established in 2005, and the design was apparently selected by a group of local elementary and middle schoolers. The giant, googly owl eyes look out from the building as if protecting the neighborhood!

1. Owl Koban (Tokyo)

1-27-7 Minami Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku, Tokyo

2. Ginza-itchome Koban (Tokyo)

The Ginza-itchome Koban was established in 1984, and stands where the Kyobashi bridge once stood and the Kyobashi River once flowed before being reclaimed in 1959. The koban is made of brick and features a Western design, bringing to mind the Ginza of the olden days, from the time of Japan’s Westernization and modernization. The majestic roof is modeled after the head of the four pillars of the old Kyobashi bridge, which had been built in 1922. The original pillar head has been preserved and stands across the street, so make sure to check that out as well!

2. Ginza-itchome Koban (Tokyo)

1-2-4 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo

3. Zoo Koban (Tokyo)

The Ueno Park is a well-known tourist destination, featuring museums, art galleries, a zoo, and numerous temples within its large premises. Within this park you can find the Zoo Koban in front of the zoo, whose design is intended to evoke the forest. Its design, made of steel, aluminum, and glass, marks a brilliant contrast with the surrounding green space.

3. Zoo Koban (Tokyo)

8-4 Ueno-koen, Taito-ku, Tokyo

4. Minami-Hisaya Koban (Aichi)

At a five-minute walk from Nagoya’s central commercial area, the Sakae district, the Minami-Hisaya Koban features a cute design that resembles a saluting police officer. And it isn’t modeled after just any police officer, but Konoha Keibu, the police-officer owl who is the mascot of the Aichi Prefectural Police. For some people, the prospect of walking into a koban and approaching a police officer might seem daunting, but this cute design might make it easier for them.

4. Minami-Hisaya Koban (Aichi)

2-9 Shin-sakae-machi, Naka-ku, Nagoya-shi, Aichi

5. Yagoto Koban (Aichi)

This koban, located by Nagoya’s famous Yagotoyama Koshoji Temple, was rebuilt as part of a general renovation of the temple area. The brown and black color palette blends into the surrounding scenery and offers a calm, composed exterior. It's an unimposing, open building that you could easily stop by!
Because of this design and execution, in 2012, this building won the Good Design Award for regional development, as well as the 45th Chubu Architectural Award.

5. Yagoto Koban (Aichi)

100-65,Yagoto-honmachi, Showa-ku, Nagoya-shi, Aichi

The Japanese koban system, which is strongly rooted in regional culture, wins praise from across the world. There are many, many more koban in the country with interesting designs, so when visiting Japan, make sure to pay attention to the various koban that you encounter!

*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.

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