Kashima Police Station (picture from their website)
Bicycle theft in Japan is rampant (occurring at rates not unlike many college campuses in the US), so bicycles must be registered with the prefecture as a theft prevention measure and this is handled by the police who keep a database. Bohan toroku (theft prevention registration) is good for six years and the store where you buy the bicycle will fill out the form for you, collect the fee of ¥500, and hand you an ID tag for the bike.
When I bought the Yamaha hybrid-electric bike, however, I used the internet and got it from a shop in Kobe, Hyogo prefecture, so it was registered in there and came with a Hyogo ID tag. The Kashima police do occasionally stop bicyclists and run a check on the ownership - I've seen them doing that with a check point set up near Kashima Jingu shrine. I wanted to make sure my Hyogo registration would not be a problem if this happened to me (a gaijin riding a fancy bike kind of stands out), so I went down to the main police station in town to inquire.
No one was waiting in line when I walked in the door and I was directed to the third floor. There was no counter up there and I could not read the signs, but as I stood in hallway trying to decide what to do (door number 1? door number 2? or door number 3?), two women came out of an office and asked what I needed. I handed them the ID tag and my ryoshusho (receipt) and asked about getting an Ibaraki bohan toroku. After briefly discussing the matter between themselves, they said it would not be necessary and simply made a copy of the receipt and tag. Well, that was easy. I put the ID tag on the bike and was on my way. Just in case, I kept another copy of my receipt in my wallet. That was in mid-January.
Last Saturday I received a letter in the mail from the Kashima Police, which began "Hello, this is Kashima Police Station".
It turns out they had made a mistake and I really did need an Ibaraki tag after all. But the letter surprised me. Why? Because they had taken the time to find someone to write the note in English, telling me quite specifically what I needed to do, where I needed to go (a local hardware store that sells bikes) and how much it would cost. They even included a copy of the receipt card to be sure I knew what it looked like as I needed to bring it with me. I'm impressed.
In case you were wondering about the bird on the police station sign and envelope,ひばりくん(Hibarikun) here is a Skylark and mascot of the Ibaraki Police. What a country.