Investigators are scratching their heads over the theft of hundreds of hand straps from Tokyo commuter trains.
Operators are urging anyone who knows what’s going on to clue them in.
The straps are difficult to remove and they fetch next to nothing at resale, and vandalism for its own sake is rare in Japan.
The culprit is prolific: At least 400 straps have been stolen from the train cars of major railways in and around Tokyo since November.
A wide range of rail lines have been hit.
The latest was the Seibu Ikebukuro Line, where on Saturday evening a man reported to staff at Sayamagaoka Station in Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture, that straps were missing from the car he rode. The operator checked and found 16 missing in two cars and reported the matter to police.
“I have no idea what this person is going to use them for, but it causes trouble for our customers so I hope this person will stop doing this,” a Seibu Group spokesperson said.
Meanwhile, Tokyu Corp. revealed that 182 straps are missing from the Denentoshi Line, 17 from the Toyoko Line and two from the Meguro Line.
Tokyo Metro Co. said 80 straps are missing from trains on its Hibiya, Chiyoda, Yurakucho and Fukutoshin Lines.
Thefts have occurred on other lines, too, including 54 from trains operated by Odakyu Electric Railway Co., 16 from Tobu Railway Co., 9 from Keio Corp. and 20 from Japan Railway trains.
Hand straps are provided for commuters to cling to as they sway in packed rush-hour services. They have strict strength requirements set by the Japan Association of Rolling Stock Industries.
“We take into account the force applied when a passenger pulls or twists the grab handle during a ride, in normal usage,” said Yusuke Tanaka, who heads the association’s engineering division.
An employee of a company that manufactures straps stressed that the grab handles simply do not come off under normal usage.
Rail fans do, however, value them as memorabilia. When private rail operator Keikyu Corp. replaced a slew of straps recently, it sold about 500 of the old ones for ¥100 to ¥200 each. “They sold pretty well,” a company representative said.
That said, for a thief the return seems hardly worth the risk.
“The straps aren’t anything you could gain a huge profit by reselling them, so I believe it is either a prank or this person just wanted to make some noise,” said journalist Jun Umehara, who covers railway issues.
Railway companies are beefing up security patrols on trains and in stations.