LONDON – Japanese tourists visiting London may feel like they are back at home with the recent introduction of a police box in the center of the capital, similar to the “koban” found throughout Japan.
London’s police erected a ministation in Piccadilly Circus — the heart of the entertainment district — last November to help pedestrians with directions and generally reassure visitors to London.
Officially, it is called a pavilion, but in many ways it is the same size and serves the same purposes as a police box in Japan.
The London post is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
It is proving popular, with 150 visits a day, including large numbers of Japanese looking for directions.
And an influential think tank is so impressed by the concept that it is calling for police boxes across Britain.
For many British people, the sight of the pavilion will bring back memories of the police posts that were a common sight in the first half of the last century.
The old posts were much smaller and were equipped with a phone, which could also be used by the public, linked to the nearest police station. They were only big enough for one officer. Boxes were phased out in the 1960s with the debut of two-way radios.
As Britain dispensed with its posts, Japan has, since the end of World War II, built koban across the country. There are now around 6,600.
Detective Superintendent Alaric Bonthron said police decided to install the pavilion due to the huge volume of people passing through Piccadilly Circus — up to 700,000 a week.
It is also more cost-effective than purchasing an office in the area.
“It’s about reassurance and having a visible presence, where visitors to London actually know there’s somewhere they can come for help and advice,” he said.
Unlike koban, officers at the pavilion do not undertake patrols. It is also not used for the reporting of crimes.
Thomas Kotze, 30, who mans the pavilion, said most visitors want directions or report lost items.
“We get lots of Japanese; they’re the biggest single group after the Europeans. They ask for directions to Mitsukoshi Department Store and the Japan Center,” he said. “Some speak English and others have maps, which we can point on to show where they should go.”
The Institute for Public Policy Research think tank has said many British police stations are old and intimidating to the public.