Japanese Solution to Thwarting Smash and Grab Crime Using Samurai Era Weapon

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A daring employee at a jewelry shop in Tokyo’s Ueno district successfully fended off three armed robbers using an unusual weapon – a samurai era weapon man catcher polearm called a sasumata.

The incident occurred on November 26th, 2023. Two men on a motor scooter pulled up to the Ryutsu store, located near Okachimachi Station, and entered the shop without removing their helmets. Wielding what appeared to be crowbars, they immediately began smashing the glass display cases inside.

Moments later, a third accomplice arrived on his own scooter. As he crossed the threshold into the store, still wearing his helmet and brandishing a potential weapon, the attack took an unexpected turn. The first two robbers suddenly came barreling back out, crashing into their associate. Unbeknownst to them, an employee had taken up arms with a man catcher polearm, a weapon with superior reach.

Security camera footage shows the employee, wearing suspenders, aggressively swinging the polearm at the fleeing criminals. A second employee joins in the defense, kicking over one scooter and shoving another to the ground. As the robbers retreat, the first employee focuses his attacks on one of the toppled scooters, forcefully striking it multiple times, presumably to limit its effectiveness as a getaway vehicle.

The three criminals ultimately left empty handed, unable to steal anything, and no one was injured in the incident. Police are investigating the attempted robbery and now have possession of the two abandoned scooters.

This daring defense comes amidst an alarming rise in smash-and-grab robberies targeting luxury shops in Tokyo over the past year. The cluster of jewelry and high-end watch retailers in this particular Ueno neighborhood has seen nearly half a dozen such crimes in 2024 alone.

The suited Ryutsu employee stated in an interview that the store purchased the medieval-style weapon last year after hearing of similar robberies elsewhere. He also believes the same two scooters cased the shop around the same time the day before.

While the employee’s bold maneuvers with the man catcher have earned much praise online, weapons experts caution that such offensive use is not actually recommended. Man catchers are traditionally defensive tools, intended to safely restrain subjects when used properly by multiple people. Still, the employee’s imposing physical presence and deterring swings likely helped thwart the brazen midday robbery attempt. The identity of the three criminals remains unknown as police continue their investigation.

What is a Sasumata Polearm?

While European man catchers date back to medieval times, Japan developed a similar restraint weapon known as the sasumata. This is the style of polearm utilized by the bold Ryutsu employee.

The sasumata consists of a long wooden shaft ranging from five to seven feet in length. Rather than a U-shape, the metal fitting on a sasumata is more of a flattened fork shape. The inner side features pronged spikes for gripping, while the outer side extends into a slender point.

Like its European cousin, the sasumata was intended for detaining individuals from a safer distance. Samurai police would use the long reach to ensnare flailing limbs or extremities, then leverage the shaft to force subjects to the ground. Once pinned down, the spikes prevent escape while the flat outer edge presses down painfully to encourage compliance.

Sasumata were common non-lethal weapons for law enforcement through Japan’s Edo period. Their defensive purpose was to restrain dangerous criminals for transport and questioning. Offensively swinging or striking with force is not recommended, as it needlessly endangers both parties.

While the bold shop employee adapted the tool for an improvised robbery defense, sasumata are traditionally defensive arms forcapture and detention. When properly used by multiple individuals, they can safely control subjects without undue harm. Their historical role continues on today in modern policing equipment designed to entangle non-compliant suspects.

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