Japanese police hunt prolific Tokyo Metro strap thief

File image of a man using a standing strap on a train Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Around 400 of the otherwise worthless straps have gone missing in recent months

Police are investigating the theft of hundreds of straps used by standing passengers on the Tokyo Metro system, it's been reported.

Officials have no idea why the hand straps are going missing, but they count at least 400 have been removed from train cars in and around Tokyo since November, Japan's Kyodo News Service reports. The straps are difficult to remove and are apparently worthless, which leads investigators to suspect it is vandalism for its own sake, which is rare in Japan. "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," one railway company spokesman said.

Particularly badly hit is the Den-en-Toshi commuter line which has lost 182 straps, which are vital for passengers on packed rush hour trains. Without them, standing passengers risk injury on acceleration, braking or cornering. It's because of this vital safety need that the straps are manufactured to strict standards, and they simply do not come off under normal usage, their manufacturer told Kyodo. They are almost worthless as memorabilia. When one private rail operator replaced around 500 straps, railway buffs paid up to 200 yen for them ($1.60; £1.15), leading to one transport journalist to believe the mystery thief is either a prankster or attention seeker.

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