While certain aspects of life in Japan may leave you lost in translation, it’s practically a guarantee that you will have success when it comes to finding lost stuff. From pencil cases to umbrellas, glasses, and bags literally filled with cash, if it’s lost in Japan, chances are it will be reunited with its owner.
Earlier this week, I accidentally left my pass case with my train and bus commuter pass and credit card on the afternoon bus ride home. I didn’t realize my mistake until I was at the cash register to pay for some groceries. I wanted to use the money charged to my electronic counter pas to pay, but couldn’t without my commuter pass.
Panicked, I left the supermarket in search of my bright red pass case. It’s worth mentioning that there was a snow storm on that day. By the time I returned from work and reached my neighborhood supermarket, the snow was falling heavily and the wind picked up.
Unlike credit cards, if you want to cancel your train or bus commuter passes in Japan, you have to physically go to a train or bus station to do it. I think this part is so strange because commuter passes are registered with the owner’s name, address, and telephone number, much like a credit card.
Canceling my passes meant a trip in the snow, and forking out more than 20,000 yen ($200 USD) for new passes. I quickly called the Toei Bus helpline as soon as I got home to inquire about my see if my pass case.
The next few hours were in a panic. I did crack a smile at the thought of someone using my credit card, though. I got that one when I was a student and never bothered to up the credit limit. Whoever found it would have been seriously embarrassed if they tried to have a night out on the town at my expense!
Imagine my relief (and surprise) when Toei bus notified me that my pass case had been found and all three cards were inside!
I shouldn’t have been shocked, because I, like many residents of Japan, know of the stories of people turning in wads of cash and priceless jewelry. I myself have turned in lost items at train station information desks. There was also that time I found a literal bag of cash in a Starbucks bag at Ueno ABAB (a shopping mall). So, I like to think I have a bit (a lot) of karma credited in my account!
Does this prove that Japan really the best place in the world to lose items?
This was my third time losing something pricey in all my years living in Japan. The first incident was nearly 15 years ago. I accidentally left a shop bag containing jewelry on top of a public phone when using it. However, an elderly lady who saw me using the phone took the bag in her house and was waiting for me to return.
The second time, a few years ago, was not so fortunate. I lost a bracelet in a changing room and never found it…
And, this time around was successful. 2 out of 3 times I’ve been reunited with expensive lost stuff. Not bad, right? If I had to go further and mention all the times I’ve lost and successfully found umbrellas on trains, things in taxis, clothes on airplanes, or even that time I left my bento lunch box on a train, my success rate would be hovering at 90% percent.
What does this say about Japanese culture?
It would be easy to attribute this “honesty” to Japanese culture. That this is a “shame” based country where one would literally rather die than “lose face” or bring “dishonor” to their family and ancestors. Easy say that the reason why you have a high chance of being reunited with items in Japan is based on a trait that goes back to samurai times.
Obviously, not all Japanese people are perfect. Just like anywhere in the world there’s bad apples in any bunch. But, there’s got to be a reason why the return rate is so high here in this bustling city of 14 million people… and I think I’ve got it all figured out.
Since I have delivered my fair share lots items, I think the real reason why you’ll have luck finding something in Japan all boils down to one quintessential Japanese word: mendokusai (面倒くさい “Ain’t nobody got time for that”).
Dropping off lost items isn’t as easy as you think. I personally found this out the hard way.
When it comes to turning in lost items in Japan, there’s no cutting corners!
It was in late 2016, and I was around 8 or 9 months pregnant with the monster. It was already dusk even though it was only around 4pm (we don’t have daylight savings time here). As I exited my home station, a mom on a bicycle whizzed by, dropping her iPhone in the process.
I was not about to chase after her in my pregnant state. When I picked it up, I noticed her son on the lock screen. How cute! I wouldn’t want to lose my phone filled with baby photos, so I decided to return it.
She was a Softbank customer, so I (foolishly) thought I could just drop it off at a Softbank shop. Chances are the mom would be going down to Softbank to put a hold on her phone services anyway. I would save myself the hassle of going to a police station and filling out paperwork.
When I got to Softbank, they thanked me profusely… but they would not contact the customer.
Because they would mean accessing her kojin jouhou (個人情報, personal information) without her permission, which was illegal.
“But my pregnant self traveled all the way here in the dark,” I protested.
“We’re sorry, but if you could turn it to the koban (交番 police box) across the street…”
“Uh, could you drop it off at the koban?”
“We didn’t find it,” they countered.
“Oh, fine,” I said, and off to the koban I went.
So much for being a good Samaritan. Mind you, the nearest Softbank shop was at the next train station, right in front of the station building. It was only a 2 minute train ride, but it was better than walking 10 minutes in the dark to my nearest koban.
15 seconds later, I was in the koban, explaining the situation to the two officers on duty.
“Very well,” one said. “Just fill out this paperwork.”
“Look, all I want to do I just drop this off and go home. Plus, I have to pee.”
“But, you must,” insisted the other. “Don’t you want a reward or thanks from the owner?”
“Kekkou desu.” Not really.
They looked at me like I was a monster! I sighed and filled out the paperwork, getting lots of, “Your Japanese is good!” “You can write Japanese!” in the process.
A few days, later someone from the koban called to tell me that the owner picked up her phone. And although I was quite irritated that day, I was happy to be of service to someone! A little medokusai, to be sure, but no harm, no foul.
It’s mendokusai to deliver lost items to a lost and found desk or koban, but think about the “loser.” It’s even more mendokusai on their part — making phone calls, going to pick up items (or replace them if they are never to be found).
In my opinion the lost and found system in Japan works because of that one word — No one wants to go out their way to be a good Samaritan. Meanwhile, those who do only do so because they know firsthand exactly how mendokusai the process can be!
For more information on what to do if you’ve lost your things in the megacity of Tokyo, be sure to check out this useful article on Best Living Japan: Lost and Found Tokyo .
Now that you know what to do if you lose your stuff, go explore Tokyo!
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