“Lost and found” calls to mind keys, wallets, passports, umbrellas, balloons... Balloons? You never know. One day last month, reports Josei Seven (Nov 17), a very large (15 meters long, 1 meter wide) balloon was found in a street in Shiraishi, Miyagi Prefecture. That was puzzling enough. Its contents were even more so: a photograph of North Korea’s supreme leader Kim Jong-un, sheets of paper filled with Korean writing, and a pack of instant ramen.
The writing, when translated, turned out to be bitter criticism of the pudgy 32-year-old dictator. Sample: “His people are starving; only he is fat.” The ramen, local police investigators figure, was meant to suggest how plentiful, cheap and delicious food is in South Korea, the apparent point of origin. The mystery was never conclusively solved, but the speculation is that North Korean refugees in the South were sending a message back home. Contrary winds foiled them, and the balloon ended up in northern Japan.
Japan is known worldwide as a country where lost items are found. Passersby pick them up, go out of their way if necessary to take them to the nearest koban (police box), and – most remarkably, perhaps – pocket nothing, however valuable. TV announcer Christel Takigawa, pitching Japan in 2013 as the best candidate for the 2020 Olympics, focused on this supposed feature of the national character. “Last year,” she said, “more than $30 million in lost cash was turned in to Tokyo police stations.”
Maybe that inspires carelessness along with confidence. In 2015 in Kyoto, rated the world’s most popular tourist destination, some 610,000 personal items were lost – a 10% rise over the year before. Among them were passports carried by a family of Taiwanese tourists. They dropped them in a city bus, apparently. Panic! They were leaving for home the next day. What were they to do?
No worries. The passports were waiting for them at the bus terminal. Someone had turned them in. The family was overcome with relief and gratitude. They knew, perhaps that the matter might not have ended so happily elsewhere.
The year 2014 set a national lost and found record – 25 million items. How are they handled? The usual procedure is for stores, train or bus stations, police boxes, wherever they are initially turned in, to keep the items for two weeks. If no one calls for them, they are sent on to a central depot run by the local municipal or prefectural government, which keeps them three months. After that, they become the legal property of whoever found them.
Not all lost articles are valuable. A lot of them come from 100-yen shops and other low-end outlets – the sort of things no one can be bothered claiming. It’s a fact that says something about the times. We live in an age of disposable items, Josei Seven observes – a sharp contrast to the rigorous conservation standards of an earlier tradition.
In conclusion, we follow the magazine to a lost-and-found depot in Tokyo’s fashionable Harajuku. Someone comes in looking for a lost umbrella. “Pale pink,” she says, “blue handle.” Three staffers are on hand, and they grimly set to work, getting down on all fours to comb through a veritable mountain of umbrellas – roughly 3,000 of them. It may take a while – but they won’t give up until they find it.© Japan Today