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Japan a great place for returning lost-and-found items


“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

©2024 GPlusMedia Inc.

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When I was moving out of Japan I found these places invaluable for getting rid of small stuff that I didn't really need but just couldn't bring myself to throw out nor go through the process of selling on the net. "Hey look, I found this nice pen and unused Hanshin Tigers shirt on the train". This sentiment would be catered for by recycling shops in other countries, I guess.

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In the old days, twice a year the Matsuzakaya dept. store in Ueno used to hold a sale of unclaimed items from JR lines in the greater Tokyo area. They filled up an entire floor's sales area. I don't know if the sale is still held -- the web site didn't mention it.

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hey NCIS there's a place exactly like you discribed in Kobe! They sell literally anything found on the trains. Sometimes is gross though.


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Don't forget that when you hand in something valuable, you should leave your contact info. I regret the one time, when I was a newbie, I handed an ugly but obviously very expensive women's watch to the hotel reception where I found it. They didn't ask me for my details either, the dodgy b'stards. I might have got a Thank-you tenner handed to me, who knows.

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Whenever I move, I fill a suitcase or bag with stuff I don't need and leave it on the train. Great, free way of getting rid of junk.

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Funny you should say that, Maria. Several years before my move I handed in a rather nice pen - I seem to get a lot of pens somehow - I didn't need to my gym and said I found it. The gym knew my contact details and the people at the front knew me because I was one of the few foreigners there. Now clearly no one would have claimed it yet I never heard another peep out of them.

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Nice idea Moonraker.

I have turned in very nice things and I write down on their little forms, "Returned By a Nice Gaijin" "Hug a Gaijin Today!"

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The place from where I come It's lost and never found haha

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I don't agree that Japan is some utopia where everything lost finds its way back to its master like some idealistic tale of a pet traveling the country to find its owner.

I've traveled around enough to know every country is hit or miss when it comes to lost items. I've gotten things back in Japan and I've never seen again certain items I've lost in Japan.

I never expect to get back what I lost, but when I do, I'm always overjoyed and I, not Japanese, always treat every item I find with care and turn it in knowing I'd want the same done to my lost property.

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When you turn something in to the police, you are given the option of claiming it in 90 days if the original owner fails to do so. You are also given the option of claiming a reward, whether or not one was offered.

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As a Japanese I would feel great shame in stealing anything. There are occasional exceptions of course but we like to return property back to the original owner no matter how valuable the item.

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Have lost or mislaid wallet three times in Japan. Got it back every time. Pretty amazing.

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Lost my gaijin card one time ... and in a very fast period of time it landed up at my local police station. Went there, got it easily ... and now try not to lose it again.

One time I found someone's wallet with money in it and turned it in to the police. They got my address ... and later I was asked if I wanted to have the owner give me a monetary reward for turning it in. I said "no" ... and that was that.

I've heard other people say they lost valuable things here in Japan ... and usually get them back. However, I've had friends say they lost their purses with bank cards in them ... and had money removed from their bank account illegally. So no matter what, better be careful ... and don't lose your valuables anywhere ...

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In Japan, people are really honest, and they don't want your cheezy stuff anyway. That makes Japan Lost and Found heaven. I guess I have lost things that have not been recovered. Cant think of anything off the top of my head... but I would use the justification that whoever found and kept it probably needed it more than I did.

If you just use cash, there is very little that a person needs to carry around that is not replaceable.

I would call this a good article. Lost and Found DOES work in Japan. If you lose something, go find it. If you find something, take it to the police. Don't give up. Karma works if you play the game.

Oh wait. My best lost and found was our bird, a cockatiel which escaped as a very very young bird some number of years ago. I suppose it was mid October. It managed to dodge crows and survive the freezing rain and cats for about three days until we got a call from the police, whom we had contacted with information on day one. Someone found it and brought it in. Group of kids on a playground, actually. Pets get lost and found too. We gave Toshoken to the kids and some cash to their guardian "for all the food it ate after it was found." Everyone was happy. Sigh. And now the bird has serious PTSD, but we love her, bless her heart.

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I always write down, "Found by a Kind Gaijin!" and nothing else.

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Left a camera on a train once. Never was turned into lost and found and I made several inquiries.

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@Mike L - you should leave yourself on the train.

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A friend left her bag with passport and wallet in the train and got it back the next day. Disposable umbrellas seem to be fair game though. I "lost" a few of those until I invested in a bright colored cloth one. I guess it takes too much guts to swipe one of those.

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I lost my wallet last month in Tokyo, got it back within 6 hours, minus the 27, 500 yen I had in it. So, thanks for the wallet back, no thanks to the thief !

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I lost my passport here in Nagoya, 5 days ago in a taxi. Still hoping the driver will turn it to the police. :(

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I lost my passport in Kamakura-Shi hope to find soon

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