There are, of course, worse things in life than losing your keys, a wallet, or a smartphone. But at the moment you realize they're gone, it sure doesn’t seem like it. And unfortunately, in most places, it can be exceedingly difficult to locate those items again. But in Japan, there’s a great chance you’ll be reunited with your missing belongings.
Allan Richarz of CityLab recently broke down the reasons why Japan’s unique legal and cultural climate provides an effective method for retrieval of lost items. Suppose a citizen stumbles across an umbrella or purse that’s missing its owner. Rather than wonder where they might be able to turn it in, they head to a local koban, a small police station that’s usually within walking distance. (More than 6300 kobans span the country.) In 2018, 4.1 million missing items were turned in to police, and the chances of reuniting them with their owners is pretty good. That same year, 130,000 of 156,000 lost phones (83 percent) were returned and 240,000 wallets (65 percent) went home.
Missing items are typically held at the local koban for one month in case the owner retraces their steps and comes back. After that, they’re sent to a Lost and Found Center at the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department, where the item is cataloged, searched for information relating to its owner, and then put into an online database that the public can check. Belongings are held for three months. After that, they might be handed over to the person who found it. If not, they become the property of the local government, where they might eventually trickle down to secondhand thrift sales.
What prompts the Japanese to be so diligent in handing over items? Respect. Children are taught in school that returning belongings to police is part of their civic duty. It’s also law. The Amended Lost Property Act of 2007 mandates that lost items be turned over to authorities if the owner can’t be located. The same law also enforces a reward that’s a percentage of the value of the item if it’s reunited with its owner.
Losing personal possessions while traveling can be a nightmare. If you happen to lose something while visiting Japan, however, there’s a good chance you can avert disaster. Just ask for directions to the nearest koban.