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Why Japan’s Misplaced-and-Discovered System Works So Effectively


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photo: a wallet full of Yen bills.photo: a wallet full of Yen bills.
Misplaced wallets in Japanese cities are often returned, intact, to their house owners. Why? Zhang Peng/LightRocket through Getty Photographs

In case you misplace your cellphone or pockets in Tokyo, likelihood is superb that you simply’ll get it again. Right here’s why.

Telephones left in taxis. Briefcases forgotten underneath practice seats. Dropped wallets, deserted umbrellas, misplaced purses. Japan’s 126 million residents lose an enormous variety of private objects yearly. However a remarkably excessive proportion of them are returned to their rightful house owners. As a current BBC story reported, 83 p.c of cellphones misplaced in Tokyo, for instance, are ultimately retrieved. The scheme for reuniting unfortunate folks with their wayward valuables depends on a posh mixture of infrastructure, carrot-and-stick authorized encouragement, and cultural norms. Taken collectively, they kind an incredibly environment friendly system that has lengthy been a supply of surprise for Western observers.



The method often begins on the native koban “police packing containers” that kind the idea of Japan’s community-based strategy to regulation enforcement. Koban—some 6,300 unfold throughout the nation—are small, strategically positioned police stations that function most residents’ main level of contact with the police.


Throughout the sprawling metropolis of Tokyo, greater than 4.1 million misplaced objects had been turned in to police in 2018, a quantity that has been rising in recent times. Nationwide, 26.7 million objects had been reported lacking in 2015. Wallets, purses, and umbrellas are among the many most typical objects turned in, together with money. A record-setting 3.eight billion yen was reported in 2018; three-quarters of that sum finally made its method again to their house owners.


A small neighborhood police station, or koban, in Tokyo. (John S Lander/LightRocket through Getty Photographs)

In Tokyo, after officers fill in a report on the koban on the misplaced merchandise and the finder’s id—extra on that later—the objects are held on the police field for one month earlier than being despatched to the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Division’s newly renovated Misplaced-and-Discovered Heart. The Heart, positioned within the capital’s Bunkyo Ward, is a six-story facility that hosts some 900,000 misplaced objects, together with a 7,100-square-foot room devoted solely to umbrellas. (In 2018, 343,725 umbrellas—almost eight p.c of all misplaced objects—had been handed over. On a wet day, police would possibly settle for 3,000 of them.)



As soon as on the Heart, every merchandise is fastidiously logged and checked for personally figuring out info that may help in contacting the rightful proprietor. The Heart additionally operates a searchable Japanese-language lost-and-found web site cataloguing misplaced objects. If, after three months, the rightful proprietor can’t be discovered, possession of most objects might revert to the one who discovered it, or to the municipal authorities. For some unclaimed objects, equivalent to clothes, musical devices, and stationery, native governments might promote the products to wholesalers, who maintain pop-up matsuri gross sales all through the month.


Japan’s closely trafficked rail stations are one other widespread level to return discovered objects, with central rail lost-and-found depots capable of retailer objects for as much as two weeks earlier than turning them over to police. In keeping with figures launched by the Sagami Railway Firm, 85,043 objects had been turned over to station employees in 2018 (a couple of quarter of them had been umbrellas). Of this stuff, 31.Four p.c finally discovered their method again to their rightful house owners, though the low variety of umbrella retrievals—usually lower than 1 p.c are claimed—skews this quantity downward.


A finely tuned lost-and-found system, nonetheless, can not exist on infrastructure alone. Fostering a tradition that emphasizes returning misplaced property can be wanted, and in Japan, it’s a lesson that begins at a younger age.


In a now-viral Twitter put up, a lady named Keiko recounted how her younger son discovered a 50-yen coin in a park in Japan’s Hokuriku area. He insisted on turning within the cash—price lower than 50 U.S. cents—at a close-by koban. At first, Keiko (who requested that her household title not be used) anxious what response the 6-year-old would get from the officers on responsibility, however the police response stunned her: “A number of officers got here out [of the koban], requested the place and when the coin was picked up, and crammed out the official [lost and found] doc” and supplied reward to her son.


Keiko credit her son’s faculty for his actions. “Kids are taught at nursery faculty and kindergarten to return discovered objects to the koban,” she says in an electronic mail to CityLab. She additionally praised the response of officers. “My son is simply six years outdated, however they handled his issues as these of an grownup.”



Certainly, it’s not unusual in Japan to listen to tales of younger youngsters handing over small cash or trinkets to police, who then dutifully fill out a lost-and-found report. (It helps that police in low-crime Japanese cities usually have plenty of time on their arms.) Public notices from the police are additionally periodically launched reassuring dad and mom that youngsters returning nominal misplaced items will not be a burden on officers.


Japanese property legal guidelines play a task within the endurance of the nation’s tradition of returning misplaced objects—a New York Instances story from 2004 credit a authorized code written within the yr 718. Extra just lately, Japan’s Amended Misplaced Property Act got here into pressure in 2007, mandating that these discovering misplaced objects return them to their proprietor, to the police, or to a different designated authority, equivalent to a practice station lost-and-found workplace. This amended regulation initially derives from misplaced property laws relationship again to 1882, which tracks intently with the codification of broader property rights that occurred throughout the Meiji Interval.


For finders, Article 28 of the regulation supplies for a reward of 5 to 20 p.c of the returned merchandise’s worth, in instances the place it’s reunited with its proprietor. For objects that go unclaimed, the finder is entitled to take possession after three months have elapsed—excepting items equivalent to cellphones or objects which have probably figuring out info. Finders are, nonetheless, permitted to say no the reward and/or stay nameless.



The query, after all, is whether or not the Japanese mannequin will be tailored in locations the place lost-and-found success charges are decidedly decrease. In 2003, College of Michigan professor Mark West carried out a well-known lost-wallet research evaluating return charges in New York Metropolis (10 p.c) versus Tokyo (80 p.c). West has stated that such putting shows of neighborhood altruism converse to the facility of Japanese authorized custom, moderately than something deeper. “There’s no proof Japanese folks have excessive norms of honesty,” he advised the L.A. Instances in 2003. “It’s partly cultural coaching, however largely the regulation urges folks handy in misplaced property to the police.” Worldwide, analysis has proven a posh psychology behind the return of misplaced items, together with the stunning discovering that the extra money a misplaced pockets accommodates, the upper the probability of it being turned in.


Different cities can positively take a web page from Japan’s strong lost-and-found infrastructure. In 2007, for instance, New York Metropolis council member Gail Brewer ready a scathing report on the property restoration scheme utilized by New York Metropolis’s police division and taxi fee, criticizing it as a byzantine “lengthy experience to nowhere.” A complicated, decentralized patchwork of custodians—a few of whom will not be even conscious of their function throughout the system—and inefficient cataloging strategies make phone-and-wallet restoration a crapshoot for New Yorkers.



Police assets are additionally an element. North American cities lack koban networks (although a number of have tried to duplicate that mannequin over time), and neighborhood policing nonetheless struggles to supplant conventional approaches to regulation enforcement.


There’s no single inimitable high quality that makes Japan a loser’s paradise. Producing the mandatory neighborhood buy-in, infrastructure, and policing assets wanted to make a profitable lost-and-found system, nonetheless, requires concerted effort and ample funding. It doesn’t damage to have many centuries of authorized custom in your facet, too.

In regards to the Writer

Allan RicharzAllan Richarz

Allan Richarz

Allan Richarz is a privateness lawyer and author based mostly in Tokyo, Japan.

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