Japan's Lost and Found System leads to Many Happy Endings

If you lose your wallet or cellphone in Japan, you will most likely get it back.



(Happy_Nati / Shutterstock.com)

If you are like most people, you can easily misplace or leave things behind like glasses, keys, umbrellas, or even your cellphone or wallet. You can try retracing your steps or calling your phone to try to find the lost item and sometimes you are successful. Or not.

You can check the lost and found if you left your belongings in a train or shopping mall, but many you may not have much hope of being reunited with your  lost item unless you happen to live or visit Japan.

That's because Japan has an amazingly high percentage of returned lost items. A perfect mix of cultural norms of prioritizing others, empathy, religious influences, and a system of friendly neighborhood police officers make losing something no big deal according to The BBC.

Take Tokyo as an example, with 14 million people living there, millions of items are lost every year but a huge amount of them are reunited with their owners. The Tokyo Metropolitan Police said that In 2018, over 545,000 lost IDs – 73 percent – as well as 83 percent of cellphones and 65 percent of wallets were returned to their owners. Even 3.8 billion yen or 75 percent of cash that was lost was returned.

A study from the University of Michigan showed that 88 percent of the researchers "lost phones were returned in Tokyo and only six percent in New York city.

Most people who find lost items will turn them into a kōban – a small neighborhood police station. The kōbans are everywhere, 97 per 100 square kilometers and according to BBC, Japanese police officers have a very different reputation compared to those in the US and UK and are thought of as friendly and helpful.

“If a child sees a police officer on the road, they usually greet them,” Masahiro Tamura, a lawyer and law professor at Kyoto Sangyo University, Japan told BBC.

When an item is turned in, a report is filled out and the item stays in the police box for a month according to City Lab and then it is transferred to a municipal lost and found center. The officers then search for a way to find the owner and contact them. If the owners are not found within three months, the item can go to the finder (except cellphones) or to the municipality to sell.

There is a finder's fee of 5-10 percent given to people who turn in lost items that are claimed and if the owner is not found, the finder gets to keep most items. These are rarely claimed.

Children are taught to return lost items to the kōban even if they only find a small amount of cash. A child can bring in 10 yen and it will be treated like any other lost item with a report being filed and the police will usually give the coin back as a finder's fee, but this sets a pattern very early about returning lost items.

Can this commitment to returning lost items be replicated elsewhere? Many cities and countries do not have the resources like the small community police stations or an organized lost and found system but in other places, municipalities are trying to implement a kōban-like concept where law enforcement gets to know the people they serve. And, just like in Japan,  you have to start kids off young by encouraging  children to turn found items into the lost and found for the benefit of their classmates or neighborhood.

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