Losing things in Japan

With Japan opening up its borders to tourists, I thought I’d cover a few things that might be helpful to know when you’re visiting.

Today, I want to talk about losing things here.

My experiences losing things here

I still remember one time I was at a summer festival (loong before the pandemic when summer festivals were still a thing) and I don’t even know how but I dropped my wallet. I didn’t realize it was missing until I tried to pay for some snacks and realized my bag didn’t have my wallet in it anymore.

I went to the little information counter all festivals seem to have, and the people there seemed visibly relieved to see my face (they had looked inside the wallet and found my driver’s license inside) as they handed back the wallet to me.

Another time I had left a coin purse (Japan is still more a cash-based society than cards) at a drugstore without even noticing. An hour later I got a phone call from the drugstore, and they seemed apologetic for their sleuthing skills:

“We noticed you had a coupon for our drugstore in the coin purse, so we traced the ID on the coupon to your point card, and that’s how we got your number. You left the coin purse here, though, and we’ll keep it for you behind the counter until you can come and get it.”

Just yesterday the rain cover on my bike had blown off in the wind as I had been bike riding, and I hadn’t even noticed until today. In a panic, I retraced my steps and found the cover neatly folded up and resting on a bush along the path I’d used.

Social code

I know that in America, anyway, most people assume something has been stolen and gone forever if you lose an object somewhere, like an umbrella, a bike or (God-forbid) your wallet.

While I have experienced exceptions here, for the most part, if you lose something here, assume someone is trying to get it back to you.

For example, just walking around my neighborhood here any given day, I’ll see random lost objects put up on trees or along fences–hats, a kid’s shoe or toy, a train pass–to make it stand out more to people passing by.

There is an unspoken but strict social code here that you do not ever simply assume a lost object is up for grabs; only the owner can come back and get it. Your social duty is to make it easier for the person who lost it to find it again, hence stringing it up on trees at eye level.

Finding it again

If the object is highly valuable (rings, wallets etc), then most people will go to their nearest Koban (police station) and turn it in. Thus, if you happen to have the misfortune of losing something of great value, start off at the local Koban and be prepared to fill out a lot of paperwork.

If you happen to lose your item on the train, most people will grab it and turn it into the nearest station official whenever they get off the train, so go to the ticketing gates and talk to the people manning the gates there. Different companies own different lines so if you skipped from Tokyo Metro to the JR Lines, for example, then it’d be a good idea to visit a station belonging to each company and reporting the lost object to them.

If you lose an object near shops, definitely ask people working at the shops.

In short, losing something in Japan usually doesn’t mean you have to forever say good-bye to it, so don’t give up looking for it too easily.