Where Your Stuff Goes When You Lose It in Tokyo

The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP Images

Did you forget your sunglasses on the shelf of the Kinokuniya bookstore? Leave your umbrella under the izakaya counter? They might end up at the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department’s six-story lost and found center in Bunkyo Ward. Japan is known as a country of citizens so honest that pedestrians won’t pocket money they see lying on a busy city street, and Japan’s Lost Property Law reinforces this. Items as inexpensive and disposable as socks and as irreplaceable as ash-filled urns, even pets, find their way to the center.

A 660-square-meter basement room handles the 3,000 umbrellas that are found in Tokyo on an average rainy day. In 2016, the police processed ¥3.67 billion worth yen worth of lost cash. Seventy-four percent of it was retrieved. (Only 0.8 percent of the umbrellas were.) For The Japan Times, Mizuho Aoki investigates how this system of storage and retrieval works, following the life of unclaimed items as they end up for sale at secondhand stores.

The center stores the items it receives in an orderly manner.

Officials at the center will then try to locate the owner from the information they can glean from the item, typically making an average of about 250 phone calls a day and sending notices by post, Okubo says. If the police find a foreign passport, they will forward them to the embassy concerned.

“It’s a lot of work,” Okubo says.

In 2016, an average of 286 people a day came to the center to pick up their belongings. As you’d expect, the vast majority are overjoyed to be reunited with their lost property. Foreign visitors are especially grateful, Okubo says, with some even asking officials at the center to pose in photographs with them.

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