How to lose something (and get it back) in Japan
Losing something important can be a stressful experience, and even more so when it happens in a foreign country. Add the unfamiliarity of the local language, and it might make you want to give up searching altogether.
Since coming to Japan, I’ve heard countless tales from others around me of their lost item debacles. However, I was surprised to hear that more often than not, these stories had happy endings. This did not seem contingent on the importance or value of the item, and I heard everything from someone miraculously finding important files exactly where they were forgotten days earlier, to kind strangers contacting people about finding their dropped wallet.
But this was all hearsay. I mean, is losing something in Japan really different from anywhere else in the world? I couldn’t really fathom such a difference—that was until I experienced it all myself when I lost something in Japan.
I do not find myself to be a particularly forgetful person, but my time inevitably came after being at APU for a year and a half. School was out for spring vacation, and I was on the train to my part-time job. I had done some shopping beforehand, so I had a lot of bags with me, which stopped me from noticing that I had forgotten the most important one: my handbag.
Just as the train began to pull away from the station, I looked down and was horrified upon not seeing my handbag amongst the shopping bags. Luckily, I at least had my phone in my pocket, but my keys, wallet, and important papers for my job were all now on a train bound for the neighboring town of Kitsuki. I had heard from many other friends that the chances of forgotten belongings being taken by someone else were quite slim, and it was far more likely it would simply be brought to the nearest security office. However, growing up in America close to New York City, left me with what I considered to be a healthy disbelief in the existence of the so-called “friendly neighbor.” Suffice it to say, I was not very optimistic about the chances of seeing my belongings returned to me.
I spent the short walk to my part-time job frantically researching who to call to find out where my bag might be. Upon reaching the school where I teach English, I explained the situation to my boss, who suggested I call the lost and found office at the train station from which I departed, which was Oita Station. With her help, I located the phone number from the train station’s website, and after being asked for an extremely specific description of its contents (Read: how many pens are at the bottom of the bag, how many keys are on the keychain, and much more about miscellaneous items I did not remember having) I was informed that my bag was being held in the lost and found office at Oita station, and that I could go and pick it up after work.
In light of this event, I have a few words of wisdom to keep in mind should you find yourself in a similar situation. If you ever end up losing something as well, it is important to first contact the location where you lost the item—be it a train, restaurant, or even the park, there is a good chance the object you have misplaced will still be exactly where you left it.
Case in point: there is a plastic bag containing a lost notebook that has been hanging at a bus stop in Beppu for the better part of a year with the words “忘れ物” (wasuremono; lost item), written across the front. Even after all this time, the student could still go and retrieve their notes almost exactly where they misplaced them all these months later.
Moreover, even if your things have been passed over to the police, calling the lost and found at the location you forgot your belongings will allow you to find out the exact station to go to without having to wander about aimlessly.
My second piece of advice is to keep good track of all the things that could possibly make your lost item recognizable. In addition to the long list of things I did remember having, there was one thing I had put in my bag a few days prior and completely forgot I had: my inkan.
An inkan is a personal seal/stamp used in Japan in lieu of a signature. For obvious reasons, this makes it a very important item that most people would immediately remember being amongst their belongings. I, however, rarely use my inkan, so it couldn’t have been further from my mind when I was running through the list of things I usually keep in my bag.
Unfortunately, the man working in the security office was not ready to admit it was indeed my bag until I listed this last item. Finally, however, he caved and mentioned that perhaps my inkan may have also been in the bag, and after describing the flowery, cherry blossom design of the inkan case, I was cleared for retrieval.
Since my experience with losing (and then finding) my bag, I have definitely become more careful about keeping track of my belongings. And while my story is just one of many of people being able to quickly and seamlessly recover lost items in Japan, I’m glad this story too has a happy ending and that it happened here, in the country of omotenashi. (Read more about omotenashi in Drusila’s blog here!)
Photos featured are courtesy of APU students Neem Sutantio and Duc Hai Duong Nguyen.