Monday, April 7, 2008

Lost and Found in Tokyo

I love to regale my friends with stories of my visit to Zushi, Japan, including my brother's description on the low crime rate and general honesty of the Japanese populace. As we were walking to the train, he pointed to a low stone wall separating the houses and the train tracks. "You could forget your purse right there," he suggested, "and it would still be there three days later. Untouched."

It might be hard to consider, but the New York Times article, "Never Lost but Found Daily," seems to agree with my bra. In Tokyo, easily 8 million residents strong, items like cell phones, umbrellas and wads of cash find their way to the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Lost and Found Center, a four-story warehouse where hundreds of thousands of lost objects are meticulously catalogued by date and location of discovery.

According to the article, the system has been in place since the 18th century, where finders were given an assurance of a percentage of a reward for found property. Finders who did not hand in objects were severely punished (including a historical account from 1733 regarding two officials who kept a parcel of clothing and were led around town and executed). Today, children are taught from early on to hand in lost objects to the police in their neighborhoods and most of the 200 to 300 adults who come to the center every day take the system for granted.

In 2002, people found and brought $23 million in cash to the center, 72 percent of which was returned to the owners and about 19 percent went to
the finders after no one claimed the money for half a year. That's
right, if the original owner is not found after half a year, the finder can claim the object or money. But most finders don't bother making any claims, and the objects and proceeds usually end up going to the Tokyo government.

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