Police: Ibaraki Prefecture 33% honest

The Yomiuri reports that Ibaraki Prefecture police announced 2008 figures on reported incidents of lost and found items. The results for cash?  600 million yen reported lost, 200 million yen reported found.

Maybe some of the lost money could have been found later by the original owner who neglected to update the police. It could also have been somehow destroyed or neglected without human contact (and sometimes it takes a while to return a wallet). And on the other side, people surely could lie about losing cash in hope of an easy payday. But obviously the lion’s share must have been pocketed by the finders.

A typical praise one hears from visiting Americans about Japanese society conters on the people’s reflexive, almost unthinking sense of honesty, as if the nation were the world’s largest and most disciplined Boy Scout troop. A typical anecdote goes something like  “I dropped a one yen coin only to have it returned to me immediately by a kindly but unnecessarily concerned bystander,” often including a lament that this could never happen back home.

But in the case of Ibaraki Prefecture (located in the northern Kanto region and increasingly serving as a commuter base for Tokyo), the record gives a more complicated image of reality.

Ibaraki residents are outperformed by a more than 2:1 margin by the results of wallettest.com, a “social experiment” in which 100 people are observed finding “lost” wallets that were planted for them in Belleville, Illinois, a mid-sized American city. The test showed that 74% of people returned the wallet unharmed, while only 26% kept the money or the entire wallet. While it might not be fair to make a direct comparison since there is no guarantee that all or even most of the Ibaraki money was found in similar circumstances (the wallets in the Test only contained around $2 plus a fake $50 gift certificate), it does make me wonder whether common stereotypes of Japanese good citizenship are really grounded in reality, or whether foreign visitors are just more likely to a) lose things; and b) receive special treatment when they do, owing to the Japanese perception of them as guests in their country (not that that’s a bad thing – the typical tendency is for foreign tourists to be victimized rather than helped).

Also noted in the report:

  • Wallets were the most commonly lost item, followed by mobile phones. Cash was the most commonly found item.
  • People are concerned about retrieving some lost items more than others: Compared to almost 16,000 umbrellas reported found, only 49 bothered to report them missing.
  • In addition to cash, items reported found included a chameleon, a goat, and 33 chickens (the chameleon and goat were either returned or given to new owners, but the chickens had to be put down).

Ibaraki police started putting lost and found information on their website starting in December 2007. And Facebook has made the police potentially irrelevant in this regard as people can easily find and contact just about anyone with an account, as long as their wallets contain ID. Still, this doesn’t solve the problem of greedy or lazy people from deciding “finders keepers.”

20 thoughts on “Police: Ibaraki Prefecture 33% honest”

  1. You might like to read the first chapter of Mark D. West’s “Law in Every Day Japan” which deals specifically with this subject. This is from a review in the Asahi a few years ago:

    … West writes that detailed laws govern the treatment of lost property in Japan, which has simple, uniform and convenient legal mechanisms regarding the return of lost items. These laws partially explain why many a distraught foreigner in Japan has been amazed, for example, to have a lost wallet with all its money returned, a happening that Japanese do not find particularly exceptional. As West explains, first the law requires that finders of lost property turn it over to the police – the koban (police box) system makes finding a policeman easy – or face prosecution. The police, in return, are required to make efforts to locate the owner. The law also requires that owners who are reunited with their property pay a fee (usually 20 percent of the value of the item) to the finder, who is entitled to the item itself if the owner does not claim it within six months [the legislation has since shortened this to three months]. West cites survey data that indicates Japanese are quite familiar with the law regarding lost property, buttressing his assertion that law influences their behavior in this area. Combined with social mores, the legal framework regarding lost property results in an environment in which the principle articulated in the children’s rhyme “finders keepers, losers weepers” is not the norm, a situation that distinguishes Tokyo and other large Japanese cities from their American counterparts. It also results in policemen spending considerable time writing reports about lost umbrellas, a fact that led one New York City assistant district attorney West interviewed to comment, “The Japanese are [expletive deleted] insane”…

    West conducts a wallet test in America and Japan, although I can’t recall which cities he chose, which showed a notably higher return rate in Japan. He also had access to nearly 30 years of data on lost property, which broke down into cash and other items, along with return rates and prosecution of individuals who failed to turn in lost property.

    I shouldn’t think many foreigners are aware that it is a criminal offence in Japan not to turn in found items. I may not be recalling his work correctly, but I think West discovered that the bursting of the bubble had some effect on return rates, especially for cash, but not a large one. There would be an additional five years of data now but it would cover a period when the economy was gently expanding so perhaps there would have been no significant change over that period. The reduction of the six month waiting period to three months might even have increased the return rate a tad.

    One situation which shows up the difference more clearly than the wallet test is cash left behind at an ATM. This would effectively be regarded as free money in Britain by a finder although it might cause some pangs of guilt if it was a significant amount. In Japan, it is a crime not to hand it in and individuals have been arrested for walking off with it after being traced through images captured by the ATM camera.

  2. I’ve found two wallets in Japan and one in my home country and what I did in each case could shed some light on this problem.

    The wallet in my home country had credit cards, etc. so I knew the dude’s name (pre-facebook). There was $20 in it. No indication of phone number or address (fairly common, I think, I don’t have any indication in my own wallet). Not really knowing what to do, or even how to find police save driving downtown to the main station, I dropped it (cash n’ all) into a mailbox (which is what we are supposed to do).

    In Japan, both times I found wallets, I was sorely tempted – 40,000 one time and 60,000 another (I lived around the local izakaya hotspot). But both times I ALSO found the dude’s keitai number on something in the wallet (ie. same name on a meishi and a credit card), gave it a ring, and both times the dude was about 10 minutes walk away wondering what the hell happened to his wallet. Both times I got bit smiles and 5000 yen or so foisted on me amidst much bowing and stuff.

    So that would have been 100,000 in one year never reported and happily returned to its owners. If this happens a lot, it wouldn’t get included in that 33% rate which would probably be adjusted upward.

    The Belleville test is interesting, but I wonder what the results would have been like for $500 cash (and Japanese tend to carry more cash). $2 and a gift certificate isn’t nearly enough to make me feel bad about myself, I was sorely tempted by approx. $500, and I’d like to think that I’d give back a wallet if it had $2000 in it, but I just can’t say.

  3. Didn’t you see No Country for Old Men? If you find large sums of money, leave them the hell alone!

    I lost my wallet once when I was in high school and it made its way to the train company lost and found… through one of my many schemes to get around train fare, I had a bunch of child-fare platform tickets.. The Hankyu staff made me pay the difference on all the tickets, and afterward my host brother acted like I was the lowest life-form ever.

    Another time I lost my wallet was in Kyoto during college. After the farewell party at the end of the program I was too drunk to get into a taxi by myself, so to help one of the other exchange students placed me inside the taxi and put my wallet in my lap. THe wallet apparently fell out of the taxi (or just my lap). I asked the train company if a wallet had turned up (nope), but I did not know the proper procedures at the time so I don’t actually know if anyone turned it into the cops. All the same I never saw the wallet or the 50,000 yen in it again. Too bad since it was the last of my cash before heading home, so I had to renegotiate my last month’s rent and move into an English student’s place for the last week…

    And I have also lost

  4. Continuation of previous comment:

    I have also lost my wallet twice in the US – once in a Virginia amusement park and once just onto a parking lot after it fell out of my car – and both times it was returned intact, very politely. One of my high school teachers told a story of a guy demanding $20 reward (obviously a disgustingly offensive act), but in my case no one ever sought reward or seemed like they were hinting at one.

  5. “Didn’t you see No Country for Old Men? If you find large sums of money, leave them the hell alone!”

    Also notable is how he only got into the mess because he did the right thing and tried to help out (by bringing water).

    “All the same I never saw the wallet or the 50,000 yen in it again.”

    Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that I found that one too but cleaned it out because it belonged to a gaijin.

    “through one of my many schemes to get around train fare, I had a bunch of child-fare platform tickets.. The Hankyu staff made me pay the difference on all the tickets”

    Two questions – did you try to sell a BS story about how you were buying them for your little brother? and… was that your most humiliating moment ever?

  6. The child platform ticket shame was, of course, because you got caught and not because you were trying it on. New ticket gates and ticketing procedures have reduced fare-dodging in Japan but, at one time, it must have ranked just behind baseball as the country’s second-favourite national sport. The queues at the fare adjustment machines were always a sight to behold when a station decided to deploy an army of ticket collectors. There are still a few people even today but I haven’t seen a line snaking all the way back to platform as once happened in Otemachi. I think I even joined it briefly thinking there was a hold-up at the exit.

  7. I remember the fun to be had with a pass and tickets back in the old hand-clipped days. Much harder to get away with it now. Mind you, I never tried the child’s fare one as they were all manned back in the day.

    Interesting stories about wallets. I’ve never lost nor found one, but I do keep dreaming about being one of those people that stumbles into bags of thousands of 10,000 bills dumped in the countryside. No way would the cops ever get told….

  8. Facebook will hardly make the police irrelevant for this purpose in Japan. Very few Japanese people hold accounts unless they are doing or have done exchange studies overseas. The Japanese equivalent Mixi isn’t useful for this purpose since no one signs up using their real names.

  9. Jade, Chigurh might know.

    “The Hankyu staff made me pay the difference on all the tickets”

    I’m not one of those “what about my rights!” guys, but didn’t you wonder what goddam business the Hankyu employees had inspecting the contents of your wallet?

  10. They were probably trying to find proof it was Adamu’s, and rather than letting him inspect it and slip something in, did it themselves.

    M-Bone – yeah, similar thoughts have occurred to me. I would make damn sure I was not being observed….

  11. “rather than letting him inspect it and slip something in, did it themselves.”

    No, I understand WHY they did it, but do they really have a “right” to say s#%t about the contents of the wallet? If it was dope, yes, they could report you to the cops. But for some railroad guys to arbitrarily search your property and decide to take a punitive measure… that’s a bit crap.

    “I would make damn sure I was not being observed….”

    You do kinda stand out in Japan though.

  12. Well, given that we have established it was not arbitrary – they were looking for ID – one assumes they have the right to say something about being ripped off. Like if your wife left her bag at the local Konbini, they checked through it to find her ID, and discovered she had been shoplifting. Now, in Hankyu’s case, while they had no actual proof that Adamu had been the one to use those tickets (“I was given them by a load of little kids as a present!”) it would certainly make me ask some hard questions. The first one being, “Why the hell did Adamu keep them in his wallet in the first place instead of disposing of the evidence?”

    “You do kinda stand out in Japan though.”

    Never fear – I will use my patented Sean Connery 007 Japanese Man disguise, coupled with the Sean Connery Rising Sun Flawless Accent if needed. They’ll never spot me….

  13. I once dropped my wallet in the gutter in front of a friend’s house back home in Jersey while getting in or out of the car. I actually had no idea I’d even lost it until a guy rang my doorbell the next day to return it! Luckily, the guy who found it just happened to be a cop that lives on the street, so of course he just dropped it off when he was nearby, and being a cop I didn’t feel like I should give him any reward money-paying a cop to do their job just feels like a bribe, even if it’s not really.

  14. Oh, I also once dropped my phone on some train line in Tokyo, in fact when I was with Adam. As soon as I noticed I called it from his phone (or maybe his wife’s) and a station attendant picked up and told me where I could find it the next day. Of course, a lost phone is unlikely to be stolen in Japan, as there’s basically no used cell phone market here.

  15. On the issue of stealing train rides: When you’re in a crowded station and in a hurry to get somewhere, you can often dash right through the gate and it will only aggravate the person behind you. I have done this inadvertently a couple of times when I kept my PASMO commuter pass in my wallet: sometimes the gate would simply not read it, and I would often not find out until the next day when it didn’t work to re-enter the station (the friendly attendant would have to manually reset it). I didn’t think many people would take advantage of this willingly, but last night in Shimbashi I witnessed one guy quite unabashedly running through the gate ahead of me without swiping anything remotely ticket-like at it. The gate let him through and then closed on me.

    And the wallet story, now that I hear it again, sounds a lot like the evidence problems they throw at students in law school: scenarios where a police officer pulls over a car for a busted taillight, then smells something funny coming out of the window, then checks the trunk, then ends up in the driver’s house, etc. etc. But I don’t really know why Adamu kept the evidence either. I’ll confess that I used child fares the whole time I was in Kansai, though I at least paid the child fare for the full journey…. except for a couple of occasions where a group of us young gaijin rode the Green Car on the Haruka without tickets and spoke to the hapless conductors in made-up Finnish.

  16. I don’t know why Adamu didn’t just tell Hankyu that he had all those tickets in his possession because of his predilection for inviting young children to join him for long train rides. I wonder how quickly that would have got him deported?

    Incidentally, there was a story recently that Pasmo, Suica, ICoCa and PiTaPa cards can overcharge you if you accidentally miss a gate. This from the Yomiuri:

    “A 60-year-old man in Chofu, Tokyo, was surprised in January when he checked the user history of his son’s Pasmo card. His son took a train ride from a station on the Keio Line via Shinjuku Station to Akabane Station on JR East’s Saikyo Line. The regular fare between Shinjuku Station and Akabane Station is 210 yen, but 500 yen was deducted from his son’s card. The card history wrongly indicated that his son had taken a complicated route by changing trains at stations including Shirokane-Takanawa Station on the metropolitan-government-run Toei Mita Line and Nakano Station on Tokyo Metro’s Tozai Line. JR East discovered the card had not been properly read when the man’s son had transferred from the Keio Line to the JR Saikyo Line at Shinjuku Station. With the card having no record of going through the gate at Shinjuku Station, the fare calculation system created a complicated route that a passenger would have had to have taken to reach Akabane Station without passing through any gates to change trains. The stations in the card history would have allowed the passenger to transfer from the Keio Line to the Toei line, from the Toei line to the Tokyo Metro line and from the Tokyo Metro line to JR East’s line without passing through any ticket gates.”

    In Tokyo, these problems came up when Pasmo and Suica became interchangeable and the same is true in Osaka with PiTaPa and ICOCA.

  17. I guess I am just not as street-smart as you, Mulboyne! And anyway, I don’t see how that explains it away, unless I disappear the children inside the train system and keep their platform tickets as souvenirs.

    I think the lesson to be taken from that Yomiuri story is that everyone should try and beat fares as much as humanly possible, because the train company will screw you anyway.

  18. When are the East and West cards going to become interchangeable? It should be a scandal that there were ever separate systems in the first place.

  19. Chiba police have announced their data too. Over one year, they had 180,548 reports of lost property involving 326,00 items (wallets, driving licences and bank cards headed the list). They also had 447,664 reports of found property involving 570,000 items (umbrellas, handkerchiefs and keys headed that list). Lost cash was 1.68 billion yen while found cash was 420 million yen. 198 million yen was successfully returned.

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