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.”