The Tokyo lost and found process is something to marvelled at. While we haven’t had the chance to experience it ourselves, we have admired it from afar. But, what is it that makes it so good?

Why Tokyo’s lost property system works

Way back in 2019, a tweet from a Tokyo mother briefly did the rounds online. The author, named Keiko, told the story of her son finding a seemingly insignificant 100 yen coin (worth around 40p). If this had been a younger version of me, it would have gone on sweets. However, this nameless boy was clearly more honest and chose to hand it in at one of the many small police stations in Japan called Koban.

You might imagine that the officers on duty didn’t take this particularly seriously. No doubt they had bigger things to worry about. But, instead of reprimanding our young hero, they took the coin, thanked him for his honesty, and made a lost property report. Whether or not a frantic man came searching for his 100 yen coin wasn’t made clear. What this is a sign of, however, is a society where a lost mobile phone or bank card isn’t the end of the world.

Tokyo’s residents deserve plaudits for this, and, as a company that battles against the scourge of lost property, we salute them. However, it’s not the only factor. The integrity of the Tokyoites (or Edokko, as they are known) is complemented with a lost and found process that’s slick, efficient, and frankly typical of Japan’s glistening capital city.


So, how does it all work?

If it’s found on the street

For Tokyo’s above-ground lost property, the Koban – which roughly translates as ‘police box’ – is where items are handed in. An omnipresent feature of the city’s architecture, the Koban act as much as community hubs as satellite offices for the police. With 97 per 100km, they are impossible to miss and ideal for residents to deposit misplaced possessions.

If an item is found on the metro

On the Tokyo metro, lost items are afforded a similar level of care. Once recovered, either by a well-meaning citizen or member of staff, they are transferred to Tokyo Metro’s Lost & Found Center in Iidabashi Station. Much like they would in a Koban, a lost phone or bank card is logged by one of the 50 staff members on hand. It’s then held for a few days awaiting its owner, and if none appears, it’s sent to the lost and found center.

A lost property report is filled out

When the item is handed in, great care is taken in filling out a lost property report. These are meticulous and thorough, and when they are complete they are affixed to the item as tags, along with a bar code. Once this is complete, the lost item is held for a few days, awaiting its owner.

The final resting place – Tokyo’s lost and found centre

If a lost item isn’t claimed, it’s shipped off to Tokyo’s six-story lost and found centre. As you might imagine from a city of Tokyo’s size, it’s pretty big and holds up to 900,000 items at any one time. There, it is meticulously logged, with any identifying characteristics noted.

A digital profile is then uploaded to Tokyo’s Lost & Found website, and those trying to reunite themselves can fill in a report via the online inquiry service. If a match is found, then they are contacted by the police and invited to claim their property, as long as they have valid identification.

Should no one put in a request after three months, the found item reverts to the finder. If they aren’t interested, it is either auctioned or destroyed.


The stats

Looking at the overall return rate of lost and found items, you might wonder what the big deal is. Data from 2018 shows us that 31% of the possessions handed in were returned. While this might sound acceptable, it’s surely not enough to justify the fanfare that Tokyo’s lost property department receives. Actually, it is, we just need to dig a little deeper.

Unsurprisingly, the modest figure is largely hampered by low returns of inexpensive, easy-to-replace items. Umbrellas, for example, one of lost properties’ most consistent culprits, find their way home only 0.9% of the time. It’s not difficult to see why. I think we’ve all lost countless brollies on our journeys and accepted that they belong to the universe now.

When the possessions are important or valuable, we start seeing more effort in their repatriation. Lost phones fare best, with a return rate of 83%. This is followed by wallets at 70%.

Even more impressive is the amount of cash that is handed in. According to Yukiko Igrashi, Head of Tokyo’s Lost & Found, large sums of one million yen (around £6,500) being passed over to authorities are not uncommon. This has doubtlessly helped preserve thousands of marriages, as the words ‘honey I lost our life savings‘ do little for the longevity of any relationship.

(Source: Tokyo Metropolitan Police)


Cultural norms

In an interview with the BBC, Professor Masahiro Tamura talks of a culture in Japan where others’ opinion of you is deeply revered. The concept is called ‘Hitono-me’ or ‘the societal eye’ and helps act as an omnipresent safeguard against anti-social behaviour. As concerns about how one is viewed run so deep, people act in a virtuous manner. Naturally, lost property benefits from this.

The prospect of trying to pocket a wallet stuffed with cash clearly poses more of a dilemma in Japan than in many western countries, which operate on more of a ‘mind your own business basis. This notion of collective responsibility is ingrained from a very young age. Children are taught this at nursery and are strongly encouraged to hand in lost property at the nearest police station.

While swathes of six-year-olds handing over mountains of seemingly insignificant possessions might not be viewed as the best use of officers’ time, the police do not seem to mind. In fact, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department views it as a part of the role, rather than an inconvenience that needs to be handled. This is likely in part due to Tokyo’s relatively low crime rate, allowing police more time to fill in reports and handle enquiries.

Be like Tokyo

While we can’t rely on the virtuous Edokko as much as we would like, here at NotLost we can offer a lost property process that’s not a million miles away from Tokyo’s. So, if your business is struggling with the logging, storing and repatriating of misplaced possessions, then we can help.

Our market-leading software automates every step of the way, delighting your customers with speedy returns and saving your staff hours of time that would be wasted wrestling with poor processes.

Find out more

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