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 losing one of your possessions isn’t a forgone conclusion.

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?

As we’ve already mentioned, Tokyo’s lost property success starts with the Koban. An omnipresent feature of the city’s architecture, these small centres 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 hand in misplaced possessions.

The officers, blessed with a low crime rate, then have the time to fill out detailed reports. The item is held for a few days awaiting it’s rightful owner. If no one comes, it’s shipped off to Tokyo’s lost and found centre, A six-story temple to lost property, holding up to 900,000 items at any one time.

There it receives a similar level of treatment as it would at a Koban. It is meticulously logged, with any identifying characteristics noted and then safely stored away.

A digital profile is then uploaded to Tokyo’s Lost & Found website, and those trying to reunite themselves can fill in a report, detailing their loss. If a match is found then they are contacted by the policy and invited to come and claim their lost property. 

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 items, you might wonder what the big deal is. Data from 2018 shows us that 31% of the possessions handed in were repatriated. While this might sound like an acceptable figure, is it 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. In all fairness, it’s not difficult to see why. I think we’ve all lost countless brollys on our journeys and most of the time, accepted their fate. 

When the possessions are important or valuable, we see a bit more effort in their repatriation. Phones boast the highest return rate out of any item, at 90%, 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’, are unlikely to do much for the longevity of a relationship.


Cultural norms

In an interview with the BBC, Professor Masahiro Tamura talks of a culture where the views of others are deeply revered. The concept of ‘hitono-me’ or ‘the societal eye’ helps act as an omnipresent safeguard against anti-social behaviour. As concern of how one is viewed runs 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 ‘mind your own business’ basis.

This notion of collective responsibility is ingrained from a very young age. Children are taught at nursery the importance of handing in found items to the local Koban. 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 it is very much seenas a part of the role, rather than an annoying inconvenience that needs to be handled.

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. 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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