Lost and Found in Tokyo

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3,000 umbrellas are lost every day in Tokyo when it rains. Photo by Tokyoform

In a district of eastern Tokyo known as Bunkyō, there is an anonymous-looking six-story red brick building that you could easily walk past without giving it a second glance.

But the plain architecture hides a remarkable story because the building in question contains millions of lost items retrieved from across the city.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department’s lost and found centre processes over 3.8 million items a year.

Pretty much anything you can imagine ends up here after being left on trains, dropped in the street, or forgotten in restaurants – from watches and sunglasses to guitars and soft toys.

And then there are umbrellas. Lots and lots of umbrellas. So many umbrellas, in fact, that a 660-square metre room has been created in the basement to house them all.

When it rains the centre can expect to receive another 3,000 umbrellas every single day.

This extraordinary processing of lost and found items is perhaps indicative of a culture where honesty is highly valued and crime is relatively rare.

People are also incentivised to help reunite lost property with their owners. The law dictates finders are entitled to between 5% and 20% of the item’s value as a reward.

And so it is perhaps no surprise that cash is regularly handed into the centre – some ¥3.67 billion last year, equivalent to £25 million.

The Japan Times reports that it is common for small children to bring in coins they have found in the street, or even hair bands.

Shoji Okubo, head of the centre, explains, “We can’t tell them not to worry about handing such things in, so we thank them and praise their good deeds.”

Each lost item is given a unique tracking number, and where possible the employees try to locate the owner.

After three months unclaimed property is offered to the finder. Unwanted belongings are sold in job lots to junk dealers.

Those looking for a bargain are encouraged to buy huge sealed boxes of random items in the hope of finding something rare and valuable inside.

The volume of lost property has increased greatly in recent years and smartphones are almost certainly to blame.

It is hard to remember your umbrella when engrossed in a screen until you feel the rain.

Photo by Tokyoform

Photo by Dick Thomas Johnson

Photo by Mike George

Photo by Shinichi Sugiyama

This article was also published as part of a weekly column in the Lancashire Post, Lancaster Guardian and Blackpool Gazette.

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