Losing Your Personal Belongings

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Should you ever doubt that there's a fundamentally benign order to the universe, talk to Mikako Kato. The Tokyo magazine editor has lost her navy-blue Loewe wallet five times in the last 14 years—and it has always been returned to her, complete with credit cards, identification cards and, most remarkably, a good deal of cash. "It's just so incredible," says Kato, "or this must be a very unattractive wallet." It had nothing to do with the wallet's appearance—Japan has an amazingly high return rate when it comes to lost property. Of the 255,844 wallets reported mislaid in Tokyo last year, a heart-warming 194,139 were handed in to authorities, according to the Tokyo Metropolitan Police's Lost and Found Center. About 95,000 of the 100,247 cell phones reported lost were also brought in. What can account for this? Traditional virtues, certainly (teaching children to hand in lost items is commonplace anywhere in the world, but is done with real zeal in Japan). Empathy with one's fellow commuters and city dwellers, perhaps. Whatever the explanation, these displays of honesty routinely astonish visitors from abroad. "In London, if you left an umbrella outside a 7-Eleven, it'd be gone by the time you entered the store," says Dick Catlin, an expatriate investment banker from England who lost his camera, phone and house keys in a Tokyo bar only to find them untouched the next day. "But Japan is extremely unusual." The message is clear: if you're going to be forgetful, remember to do it in Japan.