In Japan there is a very old system of “lost and found”, based on a 1300-year-old system preceding Japan’s urbanization or unification as a nation. Ｓmall lost-and-found centers all over Japan have been used for centuries, even to facilitate the return of food and produce to their original owners.
In the modern practice, “finders” of lost money (for example) who hand the money in at a police box or similar lost-and-found office are entitled to about 10% of the money (called “Shareikin”) as a reward from the owner after they have reclaimed their property. If the owner never comes forward, after six months the money is given back to the “finder”, although it’s only a small percentage of people who actually follow through on this right of claim.
The process goes something like this:
If you find something on the street like a wallet or a purse, you hand it in to the authorities who then take down your name and address. Then, when the owner of the wallet claims back their property, they must contact you directly and arrange for payment of the “Shareikin”. This means that when you give your contact details to the police, they will be passing this information directly on to the owner of the property, so be advised of this when you hand in the item. This is of course the procedure only when you are officially handing something in to the police – if you leave it at the front desk of the hotel lobby where you found the wallet, for example, the tradition of “Shareikin” is dependant on whether the person who gets back their wallet knows who you are or not, so it’s more of an act of a good samaritan. Here are some illustrations of how “Shareikin” works in the real world:
Years ago, a friend of mine lost 100,000 yen in an ATM. She did this, because she was in a hurry as she had left her kids in the car, and the first couple of times she tried to withdraw the money, it didn’t work, and she couldn’t read the explanation to find out why. Anyway, after the second time it didn’t work she grabbed the explanation paper and ran back to the car. Only the problem was that it HAD worked, and she had left 100,000 yen in the teller machine. I met her the next day at Citibank to pay the bill she had to pay with that money, but when I looked at her ATM receipt it in fact been withdrawn from her account, we soon worked out what had happened. She looked absolutely sick. There was a guy in the line behind her, she felt sure he would just pocket the cash with no repercussions.
We went to the UFJ bank where she opened her account, and they told us that there was nothing they could do (in fact they wouldn’t even check their records) because if the receipt says the money was withdrawn then it was withdrawn and there was no room for a mistake. Then with heavy hearts we went to the police station, but miraculously the money had been handed in and we got it back just by filling in some forms, describing the event with the times and showing the ATM receipt. Then they told us that the guy who had handed it in was entitled to this “Shareikin” reward, and they gave us a paper to give to him and gave us his address and phone number. My friend was personally SO happy to have this information as she was SO grateful to the guy for not taking off with the 100,000 yen, so she immediately baked some cookies and took it over with the money. The guy took the cookies but didn’t take the money until she pressed…. the law just requires that it is offered and it doesn’t have to be taken.
One New Year’s Eve, another friend, John, was riding the last Kodama Shinkansen at night with his manager. In front of them, a suited salaryman woke up as the train pulled in to his very local station where the train waits to be overtaken by faster trains. He got a shock to wake up at his own station, and he grabbed his coat off the hook and quickly jumped off the train. As he did, a big packet of cash fell to the ground with a thud, and my friend heard it. Inside, there was 333,000 yen (at least, that’s what was written on the outside of the envelope). John grabbed it and jumped off the train (not even knowing if the train would go and he would be stuck there all night!!!) and raced after the man. The man was a little scared to be chased by a gaijin, so he kept going faster and faster… then my friend called out in Japanese “Hey, you who dropped the 333,000 yen!!!” and the guy turned around, the colour of chalk, because he realized what had happened. He was so grateful and immediately went to take some money out of the packet but John refused. The guy then chased HIM back to the train tracks waving this packet of money – the shinkansen doors are shutting and my friends manager is wedged in the door so that the train can’t leave. John got on the train just in time, leaving the guy bowing and scraping from the platform. John’s manager said to him “Hey, why did you even do that? Why didn’t you just hand it in to the train conductor, then he has to give you a “Shareikin” and if he never claims it then it comes back to you!”. My friend was a little shocked at his managers attitude, but he said that one day it would be repaid. “The world doesn’t work that way!” said the manager.
My same friend John and his same manager were in a coffee shop the very next week. They were sitting next to a table of young dyed-hair Japanese deliquent types. John’s manager was really down about how noisy and rude the young folk were being, so they moved table. After John and his manager left, my friend realized that he had left his wallet on the table. “Oh no,” said the manager, “Those young people were at the next table… the money is probably gone by now.” At just this time John’s wife called…. she had had a call from the insurance company, who had had a call from the coffee shop. The insurance guy’s meishi was the only telephone number in the wallet and so they called it. John rushed back to the coffee shop and was immensely grateful that the coffee shop waitress. But the coffee shop waitress pointed to the table of hair-dyed youths, and said it was them who handed it in. John went over to the table, and asked who it was who found his wallet. It was one of the girls. He offered her “Shareikin” immediately (and she looked like she could use it too), but no matter how he insisted she would not take it. Apparently her mother’s handbag was lost the week before and somebody had brought it back to her, so this was just her way of “repaying” that favour.
So much for the manager’s warning “The World Does Not Work That Way”.