In a district of eastern Tokyo, there is an anonymous-looking six-story building which you could easily walk past without a second glance.
But the plain facade hides a remarkable story because the building contains millions of lost items retrieved from across the city. The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department’s lost and found centre processes more than 3.8m 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 them. So many that a 660sq m room has been created in the basement to house them. When it rains the centre can expect to receive another 3,000 umbrellas every day.
This extraordinary processing of lost and found is indicative of a culture where honesty is 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 5pc and 20pc 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 bn last year, equivalent to £25m.
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 brolly when engrossed in a screen until you feel the rain.
By Guy Cookson, Partner at Hotfoot Design