88% of phones “lost” by the researchers were handed into the police by Tokyo residents, compared to 6% of the ones “lost” in New York

Wednesday, January 29th, 2020

If you lose your wallet or phone in a big city, it’s probably gone forever, unless that big city is Tokyo:

In 2018, over 545,000 ID cards were returned to their owners by Tokyo Metropolitan Police – 73% of the total number of lost IDs. Likewise, 130,000 mobile phones (83%) and 240,000 wallets (65%) found their way back. Often these items were returned the same day.

“When I was living in San Francisco, I remember a news story about someone in Chinatown who lost their wallet and someone else turned it in to the police,” says Kazuko Behrens, a psychologist from SUNY Polytechnic Institute, New York, US. It was such a rare case that the finder was interviewed on the local news channel and given the title “Honest man”. Such acts of ostensible integrity aren’t such a rarity in Behrens’s native Japan. “For [Japanese people] it is like, ‘Yeah! Of course they would hand it in.’“. In some ways it has become more rare if you don’t turn in a wallet. That would be a real surprise.


The officers based at Japan’s small neighbourhood police stations, called k?ban, have a very different image from police elsewhere. These stations are abundant in cities (in Tokyo there are 97 per 100 square kilometres, compared to 11 police stations per 100 square kilometres in London) meaning you are never too far from help.

The officers stationed at the k?ban are friendly – they are known to scold misbehaving teens or help the elderly cross the road. “If a child sees a police officer on the road, they usually greet them,” says Masahiro Tamura, a lawyer and law professor at Kyoto Sangyo University, Japan. “For the elderly living in the neighbourhood, police officers will call upon their residence to make sure they are alright.”


In a study comparing dropped phones and wallets in New York and Tokyo, 88% of phones “lost” by the researchers were handed into the police by Tokyo residents, compared to 6% of the ones “lost” in New York. Likewise, 80% of Tokyo wallets were handed in compared to 10% in New York. The abundance of police stations must make it easier, but is there something else going on?

Oddly, there is an exception:

Lost umbrellas, on the other hand, are rarely retrieved by their owners. Of the 338,000 handed in to Lost Property in Tokyo in 2018, only 1% found their way back to their owner.


  1. TRX says:

    More than half a million ID cards in *one* year? Tokyo has 9 million people, so that’s one in 18 losing their cards.

    That seems rather unlikely.

  2. Lu An Li says:

    Japanese people are just more polite and law abiding. Go read of the Texas Southern university marching band incident from way back now if you want to understand how the Japanese believe in law and order.


  3. Graham says:

    Well, my completely stereotypical image of Japan is of a highly homogeneous society with a common culture, long-developed codes of behaviour, and high emphases on discipline and integrity. To a fault, perhaps, but even so. Plus that they have a number of quirky and weird fetishes.

    That would seem to encompass high rates of return for everything but the umbrellas. They probably need surplus umbrellas for some sort of cosplay.

  4. Paul from Canada says:

    “…Oddly, there is an exception:

    Lost umbrellas, on the other hand, are rarely retrieved by their owners….”

    Not sure what is so odd about this. Your wallet contains your ID, or a credit card or something with your name on it. Your phone likewise, will have a tie to your identity, at the very least, the phone number will be tied to a name or company. An umbrella on the other hand, is just an umbrella. So unless it is monogrammed or something, there is no practical way to track down the owner of a random lost umbrella..

  5. Longarch says:

    Apologies for going totally off-topic, but I would like to hear whether our host blogger has any thoughts on the following:


  6. Albion says:

    I’m not surprised by the lack of return of brollies in Japan for two reasons. First I am amazed anyone puts their name in them (in white paint?), but I suppose a few do and second, it rains a lot in those islands. A brolly is immediately useful (and maybe, can be left for someone else’s use–a sort of ‘pay it forward’)

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