If you lose your wallet (or any stuff) in Japan, the last thing you should do is fret. Really.

Actually, when it comes to choosing where to lose stuff (should it ever come down to that), Japan ought to be one’s favorite. Not that it’s any fun losing a dear possession, specially one that often carries your whole identity and personality as citizen of this cross-bordered world; it always isn’t. But the Japanese have managed to turn this uncomfortable experience into something as interesting as wasabi and sakura, and other things distinctly Japanese by allowing one to see another facet of their culture: that which hails their efficiency and general honesty. Why?

  • Generally, wallets and other valuables find their way back to their owners in Japan.
  • Most Japanese processes are a testament to their reverence and value of time: They don’t waste theirs, and they sure wouldn’t want to waste yours.

For efficiency (just as the Japanese are), here are a few steps to follow in case of a wallet loss:

  1. Be in touch. Keep your phone on.

The moment you realize that you have lost a valuable item, if it bears your contact number, you should make yourself available for contact through your phone. It’s your sixth sense throughout the retrieval process, and the one that will most likely be accessible to the finder.

  1. Be on the alert for public-address (PA) systems, and lost-and-found booths in the area where you lost your belonging.

The first time I lost my wallet in Japan was in an open mall. I inadvertently left it on one of the pews, as I had my hands and eyes full with my two feisty toddlers. Moments later, and to my surprise, the mall’s PA system was calling out my name, which was the only thing I understood then of a long Japanese message. Since the only customer-service area I knew then was at the supermarket, I went there, said my name. Immediately, they took out my wallet. And only then did I realize that I had just lost it.

  1. Trace back your steps.
It’s not trash, but a functional umbrella purposely left on the way for the owner to find.

What I used to think was roadside trash, I now understand as Japanese courtesy for those who may be looking for stuff they had dropped along the way. A toy, a keychain, earphones (yes, even an Apple earphone), an umbrella, mittens, and shoes, are some that I can recall. While I have yet to see a wallet, I wouldn’t be surprised to, one day, see one conspicuously floated on a tree branch, fence, or post for the owner to find.

4. Get in touch with the local police.

Kobans or local police outposts are very helpful in finding lost valuables like wallets.

Most especially when you lost your wallet with your Japan-issued residence card inside, you will need to visit the local (not necessarily nearest) “koban”, or police outpost, to file an incident report. Japanese law requires applying for a re-issuance of the residence card “within 14 days of the day on which the fact of loss is known (or the date of the first entrance into Japan in cases where you know the fact of loss while you are outside Japan).”

Know little or no Japanese? No problem with any police station, just remember to blurt out these words:

Sumimasen, saifu wo nakushimashita.

Simply, it means: “Excuse me, I lost my wallet.”

The policeman-in-charge will then direct you to a booklet that details the reporting procedure, written in various languages, wherein you just basically point to the answer that fits your case. Once the report has been filed, the officer will immediately check with their database and get in touch with other police precincts to check and provide an update on your lost wallet. If your wallet is still missing, the policeman will issue you an incident report number, which you will need as reference in obtaining a new copy of the residence card. Needless to say, the police will get in touch with you if your wallet or any lost item that you have reported has been retrieved.

Residence cards are processed and released by the Japan Immigration Bureau, the details of which are viewable here: http://www.immi-moj.go.jp/english/tetuduki/kanri/shyorui/15.html. The Immigration Bureau website says that, in principle, the reissued residence card – which is FREE – will be released on the same day. When I did this, I got my new card in less than ten minutes, which meant that I didn’t have time to get settled at the Immigration Bureau, and that my walk from the train station to the place proved longer.

Our lost and found wallet, phone and KFC bucket meal

When you know little-to-no Nihongo, going into restaurants can be very intimidating. So, when we, then Japan newbies, found out about a Kentucky Fried Chicken in our area, we excitedly studied our route for a visit. Despite a two-kilometer hike with one kid on a stroller and another on a sling, my wife, Regina, and I didn’t mind going; we’ve gotten used to taking turns with the sling and stroller on longer walks. Besides, this one should be easier to do given the KFC takeout-chicken bucket perk that awaited.

The stroller and sling are a vital part of the family’s mobility, even on long walks

And off we went. Our route proved to be easy and convenient, and we soon found ourselves walking back home with our takeout lunch. Then we literally stopped to smell the flowers and switched sling and stroller under a bridge before continuing our journey back home. We got home and played a little catch before going up to our apartment. When we felt hungry enough to enjoy our lunch, we realized that we did not have our bag, which contained Regina’s wallet, phone, and the chicken bucket, among others. Nobody had picked up the bag after our sweet-turned-bitter stop under the bridge.

Hurriedly, we traced our way back to the bridge, but to our dismay, no bag was there; hence, we began a quiet, sad, tiresome, and fruitless trip back home.

Suddenly, my phone rang with her mom on the other end. Regina’s mom, to whom we had left the kids, said that two Japanes folks just came to the house and delivered the bag with all our stuff inside.

Indeed, so much for the worrying and hungry stomachs!

Okay, I admit that I have a knack for losing things. Maybe it’s part of the reason why God has let us experience Japan: to know that I don’t have to suffer that much that often whenever I lose things, for now.