Last week we had a bit of drama. It all started with a trip to the bank. We had gone shopping at several different stores that day, and had decided to walk for exercise. To help my walking longevity, I left my purse at home, and crammed my ID and money into  pockets.

Our last stop was the grocery store, less than 400m from our house. When we returned home, I emptied my pockets onto the table and began to put my things away. It didn’t take long to realize that the ¥40,000 (approximately $500CAD) I’d taken out from the bank was no longer there.

There was only a 5-minute window between when I last had the money (at the grocery store), and when I realized it was gone. I hurried outside to retrace my steps, but it was nowhere to be seen.

I’d heard that Japanese people are pretty good at turning in lost items, so my first stop was the grocery store. Maybe it had fallen out when we were bagging our items.

Nope, nobody had turned anything in.

I next headed across the street to our local police box (see here for another post I wrote about policing in Japan). Though our city only has one police station, police boxes are scattered throughout the community, and are usually manned by a single officer or volunteer.

When I arrived, it was just after 5pm. No one was in sight. But there was a sign by a phone, with instructions to call a certain number should anyone need assistance.

The first lady I talked to sounded puzzled. There had been no crime. “What do you want me to do?” she asked.

“I’d like to leave my contact information with you, so that if anyone finds ¥40,000, you can contact me.”

She transferred me to someone else.

I was mid-way through my story with the second person when policeman returned to the box. I handed off the phone to the officer, and started my story once more.

He pulled out a form, and I specified where and when the money had been lost. With only 400m and a five-minute time window, it was very precise!

That’s a lot of money for us, and I was so stressed that while filling out the form I forgot how to write part of our address. I had to look up one of the Chinese characters in my dictionary before I could remember it. How embarrassing!

The next day, I got sick (probably from the stress). That day, however, I received a phone call from the police station. Someone had turned in the money!

The following day, we went in to the station to complete the return process. There, I filled out another form, and they took a copy of my ID.

At the end, I’d been planning to ask if they would give me the contact information for the person who returned the money so that I could give them a small thank you gift (this seemed like it would be the appropriate thing to do in the Japanese culture), but the officer beat me to it.

He pulled out a piece of paper with some Japanese writing on it, followed by an English translation.

“According to the Japanese Lost Property Act, you are required to give 5-20% the value of the returned property as a reward to the person who found it. If the property was found in a business or mall, half the reward money will be shared with that institution,” said the paper.

Well, that makes it easy, I thought. Now I know exactly what size of thank you gift would be acceptable.

The officer passed along the name and phone number of the father of the middle schooler who’d found the money.

The following day, I called to thank the father and his son and ask how I could pass on my thank you gift.

“I’m sorry, I’m from Canada so I don’t know how this is usually done. Should we meet in-person? Should I mail you a letter?” I asked.

“No, no, your sentiments of thanks are enough,” replied the father. “There’s no need for anything further.”

With this, I remembered the last sentence on the guidance sheet at the police station. It said that the government doesn’t enforce this law at all. Just as there is quite a bit of leeway for deciding how much of a reward to give, so there is also room for the finder to refuse payment, should they wish to do so.

The longer we live here, the more we appreciate the little ways the Japanese find to instil a sense of community with each other.