This morning, I woke up at 7:00 am and couldn't go back to sleep so I decided to use the time effectively while my husband still slept on. I got dressed quietly and crept out of the apartment for a quick trip to QQ, the local 100 yen shop which also sells a reasonable amount of grocery-type items. After stocking up on cheap milk and not quite so cheap eggs, I headed back to the apartment.
Usually, I ride my bike but I've been trying to walk the bike as much as my decrepit back will allow for the muscle work. The walk is relatively short and I have the bike along as a back up should the pain get too bad. As I was nearing our apartment, I happened to glance at a small (only about 6 spaces) paid parking lot on the way and saw what looked like a wallet lying on top of the guards used to keep people from leaving until they pay up.
In the U.S., I wouldn't hesitate to pick it up, look for I.D. and call the owner if I could find him but this being Japan and me being a foreigner, I was hesitant to retrieve it even with the best of intentions in mind. Since the Japanese already believe foreigners are much more likely than themselves to engage in criminal activity, I didn't want to be seen as some sort of thieving scavenger.
My impulse to follow the golden rule and my faith in karma overwhelmed my trepidations and I picked it up. It was quite small so I wasn't even sure it was the kind of thing money or I.D. was stored in. It was small enough to be some sort of cigarette pack holder. I opened it up and a quick glance revealed that it was chock-a-block with business cards and had a train pass, and what appeared to be a little money. I didn't pull anything out or count the cash because my only interest was in seeing whether or not the wallet contained anything that would allow the owner to be tracked down. I figured the train pass was probably enough to identify the owner, who is very likely a businessman whose pocket it fell out of since there were so many business cards in there.
Before picking it up, I had decided that I would not turn it over to the police myself because I was concerned that it'd both take forever to go through questions and paperwork and they'd be suspicious of me for having it because I'm a foreigner. I know I sound paranoid but, as I mentioned before, I have been stopped for innocently riding my bicycle and been accused of having stolen it for no reason other than being a gaijin. I have reasons to be concerned that I'll be suspected of a crime without cause. I decided that I could act on my better impulses and not be punished for them by having my Japanese landlord deal with the police.
I tossed it in my bicycle basket and headed home to find my husband had awakened in my absence. I told him that I'd found a wallet and I was going to give it to the landlord to hand over to the police. After giving the groceries to my husband, I walked over to the landlord's house.
Since it was just before 9:00 am, I peaked through the window to be sure someone was up and around and could see my landlord in the hall. In retrospect, I wonder what it would have looked like to him if his back hadn't been turned and he'd seen me peering in through the sliver of glass on the front door like some curious peeping Tina. I explained the situation to him and then he asked me a question I should have anticipated but did not. He asked if he should tell the police that I had "released my claim" on the wallet.
In Japan, a person who finds a lost item with money and turns it over to the police can claim the money if the item goes unclaimed by the owner. When you turn the item in, you can choose to forfeit your right to the money you found or you can choose to retain it. I'm sure you'd have to do a lot of paperwork if you want to keep the right to claim the money once the waiting period has expired.
Since I had no interest in the contents of the wallet and I was asking him to handle it for me, I told him I released my claim and only cared about returning the wallet to its owner. While I'm sure the person who owned it wouldn't be uptight about the loss of the money (since it didn't appear to be much), I'm pretty sure that the pass and cards would be a pretty big loss. There may even have been other (credit or debit) cards or I.D. in there.
The Japanese policy of allowing found money to be claimed by the finder is an interesting one. To be honest, I don't know if the States have similar rules or not and I'm guessing that it would vary from state to state and one couldn't make a blanket statement about such things in regards to the U.S. I wonder if the Japanese policy is meant to encourage people to "do the right thing" because the potential to be lawful but still get to keep the money is there or if it's a matter of not making it appear that the police get to keep anything which is turned in.