Sunday, June 10, 2007

Lost and Soon Found

Last night I was watching television while waiting for my husband to come home from work with some take-out dinner for me when the phone rang. He had called the curry restaurant I sometimes get a bento from and pre-ordered the food so it'd be ready by the time he got there and, as he rode his bike from the station to the restaurant, he discovered his wallet had fallen out of his pocket. Since he had had his wallet when he left the station and there was a limited stretch of sidewalk between it and the restaurant, he retraced his steps but his wallet had already been picked up by someone.

He called me both to let me know that he'd have to head for the police station to report it and to have me jump on my bike and go pay for and pick up the food he'd ordered since he couldn't pay for it without a wallet. Fortunately for us, the main police station isn't far from where we live or where the wallet was lost so I went for the curry and he rode on to the police station.

Since my husband was riding around without identification and that can be a serious problem if the wrong cop stops you (that is, a foreigner) in Japan, I grabbed his passport before heading out. I figured that I'd drop it off at the police station after picking up the food so my husband would have something should he get stopped on the way home.

It probably took me about 7 minutes to get to the restaurant, pay, get the food, and reach the police station. As I was parking my bike, my husband walked out of the station with his wallet in hand. It seems that someone had already turned the wallet in with the cash still in it. While this is the point at which some people might start proudly boasting about how all Japanese are incredibly honest and how this would never happen in any major city in the world, I'm not so sure that this rapid return wasn't related to factors other than an innate sense of honesty.

That is not to say that Japanese people aren't honest or that this would happen anywhere else in the world but the truth is that the proximity of the loss of the wallet to the police station, a well-established and socially-expected course of action when locating a lost wallet (particularly on a busy street in the presence of many people), and the fact that only 2000 yen ($16.44) was in the wallet contributed greatly to it being turned over so quickly. I'm pretty sure that the chances of a wallet being returned intact increases with a smaller amount of money in it in any culture. When temptation is low, it's easier to do "the right thing".

Regardless, my husband and I were both immensely grateful to the folks that quickly took the wallet to the police station. He'd recently reinstated a U.S. credit card we hadn't used for quite some time so he could use it while visiting his folks in the States and a less morally upright individual could have taken it on a shopping spree on the Internet. Also, it's not as if doing the right thing didn't put those folks out because they likely have to go 5 minutes out of their way to go to the police station and have to put up with the annoying paperwork connected with returning a lost article. And it could be that the people who found the wallet had hearts of gold and always do the right thing. I can't peer into their souls but it'd be nice if that were true.

A little over a month and a half ago, I found a wallet and turned it over to the landlord so he could give it to the police (overcoming a desire not to get involved and just leave in on the ground). When my husband called and said he'd lost his wallet, I thought that, if there were really any karmic balance system out there at work, he'd get it back quickly, easily, and intact. And he did.


Luis said...

Yes, the U.S. is not really the best place to leave something out. I once accidentally left a Japanese calligraphy set on a sidewalk outside a classroom at Foothill College in the SF Bay Area. Five minutes later, it was gone. It wasn't worth that much except for sentimental value--I had gotten it on my first trip to Japan. Also, it had a beautiful marble carved hanko, an ancient-style square chop in it fashioned to my name as closely approximated in Japanese. Worthless to anyone else, it held a special value for me.

I waited two weeks and regularly checked the lost & found and campus police, but no go. Then I placed an ad in the school newspaper offering a cash reward--and immediately was called by someone who said they'd found it.

When I met him, I asked why he had taken it; he claimed that he was "concerned that it would be stolen" so he picked it up to "keep it safe." Then I asked why he had not returned it, and he claimed that he intended to but just hadn't gotten around to it. Yeah, riiigghhht. And he just "happened" to be regularly scanning the "lost" classifieds for a reward in the school newspaper. The scumbag.

Anyway, honorable to my offer, I started writing the guy a check--and then he had the incredible gall to whine about it and ask for cash instead. The schmuck was lucky that I simply didn't decide to turn around and call the police and report him for theft.

CMUwriter said...

I once found a small woman's wallet while walking to class. There were about five credit cards in it, and more than $50 in cash, and although it would have been nice to have a little "reward" for turning it in, I just turned it in to the campus police. The reason i turned it in was because my freshman year my wallet fell out of my pants pocket of my chinos and a professor returned it to me.

Luis: That is a bummer, but at least you got your stuff back.

Shari said...

Luis: I'm not prepared to reach any conclusion about whether losing or leaving something out in the U.S. is a good or bad thing on the whole because there are too many variables to reach conclusions about the tendency of the whole country. For instance, in a small town, you're less likely to have things stolen than in a more urban area. The age of the person who finds your stuff also has a big impact on what happens. College kids are probably much higher on the list of people who will "steal" your stuff than working adults both because they have a more labile sense of morality and they are poor and more likely to be money grubbers. Also, while your brother's wallet was returned, he's had his bicycle stolen from right in front of our apartment and an empty cloth carrying bag stolen from his bicycle basket while in a shop in Koenji. Japanese people definitely steal, too. It's down to the individual.

cmuwriter: I'm glad to hear that you got your wallet back and that your returned the favor. :-)

Thanks to both of you for the comments!

CMUwriter said...

I don't know Shari, I find that sometimes by living in a small town, people feel that they have the right to steal things from under your nose.

Roy said...

"Japanese people definitely steal, too. It's down to the individual."

It's not Japanese people stealing. It's the foreigners that are living in Japan!! ;-P

You have to admit though that considering the population destiny of this city the rate of petty theft is pretty low comparably. I've found tons of stuff on the ground and always returned it. However, I've found wads of cash and always kept it. Any form of income is income, in my opinion. Whenever I find a keitai, my first action is to check the photos and see if the owner is a cute girl or not, in which case I would call her and return the phone in person. :-D

Shari said...

cmuwriter: I can't speak to the behavior of all people in all small towns. I can say that I grew up in one and never had anything stolen (though my Dad once had a gun stolen, we're pretty sure one of my cousins did it so I'm not sure that counts as normal criminal behavior).

Roy: You're too funny. :-) While it is true that petty theft is low in Japan, particularly in the big cities, that's not really down to character as much as the large middle class. People have less of an incentive to engage in petty theft in a culture where there's a uniform large middle class because the benefit of doing so isn't seen as worthwhile relative to the risk.

I don't think any culture necessarily has innately honest people and I actually feel most of the cultural and religious constructs which are meant to curtail amoral behavior don't work if there is strong economic pressure to steal or despair as a result of feeling helpless and poor.

I think one of the most destructive generalizations all people in all cultures tend to make about themselves (and the group they see themselves as being a part of) or a culture they want to identify with is that that a particular group of people is more admirable in some or all respects than other groups of people. It's never that cut and dry. I've actually had someone say they believed I was honest because I wrote a note on a piece of notepaper with an Apple logo and I was a Mac user. (This was a note I wrote to someone because their package was delivered to me instead of them and I was leaving their package for them letting them know why I had it.) Imagine someone believing honesty is in any way connected with the type of computer you buy!

Courtney said...

I once found a large Luis Vuitton wallet complete with money bulging from it in front of my local train station, near the taxi queue. I looked around to see if anyone looked prepared to claim it, but they didn't. I took it to the station as fast as I could, certain that someone was going to yell thief. The train station attendants were happy to relieve me of it.

Once I dropped my gaijin card out of a pocket in Shibuya, and not long after had a postcard from the local police telling me they'd found it. At the time, the visa information on the card was out of date rather significantly, so I carried my passport along to prove I wasn't overstaying. But no one said a thing about it the whole time -- I'm not sure if I even had to show ID.

Another time I lost a sports club card out of my teiki pouch, along with several other mostly worthless cards. This somehow turned up at a Lost and Found in a Yokohama police station and I was able to retrieve it as well.

It blows my mind that any of this stuff ever turned up again, lost on the ground as it was.

Shari said...

Hi, Courtney, and thanks for your comment. It is nice that you had everything returned though my husband recently reminded me that he hasn't had everything returned.

About 10 years ago, his wallet fell out of his pocket in a cab (you pay first, then get out in Japan) and it had 20,000 yen (about $180) in it. Despite the fact that the wallet was definitely found in such a confined space and the fact that he contacted the cab company, he never got it back. To me, this is anecdotal evidence to support that the amount of money and number of people who witness you picking up the wallet affects the likelihood of return. While a wallet with 2000 yen came back, one with 10 times more didn't.

Shawn said...

I don't know that one can make generalizations about such things based on one's home country; I think anyone has a given propensity to keep what they find. I have no experience with Japan, but plenty with the US, and even more with losing crap. In most cases, I've had the stuff returned. One thing I have noticed is that (perhaps unexpectedly) the value or potential value of the object is proportional to its likelihood of returning. Which stands to reason, to a certain extent; if you find a pencil on the ground, you probably won't turn it in, but if you find an mp3 player or some such, you strongly suspect that its owner may miss it significantly more than the pencil.

The last time I was in Atlantic City, my friend lost his wallet with several credit cards and $800 cash in it. Some couple found it and reported it to the police, so he had it back the next day. The couple wouldn't even accept a reward, and every dime was accounted for.

consciousness_is_your_responsibilty said...

Life is funny. Sort of.

I found this blog because I was trying to find out what the custom is in Japan for when someone finds your lost wallet and returns it to you.

In the US, it is customary to offer a cash reward, especially if all your cash is intact inside the wallet.

I live in Hawaii.

Yesterday, I found a wallet on the road. The debit card and some other cards were scattered around the wallet so I originally assumed it had been stolen and thrown out a car window, or at least looked through by somebody.

However, there was $240 in cash still in the wallet. I picked up all the cards, id's, etc. and put them all back in the wallet and looked at the address on the license. It was a Japanese student who was living in a Japanese dormitory just down the street.

So I rode my bicycle there and I found him. I returned the wallet to him and I guess I expected some sort of reward. He seemed grateful but he did not offer me any reward.
He asked if he could take me to lunch right then, but I was on my way somewhere else. I hinted that all the money was still in there. He said the money didn't matter to him (which was like a slap in the face to me).

I am in a lot of trouble financially at this time and I don't have enough money to pay my rent for this coming month. The money in that wallet would have been enough to cover the rest of the rent. And from what I learned of this kid, he would have been just as happy if the money was not there, as long as he got his id and debit card back.

So because of this incident, I no longer believe in doing "the right thing". From now on, its finders keepers, losers weepers.

Shari said...

consciousness: I think you can take away whatever lesson you like from the experiences you have. Having grown up very poor and enduring daily stress about it from my parents (and sometimes huge fights between them and situations where we had no idea how we were going to survive another week), I can empathize completely with your cynical reaction.

One could say, however, that giving it back and expecting a reward wasn't "the right thing". Good acts are supposed to be carried out because you are being the person you want to be in carrying them out. If you want to be the sort of person who finds a lost wallet and keeps it, then you can be that person. If you want to be the sort who returns it because you believe people shouldn't be denied their possessions because of random acts of misfortune and it's what you'd like someone else to do for you, then you can be that person.

In this case, part of the problem was that there isn't a cultural rule in Japan for giving rewards when a lost wallet is recovered. The student probably had not idea that this was done in the U.S. and may actually have felt that it would have been insulting to offer you money. He probably felt taking you out to lunch was a better indication of his gratitude. He likely would have felt that giving you money would have been a brush off whereas socializing with you would have shown he was taking the time to get to know you and show he appreciated your time and effort.

This was definitely a cultural misunderstanding but I think that if all you wanted was the reward, it may have been better if you had just kept the money though I think you'll agree that if you lost your wallet and it was full of cash, you'd prefer it were returned intact.

consciousness_is_your_responsibility said...

Shari - Some very good points. I would like to be the kind of person who returns people's wallets, but not a homeless person who returns people's wallets.
Especially when it seems the person didn't care about the money at all. I had a very good feeling giving him his wallet, and the feeling lasted all day until the doubts set in in the evening and are still going in my mind. I have four days to come up with $200 for the rent. What I feel is that the universe gifted me this money and I was a fool and didn't understand that. I don't think my reaction is cynical, I think it is a very hard lesson in practicality and common sense. I should have realized that someone who carries that much money in their wallet is well off enough to be able to part with it without it hurting them much. I, on the other hand, cannot remember the last time I had more than $20 in my wallet at one time.
I did have a good feeling when I gave it back, but I think I should have taken the cash, I think that is why I found the wallet, to help me with my rent.
I think you are right about the socializing thing though, that he may have seen that as a greater gift than handing me the money. In that way, I was blind, because I might have made a friend if I wasn't so worried about my finances.

Shari said...

consciouness: I feel for you more than I can say having lived in your shoes for quite some time. The part of me that was very poor in the past agrees completely with you that this may have been "pennies from heaven" raining down to solve your problem but the part of me which is moral in a manner which can step aside the everyday realities and difficulties of this existence feels that giving it back when you're facing homelessness is the ultimate test of your character. It's easy to hand money over when you're rich and it means nothing to you. It's much more meaningful to do so when you're poor.

If this had solved your problem this month, what would have happened next month? In the long run, keeping money that doesn't belong to you to solve the problem and justifying it to yourself when your moral voice nags you about it only conditions you to start hoping for easy solutions to every problem all the time.

Perhaps you're not meant to get that $200 and you're going to be pushed in another direction in your life as a result of this situation. I can't say and I certainly am in no position to offer up false hope but just remember that you never know what road you'll follow. If you can't pay your rent, you'll have to find some place to stay and maybe that'll lead you to someone or something else important.

As a note about the cash, because of the difference in cost of living in Tokyo and the U.S., Japanese people commonly carry around about $100-$200 (in yen). This isn't an insignificant amount of money, particularly to a student, and I do wonder if the person you returned it to didn't make a big deal about the money because it may have been considered rude to do so. If he emphasized the money, then it may have seemed he was overly focused on it rather than your kind act.

conscioussnes_is_your_responsibility said...

Strange thing is that I have been hungry, and I have found or taken money that didn't belong to me and I felt/feel absolutely no guilt for this becuase it was a matter of health and survival for me.
And...the common rationality when morality is questioned because of desperate situations: Nobody was hurt.
Shari - Your posts are very well thought out and intelligent and I appreciate your comments.
But your words have led me to consider:
How much of a parallel is there between morality and financial security?
It would seem to me that morality is actually a luxury, a luxury that you can afford when you know that you are 'taken care of'.
But there are many people who have no help, who are struggling, who are desperate and miserable And it's not because they are bad people as many in the mainstream still superstitiously believe.
But when you are desperate, you will act completely different than when you are comfortable. And as much as you would like to believe that you would act the same in any situation, it's just not true.

Yes - I believe morality is dependent upon your level of security.
I believe it can be proven in a million examples throughout history.

I believe I returned this money because I didn't truly understand how desperate I am. And when the s**t hits the fan, and I find myself homeless, if I am ever lucky enough to find another wallet with cash, there is no way that I would not keep the money.

Shari said...

consciouness: I think you are right that there is a link between morality and poverty/wealth. I'm not sure if morality could be considered a luxury but things become a lot greyer in light of certain circumstances. It leads back to the old question about whether or not a man who steals bread to feed a starving family is doing something wrong. The answer is generally, "no, he is not wrong."

I agree totally with you that people behave differently when desperate and I feel very badly for you that you are finding yourself in that situation. While I do think you did the right thing returning the wallet, I don't think keeping the money (and returning the wallet without it via post or something) would necessarily have been wrong. I think your situation makes your decision more noble because you were acting first and foremost on your conscience (and then had the second thoughts because you chose conscience over need).

May I ask if you have any options aside from becoming homeless? I don't know much about HI and if there are resources for you to help you through a time of difficulty or if you have any family or will have an income coming soon. I wish you the best.

As a final note about the cross-cultural issue, between my first response to you and this one, I had a private lesson with a student and she told me that Japanese people will not speak of the money when a wallet is returned because it is considered vulgar in their culture to do so. The notion that a reward could or should be given was completely alien to her.

consciousness_is_your_responsibility said...

As a follow-up, I wanted to add that when I returned this Japanese kid's wallet to him, he took my number down. I wasn't sure why. And he never called anyway.

I decided to write an email to him. So I emailed his dormitory and asked them to ask him to email me. He did email me saying that he wanted to thank me for my kindness and he wanted to send me some beer or a check and he meant to call me but he hadn't got around to it and apologized.

I wrote him back and explained my situation, that the money I found would have allowed me to pay my rent. That I thought twice about it since I returned it, and that if he would like to send a check, I would appreciate it and put it towards my rent.

This was last week. Since then he never returned my email, he never called, and he never sent anything...not even the beer so I could get drunk and forget for a few hours that I am getting kicked out of my place.

Shari said...

I can't say I'm surprised. My guess is that he only answered you at all out of a sense of responsibility and probably figured you wouldn't take him up on his offer. He also likely wonders if you're trying to scam him because Japanese people are notoriously suspicious of any "charitable" situations. They think most people are out to scam them.

I'm sorry about your situation and hope that, somehow, it all works out. I wish you well and would like to know how things turn out. Take care.