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.