Japan’s Lost & Found System: A Testament to Efficiency and Effectiveness

From technology to public transportation, Japan takes great pride in maintaining order and ensuring their society functions smoothly. One remarkable example that intrigues me is their commitment to an incredibly efficient Lost & Found system. 

Compared to other countries, Japan’s Lost & Found operation stands out as a shining example of effectiveness – of how easy it should be to get your lost items back. In 2019, 3.88 billion yen ($34M USD) worth of lost cash was handed to Japan’s police station system, called Kobans. Of that, 2.84 billion yen ($24.9M USD), or roughly 73% of that lost cash was returned to their rightful owners. While about 7,700 lost properties are turned in every day to Kobans in Tokyo, about 90% of lost phones and 70% of lost wallets are returned to their owners.

While this is incredible, what makes Japan’s system different from that of the United States and other countries? And why is it considered one of the most efficient in the world? But more importantly, how can we replicate this across the world?

Centralized and standardized approach

One of the key factors that sets Japan’s Lost & Found system apart is its standardized approach. In Japan, lost items are generally turned in to the nearest Koban and registered to a centralized database, regardless of their nature or value. 

In contrast, other countries often have multiple entities responsible for handling lost items, such as transport authorities, businesses, individual municipalities, often treated like a hot-potato, as no one actually wants to deal with the hassle of holding onto a found item. Sometimes, people who find items will hold onto the item themselves and post on a social platform of their choice like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, NextDoor, or Craigslist to find the owner. 

Without a dedicated Lost & Found platform, a fragmented, inefficient system is created. 

Thorough documentation and categorization

Japanese culture’s attention to detail is evident in the meticulous documentation and categorization of lost items. Each item is carefully registered, photographed, and logged into a database at these Kobans, very similar to how a business powered by Boomerang uploads found items. 

The categorization process ensures that lost items are systematically organized, allowing for quick matching and retrieval.

Cultural emphasis on responsibility and honesty

What’s hard to replicate about Japan’s exemplary Lost & Found system is the country’s emphasis on responsibility and honesty. Japanese society places a high value on integrity and respecting others’ property. 

Consequently, people in Japan are more likely to turn in lost items they find, rather than keeping them for themselves, which creates a virtuous cycle of responsibility and ensures a higher lost item return rate. 

Technological adoption

Last but not least, Japan’s adoption of cutting-edge technology further enhances the effectiveness of its Lost & Found system. For instance, many Lost & Found hubs in Japan have implemented sophisticated collecting, tagging, and storing technologies to help quickly catalog items and accurately identify matches to minimize human error and expedite the retrieval process. 

Japan is a phenomenal case study of how Lost & Found should be done, and can serve as an inspiration for other nations seeking to improve efficiency, effectiveness, and integrity when handling found items within the country.

Skyler Logsdon

CEO, Boomerang