Tuesday, October 02, 2007


One of the things I love about Japan is the inherent honesty of the Japanese. I know one should be wary of painting an entire people as exhibiting one or the other characteristic. But I’ve never

been anyplace else where, if you forget something – a phone, a camera, a wallet – you’re almost guaranteed to get it back.

In Kochi, D, who I met through TR, told me how she and group of friends went to the Fuji rock festival. Two of her friends lost mobile phones during the event. Tens of thousands people, music, mud, booze…DANCING!...etc. By the end of the festival, both of them had their phones back. One was taken to lost property; the other was returned after the finder called a couple of numbers in the phone and found the owner’s friends. I once left my address book on a public phone in Kochi City train station. I had no mobile phone; all my friends’ details were in there. A week later, I was passing through the station again, checked lost property and, sure enough, it was there.

So I was talking to E, one of the Australian participants at the congress, telling her about how honest Japan was. Half an hour later, being the thorough, scientific type I am, I decided to test the theory. I found a public phone in a street near my hotel (demonstrating my razor intelligence by walking past the three public phones in the lobby) and made a couple of calls. I sat the little conference bag we’d got at dinner on the phone-box shelf and put my camera* in it, saying to myself “don’t forget that, you big KRAZY idiot ha ha ha!”

So I forgot it.

Left the phonebox, went to a shop to buy a drink, wandered back to my hotel room. As soon as I entered the room, I realised what I’d done. Rushed back to the phone box. Bag + camera gone, young woman on phone. Entered SEVERE self-flagellation mode. Hung around phone waiting for woman to finish so I could ask her if she’d seen anything. Woman took AGES – surmised she’d seen a big dodgy foreigner hanging around outside the box and was too scared to leave. Entered restaurant next to phonebox, asked if anyone had brought the bag in there. No. Went and checked shop where I bought drink. No. Went back to phone, woman still in phonebox. Probably calling police by now.

Next, a guy who was in the restaurant emerged and, speaking decent English, told me there was a police station a couple of minutes down the road; I could go and report the loss to them. At that moment, three policemen were cycling up the footpath (I get the feeling they don’t have all that much to keep them busy in Japan). Restaurant guy explained what happened and the police led me back to the station. Still self-flagellating, I filled out a form, giving my contact details and a description of what I’d left. I finished this, handed the form to one of the cops. He thanked me, walked into the back of the station and returned with the bag, camera still in it. Somebody had already found it and taken it to the police. Very happy.

Footnote: the next night, I forgot the fucking camera again. This time I left it at the conference venue, so was confident from the outset I’d get it back (which I did), but I managed to waste a taxi ride and be late meeting MW, with whom I self-deprecated over beer and sake in a very nice little izakaya, randomly chosen as we walked along the street:

*camera = camera I bought 4 weeks earlier in Hong Kong airport on way back to the Phils from China. I paid about US$480; the same camera in Japan cost $300. Clearly, I had a subconscious desire to lose the camera and re-buy it at the cheaper price, thus saving myself $180. It’s a fucking wonder I’m not rich.

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