We were teachers at a conversational English school prior to working at Tamasei. One day at work I overheard another teacher talking about what had just happened in one of his lessons. A student (these were mostly adult students) had gotten frustrated with the teacher because the teacher had said that if he found an unmarked envelope with cash in it he wouldn't turn it in to the police. To the student this was unthinkable. Actually, the other students in the class room felt the same way. That the envelope should, indeed, be turned into the police. The reasoning? because that money isn't yours. It belongs to someone else. At this point the English saying, "finders, keepers" was brought into the lesson and the Japanese couldn't believe we had such a saying. The concept alludes them. It doesn't apply here.
I miss that about Japan. If you leave something some where, camera, purse, money, phone, or even a sweat towel you can be sure it will be there when you come looking for it or if it's not there it is probably at the nearest koban (police box).
Seem weird that I included a sweat towel in the list above of lost items? Well, let me tell you about that story. It was our first encounter with the social rule of "leave things where you found them". In the summers in Japan it is HOT. But, not just regular hot but HIGH in humidity hot. The sweat just pours off of you and you NEED a sweat towel. A little towel about the size of a wash cloth but not the consistency of a washcloth. It is a much lighter weight. When Jason and I first arrived in the hottest month, August, we quickly learned the necessity of having a sweat towel. One day on the way to work I couldn't find mine. No idea where it had gone. We had a 20 min walk to the train station so I couldn't search long and we had to head out. As we approached the station there was my towel. Someone had picked my towel up off of the ground and draped it very nicely over a railing so that the person who lost it could see it and/or so it wouldn't get trampled on if it remained on the ground. I was so shocked. I had never seen anything like this.
The Japanese so trust that people won't take things that aren't theirs that often when I pulled my bike up to our grocery store bike parking, unmanned bicycles had groceries or items previously purchased else where just sitting in their baskets. The guarded, ever-suspicious American in me could never bring myself to do this.
Once when we were traveling through China we left our camera in an airplane seat. We never got that camera back and all we could think to ourselves was that if we were in Japan or had lost it on a Japanese airline that camera would more than likely have been returned to us. We were that sure in this social norm of the Japanese.
If you go to Japan remember that "finders keepers" doesn't apply in this culture. And if you lose your camera or anything else valuable (or not so valuable) you can almost be certain that it is either where you left it or someone turned it in to the police. That is, if a Japanese person picked it up, of course. :)
4 months ago