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What Would You Do? The ¥1000 That Is Causing A Stir

A short note left in a bicycle basket has caused quiet a stir online. What is it about this little note that is causing so much discussion.

By 5 min read 41

Here’s the scenario. You’re late for work and while rushing through the morning crowds you accidentally knock over one of the many commuter bicycles parked near to the station. Thankfully nobody was injured, but as you pick up the fallen vehicle, you notice that the bell attached to the handlebar has been damaged, rendering it unusable. It’s not a particularly expensive-looking bicycle and it could have happened to anybody, but the owner is nowhere in sight and nobody else around you seems to care about the situation.

What would you do?

One such person to whom a similar scenario occurred did the following. They left a short note apologising for the accident along with a 1000 yen banknote to pay for the broken bell. Upon returning to their bicycle, the owner presumably snapped the picture above and uploaded it to the internet.


The translation reads; “I accidentally knocked over your bicycle and broke the bell. I’m very sorry.”

The image has been seen millions of times and gained thousands of comments from both Japanese people and foreign nationals alike, despite the 1000 yen banknote only being worth about $10. Why is it that a simple act of kindness such as this invites such a powerful response? Is it such an unusual act as to be surprising?

Comments on the original GaijinPot Facebook post are very telling. The majority of English comments either saying that such an act would be unheard of in the commenter’s home country, or stories of how the foreigner has experienced acts of unexpected kindness while residing in Japan. The common scenario describes a lost wallet or purse and how the owner, feeling as though it would be long gone, is extremely pleased to find the lost item returned to them. Even if this photo happens to be a fake, it’s clear that these sort of actions are regularly experienced in Japan.

The Japanese comments are overwhelmingly positive and written in such a way as to suggest that this sort of action is commonplace. The focus of the comments are on the good nature of the person, or expressing pride at being Japanese. The fact that the money was not stolen from the basket is also cause for celebration (although on closer inspection it appears as though the money may have been folded up and hidden inside the apology note).

But are such actions representative of Japanese people?

It would be wildly presumptuous to say that such actions are unique to Japan, or that they are the result of some special quality that only Japanese people possess. However, in my own experience residing here, lost items are almost universally found and returned to the owner, and Japanese people are brought up with an exceptionally strong ability to recognise the needs of others, which in turn fosters a strong sense of community responsibility and trust.

Being brought up in the U.K, I would definitely not expect to see my wallet again if lost, and it would be immensely surprising to find money and an apologetic note left for me if such an accident occurred. Indeed, my first thoughts upon seeing the picture were of respect and a knowing nod to how common these acts of kindness are in Japan. However, my second thought was directed towards the money: ‘Is this really enough for a new bell?’ If the person really had a sense of responsibility, why not leave their contact details and pay the owner what they actually need to fix the bicycle (including scratches and dents to other parts of the bicycle)? Aren’t they just avoiding taking complete responsibility?

As some of the Japanese comments pointed out though, thinking about the value of the bell or the fact that the person left no contact details misses the real message in this story. The person had no need to do anything at all, but nevertheless went out of their way to resolve the situation. This is indeed worthy of praise and it’s sad that such an action is, even by Japanese standards, still ‘abnormal’ enough to garner praise and attention on the internet.

But to play devil’s advocate a little longer, my next question would be to ask: what really drove this action?

Was it really due to a sense of social responsibility? Kindness? A set of virtues or moral rules? Or perhaps it is an emotional matter – not wanting to have a nagging feeling of guilt or embarrassment for running away? Would the same person have acted this way if the damage were to an expensive car? In other words, is it because the person is truly altruistic, or did they act for their own emotional satisfaction?

Most people won’t think this deeply. Some may even question the very act of thinking this much about the matter. ‘Why can’t you just accept that it was an act of kindness?’ they say. ‘Why deprive the story of its beauty? Asking such questions means you will never be able to perform such a kind action’. Perhaps.

It’s a psychological question and I doubt many of us have ever deeply thought about what drives our own actions, especially before making the leap and ascribing these traits to an entire nation or race. It would be wrong to assume we completely understand the true motivations for such actions. But at the same time I don’t think it erroneous to say that the Japanese are a kind and thoughtful people. The anecdotal evidence of goodwill and samaritanism is extremely strong in this country. And that in turn makes me wonder why. Surely as fellow human beings we’re all capable of such actions. Why then are such actions prevalent in Japan?

Would this sort of thing happen in your home country?

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  • Filmie says:

    With all the mainland Chinese tourists coming to Japan, do you think that trend will continue?

  • Emily Hale says:

    I don’t get why this needs to be analyzed and picked apart. Someone knocked over a bike accidentally. They picked the bike back up and left a note and money for the bell. They didn’t just keep walking, which sadly most people would do. It’s pretty simple,really. There are still good and honest people in the world. Why does anyone care how much the bell costs? That’s beside the point. Someone does any good deed (even aside from this) and people feel the need to pick part and analyze every part of the deed. It’s irritating, really. I wish actions like these were more common everywhere.

  • Marga says:

    My husband lost wallets five times three were returned because a Japanese found it. Two never came back as the place where it was lost has a lot of foreigners. We lost our bicycle in Osaka we reported it to the police after 5 years and nine month a police officer called us and brought our bicycle to our doorstep travelling almost 400 kilometers. Only in Japan.

  • Sunny De los Santos says:

    a friend of mine dropped his wallet in a park in Tokyo, after of 2 hours searching, he found it on a bench. contents intact

    • Andrew Martini says:

      yes most will leave your belongings alone, high surveillance and high risk of being caught is a serious and good enough deterrent. Which is great.

  • Tess de la Serna says:

    I had read few books about the Japanese people and they never failed to mention of their integrity — returning lost items or purse. Some would find it where they had left it, intact and others were being given to the “lost and found” or to train station employees. In short, honesty is deep rooted in the Japanese culture, which I strongly admire. This would not happen in the Philippines where I grew up nor in America where I am presently residing.

    • Andrew Martini says:

      Im not sure its honestry
      its the burden of looking good snd also high risk to reputation in getting caught.
      well the Philipoines is a disaster isnt it… also america exept in classy areas.

  • Yoshihide Tabuchi says:

    I think this may be a question of “can” and “should”: you left money because you think you CAN, or you think you SHOULD.

    If the former is the case, you might just try to look good, and you would not think you should pay if the damage were to an expensive car. But if the latter is the case, even though the damage were to an expensive car you would think you should pay. Of course this does not mean that you would actually pay, but at least we can say that you’re motivated ethical sense of “should.” You proud of yourself if you actually pay, and you ethically blame yourself if you not.

    Well, I think many of us (I mean Japanese) have strong sense of this kind of “should” in mind, or to be precise, brought up in that way. I don’t think this immediately means that Japanese are a kind and thoughtful, but to say the least, I think I can say this is one of the form of ethic that has been historically constructed in the country.

  • zantjez says:

    well im from the netherlands and i can say this wont happen here, if someone drop a bike from someone els you should be happy they pick it up. and they rather steal your bell or seat ( what happends to me) and if someone would put a note with money it will be gone within 5 minuts lol.

    and yeah well shit happends if your bike got some scratches nobody cares about that and a bell is just 1 – 3 euro so the owner mostly doesnt even care about it, if you walk down the station here you see atleast 50 bikes who felt over on top of eachother.

    and the motivation of such actions to pay for the damage, well we can only guess what go’s trough the mind of that person. even if it is the presure of the ppl around him he can just walk away but he didn’t, so either way he made the choice himself to pay for it so there isnt much to think about it.

  • Wendy Elizalde says:

    To those who are interested on how it’s read and translated:

    Jitensha wo
    taoshite, beru wo kowashite

    moushi wake arimasen

    I accidentally knocked your bike and broke the bell.

    Im truly very sorry

  • AMuser says:

    I’m surprised someone in Japan took a picture of this and posted it. It is quite normal there from what I know. During the earthquake and tsunami there was no looting of deserted and wide open stores and houses. Where else would that have been true? However, there are lots of good and kind people everywhere. I lost my wallet on a street in Santa Monica and the woman who found it called numbers in my wallet to find me. Two days later she told me her address and I went and picked it up, with all cash and credit cards stll intact.

  • John-Michael Bellamy says:

    I think the question is: Why is it that being mindful and taking control of ones own decisions is such an oddity today. This state of mind should be that of all people in all cultures…and at one point used to be for the most part. Today they call that “the good old days” but now we tend with Rude being the new cool..being the new norm. And its not worth writing an article about it…its just worth living your life bye.

  • Palma San says:

    It’s great little things like this that leave you warm-hearted and remind you that good deeds are still happening out there.

  • Ghost says:

    I agree, Adam. I studied psychology in college and worked in a MH clinic. We are always looking for things that add proof to our own arguments. When we come upon an instance that goes against what we believe, we consider it an “outlier.” So, we don’t count it in our minds. (Psychology is so much fun!)

    And sometimes, while in Japan, I don’t think all people are saying “I’m sorry/gomen” or “excuse me/sumimasen” because they are super-duper polite. It is just second nature. Like, walking into 99.9% of stores, “Irrashaimase!” And when I was in a women’s boutique, the women were like clockwork and about every thirty seconds they were shouting about 20% off. Culture, such a tricky topic these days.

    • Mary Anne Hanna says:

      I think there might be a slight flaw in your logic. We are talking about two different samples. Yes, we may consider it an outlier in “our” culture but it may not be an outlier in Japanese culture.

  • Erica says:

    I just returned from Japan with my daughter and some members of her class. I personally noted the same thing that you are describing. I had occasion to provide a man his wallet, loaded with cash as well as a woman who left a bag and new clothing items in front of the Gibley (sp) museum. In both cases they thanked me profusely and simply carried on. Niether of them even bothered to look to see if there items were still there. I also left my I-Phone 5 and a woman chased me down to give it to me. I was in an area of a museum where I was asked not to take pictures, I did anyway thinking that the kids would appreciate having these very rare pictures but instead, they all knew and understood that honesty was a big part of the Japanese culture and none of the kids wanted anything to do with the photo’s that I secretly took. They all wanted to honor the request that had been placed at their feet and show respect and honesty for their Japanese hosts. The Japanese are very proud people and their honor is everything. I could go on and on but seriously this is just their way.

  • alex says:

    need a new bell? leave your bike in someone’s way.

  • oldquote says:

    Happens all the time in America, but it is so common that it is not news and so no one reports it.
    But the opposite being not as common, makes the news as something special!

    • joe Hanson says:

      In america it would have read why did you leave your bike in my way I could have gotten hurt. (The classic not taking blame) So when you almost killed me with your carelessness I tracked you and im suing you. Youll hear from my lawyer in a week or so. Btw you owe me money for damages to my bike.

    • consult shankar says:

      I am very sure this behavior is extremely rare in America

  • kevincobain2000 says:

    I would say be a man and apologize in person upon which I ll pay you back your 10 dollars

  • Gakuranman says:

    This is some great thinking! I definitely think you’re onto an important point with this thinking. People have the luxury of living in a safe and rich community where the general standard of living is good. This limits the chance of desperation and the need to commit crime. Perhaps if we performed a survey, we’d see gaps in the results of an experiment such as this depending on different areas of Tokyo and other cities in Japan, where there are such gaps.

  • Adam says:

    As much as we like to attribute this to Japanese kindness, how many bells were broken that DID NOT receive a note and money? This is a classic example of confirmation bias: we look for examples that support our ideas about the world but tend to ignore those that don’t

    Furthermore, it is much harder to see the amount of non-examples than it is to see instances where people are being kind, paying for broken bike bells, or what have you.

    Ultimately, Japanese MAY be “kinder” than the rest of the world. But research needs to show this over anecdotal instances. *

    *As a side note, I myself have lived in Japan the last five years. Through my personal experience alone, I would generally agree that Japanese are kind, however not knowing trends at large I cannot say they are more or less kind that other humans.

  • Renee says:

    I believe this could happen in any country. Perhaps the incidents are not recorded and the reactions not quite so noticeable. Still the Japanese seem an extraordinarily considerate race whether it is natural or a practiced art it still does not take away from this beautifully simple gesture of apology.

    In India where people think everyone is out to cheat you which is often out of their need or abject poverty, thinking people will pay extra, understanding that the poor man has needs similar to ones own. Transport is grossly cheap and gives the Rickshaw or Taxi driver barely enough to survive. Knowing this people still feel cheated on being overcharged when in fact they are cheating that man by supporting the system that exploits him.

    I wonder if this happens in Japan?

    Although it’s a bit off point I just wanted to demonstrate altruism in people when helplessness, hopelessness and competition in a capitalist system has driven others to their knees.

  • Akira Kurebayashi says:

    I feel like this Japanese group-oriented attitude was born out of its traditional ”rice culture.” In order to grow rice people in local community has to cooperate each other like when seeding, cropping and etc. Still now this cooperation is at work in most of farming villages.

    • Gakuranman says:

      Interesting view! Thanks for sharing. Local community values are definitely strong out here, especially the further into the countryside one ventures :).

    • Anthony Joh says:

      I think you’re right. If one person didn’t do their job the whole village suffered. Where as in Europe they could trade with another village or country. This self sustaining co-operative mindset seems to still exist today.

  • Joe Yip says:

    It’s often difficult to think bout the meaning of something. So most people often take things on face value.
    If we take this happening on face value, then the conclusion is: it’s a good thing. And that’s all it is.

    I remember one of my friend used to tell me something like this.
    “I believe the reason why Japan ranked top in terms of suicide rate, is mainly due to their people often force themselves to be someone else.” (Japan ranked 2nd in suicide rate according to http://beforeitsnews.com/alternative/2013/11/top-10-countries-with-highest-suicide-rates-2830584.html)

    So to answer your question “what really drove this action?”. Most probably it has already been part of their culture “to be kind”, even though sometimes it’s may not be that reasonable.

    • Gakuranman says:

      This is certainly a possibility. Morals and social values are driven into people here from a young age (not that this is unique to Japan), so perhaps more than being a conscious moral decision on behalf of the individual, the act is already pretty much decided through conditioning.

  • Jinxter says:

    Grew up in Japan and this does NOT surprise me at all. As a matter of fact this behavior was taught to me by my Mom who is Japanese as well…this story is just Japanese being Japanese. Doubt this would happen in the states, but then again, most in the US are not taught to act in this manner.

  • Mike Wyckoff says:

    My car was hit while parked in a parking lot. The culprit, whom was DRUNK at the time, still left a note with his contact information and called police. His car had (for some reason) no damage while my front bumper was completely torn off.
    Only in Japan.

    • Gakuranman says:

      Great story! What was the resulting split in insurance payments? Usually it’s never completely one sided in an accident.

      • Mike Wyckoff says:

        His insurance company paid 100% as my car was “not moving”. It was treated as if he had hit a wall or fence.

        Anyways, he knew enough to leave a letter in spite of the fact that he was intoxicated.

  • Lessa Traboco says:

    It would be interesting if the person in question surfaces and we find out he/she is actually a gaijin.

  • Lessa Traboco says:

    A nice PERSON did a nice thing. But good people exist everywhere. The same thing for bad people.

  • Harvy Warlock says:

    Would be a rare occurrence in the US. Asia has a different culture, family and honor based. Not much of that left in the US.

    • Gakuranman says:

      I’ve always pictured US households as having strong family values. Do you think this is not the case..?

      • Harvy Warlock says:

        Possibly 20% – 30%, nothing like Asian cultures. It was better about 40 years ago, but it has been in a steady decline recently.



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