I Had My Bag Stolen In Japan
By Bernie Low
On May 20, 2015
Having lived in safe countries with low crime rates, all my life has given me the blessed privilege of being able to take my safety for granted. Singapore is safe, but my Mom would always chide me about talking to strangers and leaving my bag unzipped. While I did hold my bag close to me, we could leave it on chairs to reserve our seats while buying food.
Then I came to Japan, which I found was much safer. I could walk the streets alone in the middle of the night to make a trip to the convenience store, or return late without needing a chaperone. I’ve left my bag unattended and been cavalier about my belongings or general safety thinking, “Japan is safe, nothing will happen.” Until my bag was stolen, which opened my eyes to the realization that low crime does not mean any crime.
I was at a game center with my friend who was visiting Japan, and we were excitedly engrossed in a game. Tapping the screen to match the characters excitedly, pushing in more coins to continue playing and squealing each time we got a good combo. I remember placing my bag at the side of my feet, like I’d done countless times before and even while playing, recalled accidentally stepping on the bag strap and made a mental note not to repeat that. After some 20 minutes of exuberance, I reached down to pick up my bag and head for home, except my bag was not there. Confusion came first. “Did I forget my bag somewhere? In the toilet? At the money changing machine?” I ran around the floor looking for my bag while my friend searched the machine’s parameter.
We then enlisted the help of the game center staff, who after some checking and calling reported that no one had turned the bag into lost and found. The more we searched to no avail, reality started to sink in – perhaps my bag had been stolen. There was a security camera right above us, but they could not check it without a police report. My heart sunk. The bag itself was years old and worn with use but the possessions I lost, my wallet with all my ID, keys, credit and debit cards and passport being the most important ones, struck the arrow further into my heart.
We dashed to the nearest Koban (police box) but there was no one there. Frustration and panic struck in as the clock ticked away to our last train home. At the street corner, waiting to cross, two men approached us and I shied away on instinct, afraid. One flashed a police badge and asked us where we were from “Are you Chinese? Korean? Tourists?” he asked and I panicked even more when the next question was for ID. Explaining the situation to him as his colleague took down details, I could not help the wave of paranoia that flooded over me. Is he really a policeman? I wondered, but their demeanor seemed legitimate. We excused ourselves and rushed to take the train home.
At the Koban in my area, there was also no one present but a phone was there with instructions to call a number for assistance. Explaining the best I could, they sent an officer on his way so I could file my report. In the interim, I called the emergency numbers for my Singapore and Japanese bank to cancel my cards, and then the embassy to inform them of what happened and the loss of my passport. The policeman arrived, pausing before he took a seat. “Can you speak Japanese?” he asked, I nodded but warned him that it was not good. He passed me pieces of paper to write down all my personal details as well as everything that was stolen and I wrote down everything I remembered, drawing pictures of what my bag and wallet looked like as well.
As my friend supplied me more details of what happened earlier to relay to the policeman in my fumbling Japanese, I realized the extent of how lucky I was. That I still had my phone and could cancel the cards, that I could speak enough Japanese to convey what happened in detail, that I wasn’t alone in the matter and there were no physical injuries. In the end, the report was read to me, and I stamped my fingerprints on to acknowledge it. The policeman walked us home, wishing us well in the end. My sleepy-eyed apartment manager opened the door for us as I apologized profusely for waking him at 3am.
When we left the house for my friend’s final day of sightseeing the next day I was afraid. I clutched my new bag close to me and in the train I tried to keep my distance from others, all the while wishing I was under the covers at home away from everything. I was tired, shocked and overwhelmed. I thought of how worried my mother had been when I called her, and after trying to hold it back for so long, I cried.
It was probably the shock of it all, how I had been taking for granted how safe Japan is that affected me the most. It was a startling reminder that jolted me out of complacency. I’ll be more careful. All there was to do was to wait for news from the police.
The news came, two days later, in the form of a call from the embassy saying my bag, containing my passport, had been found. Praising my luck and thanking the police, I headed over to collect it. At the lost and found corner, they passed me my bag and everything but my wallet was inside. That, I would get news of a day later, found in a Pachinko parlor with everything but the money left intact. There had been some confusion as the items were treated as “lost and found” but I’d reported them stolen, so my case was transferred to another department where photos were taken and my retrieved items dusted for prints in hopes of catching the culprit.
On the train home, clutching my bag in my lap, I recounted once again how lucky I was to have all my possessions returned to me. In response to my post about this incident on Facebook, my friends repeated that sentiment, commenting how unlikely it would be to have everything resolved so smoothly. I’m glad it’s all over and I can stop worrying. It was a costly lesson to learn but for now, I’m just going to enjoy being reunited with my belongings and how good it feels.