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I Had My Bag Stolen In Japan

Japan is a safe country but that doesn't mean theft doesn't happen.

By 6 min read 30

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.

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  • Rachael Brennan says:

    I also had my bag stolen in a games parlous when I was living in Tochigi. Luckily it was found in the mens toilets with everything except the money still in it!

  • Loren Couse says:

    I also had my wallet stolen in Japan. I was in the gym and got a bit too comfortable and forgot to lock my locker…. Sadly I filed a police report and everything, Never got it back :-C

  • Sami says:

    Back in Dubai, I would leave my car running in front of my building while I went up to the 40th floor to grab something. At my parents house, the front gates were always wide open while the front door was unlocked. In schools, coffee shops, etc, we would leave our bags unattended while going to the washroom or whatever! And at times I would personally close my brother’s shop at 1am and then walk a huge distance to my car before driving home to a remote neighborhood!
    But when I moved to the states, it took me losing a few items and witnessing a few shoplifting to learn the lesson that I shouldn’t have taken my safety for granted!
    Then after that, I moved here! I’ve had lots of things stolen from me in this city, and my car has been one of them! Fortunately the police found it 4 hours after it was stolen.
    Complete safety is something I miss very much!
    BTW all the Dubai safety was 10+ years ago, now with the new waves of foreign people passing through the city, all that safety is at least half gone!

  • Mikey says:

    I wonder if your money went into the pachinko machines? Gambling addicts here in Australia will steal to put money in the pokie machines!! Im glad you got your stuff back – that only happened because everyone else in the line did the right thing!

    • Bernie Low says:

      I’m guessing it went to Pachinko! Losing the money > having to replace everything so that’s how I’ve learnt my lesson haha

  • Tess de la Serna says:

    Wow! If it happened in America (or Philippines), you would not get them at all!!!! You are blessed you got your passport and important documents back.

    • Zare Destanov says:

      You should have a little more faith in the good people of your country… 🙂

      • Tess de la Serna says:

        Unfortunately, I grew up there (including the whole term of Marcos’ regime) and I am ashamed to say that there are not a lot of honest people. I have lived in America for more than 24 years and where I am living now, there are not a lot of honest people, either.

    • Zare Destanov says:

      Honest Filipino ‘kutsero’ returns huge amount left by French passenger
      By Thea Alberto-Masakayan | Yahoo! Southeast Asia Newsroom – Wed, Sep 12, 2012

      • Tess de la Serna says:

        I did not say there is no honest people in my country. I’m just saying that honesty is a rare occasion comparatively to Japan, frequently displayed. But I am not saying that all Japanese are honest people. I am just saying, as a country, Philippines still has a long way to go. Of course, there is a lot of good things in Filipino culture — the fact that we take care of our parents and siblings (nursing home would not be a good business there) and we respect our elders, which I don’t often see it here in America. But when it comes to honesty issue (of ordinary people), Japan still beats Philippines and perhaps, America.

  • Bootgras says:

    Cute. I was dragged from outside my home into a closet inside at gunpoint while a group of armed men stole most of my valuable possessions here in the lovely USA. Yes, that’s a home invasion robbery.

    Sorry about your hard time getting your bag back, glad you made it out alive! I’ll definitely think twice about visiting Japan now.

    • Bernie Low says:

      Don’t let this incident stop you from visiting Japan though, it’s really quite rare and also due to my negligence since nothing bad has ever happened before…!

  • SconeClone says:

    My understanding is that Japanese people prefer to not buy second-hand goods, so it’s harder to sell stolen stuff. Pawn shops have similar anti-thief measures as elsewhere. That encourages the theft of money rather than goods.

  • How scary for you! But I’m glad you got almost everything back. I’m from NYC where you don’t let anything out of your sight and I rarely take my bag off. I don’t even think I could convince myself to do it if the place was “safe”! Sometimes living in a higher crime area teaches you good lessons 🙂

  • Dani Pascual says:

    In my country it is unsafe to leave things unattended cause you can never get it back unless someone is nice enough to return it so i should be thankful im used to being wary of my stuff

  • Paulina says:

    At least you got your documents and important things back. Now I’ve had the bad experience of someone really close to me who has ‘lost’ his wallet twice, and neither case nobody has returned it, even though it had enough information to be returned to our Embassy or any police station. Not even in Japan all the safety is granted. Lesson learnt too.

  • Gaijinn says:

    why would you carry your passport. I never carry it. Isn’t zairyu card enough?

  • keemji says:

    Glad that is a good ending! You still got your belongings back 🙂

  • james says:

    Best thing about Japan is if you lose something people get it back to you. My friend lost his wallet at a club and he got it back with everything including his credit cards and money. If it was back home haha good luck.

  • Kilowoo says:

    Great story! Happy you found it and with all your stuff less money. Probably a gamer at the pachinco run out of yens and take some “borrowed” from you. But is very unlikely to recover everything… so the happy feeling I bet is as big as the misery of being robbed. All the best.

  • For some reason I am thinking it was another foreigner who stole it… a Japanese who is young or homeless.

    • Bernie Low says:

      That’s actually a sentiment I’ve been seeing come up a lot in comments etc. but anyone could have stolen it, really! (I hope the police checked the surveillance camera and caught the culprit!)

    • Joel Tucci says:

      Read the article, more than likely it was stolen by an addled pachinko addict….

    • housemusiclover says:

      That’s a pretty racist thing to say… considering the percentage of foreigners in Japan is about 1.54% of the population. Also, how many homeless people have you seen in video game arcades?
      I hate to burst your bubble, but everything that has been stolen from me while I have lived here, was stolen by Japanese people. I had video surveillance installed after 3 of my motorbikes were vandalized and recorded a what looked to be a Japanese business man stealing my wife’s bicycle, and old Japanese lady vandalizing a neighbor’s scooter and 2 Japanese guys that looked like construction workers trying to steal one of my motorbikes.
      I also had my smartwatch stolen by a Japanese guy in a restaurant when I was stupid enough to take it off and put it on the seat next to me…
      Each time this was reported to the police and they did NOTHING. The were not interested in looking at the surveillance footage or going to the restaurant to ask the staff if they saw anything or to check the surveillance cameras in there.

  • Josh Radick says:

    Having your things stolen while traveling abroad is awful. My wallet was stolen in a crowded market in Guatemala, reporting it to the corrupt police there wasn’t an option. I’m probably a bit odd because I feel more comfortable in places where I am aware of the risks (like here in Kurdistan, Iraq) than I did when I visited Japan. Here there is the distinct possibility of a bombing or a sleeper cell going active; a bombing has already happened and I know that there are ISIS supporters in my town. I’m also just fine Guatemala where even in safe places I can’t go out alone at night, women can never go out unaccompanied, having to avoid certain areas because armed robbery and murder are gaurnteed outcomes for me there. In Japan I felt uncomfortable because of my acute awareness that I didn’t fit in, in a place where fitting in was important.

    • DiegoAr says:

      I’m Guatemalan and all you said about here is totally true haha.
      I’m always very careful with my belongings. Even when I traveled to Japan and felt so safe. Can’t stop being a bit paranoid.

  • papiGiulio says:

    Glad to hear you got everything back, losing something valuable is always terrible.

    I kinda predicted once I started reading your story that it was somehow about money. While crime is extremely low in Japan, somehow all people steal, is money.

    We had a breakin at our eikaiwa, with laptops and expensive stuff here and there in the open, all the burglar cared about was money.



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