Despite all the improvements in language skills, signage, and overall helpfulness, although not as baffling as it was, Japan is still a difficult place to travel. It is not a last-minute just-wander-in-the-front-door-of-the-restaurant sort of culture. It is also a place where even with modern GPS phones, one needs to be prepared for constantly being lost, and then not being able to ask for directions. All that aside, it is one of our favorite places to visit. The Japanese are unlike us in so many ways. One of our good friends, a formidable global traveler himself, explains to us that they are higher on Maslow’s pyramid of needs than we are. I am still puzzling what that may mean, but aside from the extreme intentionality of everything they do or design, there is something else that they are much at lack of: crime.
This is the story of the lost laptop, which in any other place I have ever visited, would have been long gone. But not in Japan — it seems people in Japan don’t take what doesn’t belong to them.
“Reaching into my bag for the laptop, you guessed it, I left it on the train”
The story begins on the Shinkansen. At 200 mph, the train was smoothly zipping us from Kyoto back to Tokyo. I was using the time to prepare that week’s newsletter dispatch on my MacBook. I took a break from the work to close my eyes for a few minutes, placing the laptop into the seat-back in front of me. Suddenly it dawned on us that we didn’t need to go all the way on to Tokyo Station, the endpoint of the line, but could disembark at the station before it, as this was closer to our hotel. Great! We would save a rather spendy taxi ride. We hustled off the train, being exceeding pleased with ourselves, and arrived at the hotel to have a coffee. Reaching into my bag for the laptop, you guessed it, I left it on the train. Bad. Very, very bad, as I was going to give one of the most important presentations of my life in Singapore the following week, and that Powerpoint lived on the laptop.
“I had little hope of ever seeing the machine again”
Panic rushed through my mind, as I could see myself in front of 700 people fumbling with expressing myself. The hotel concierge called the train station, told them the number of the train and our seat, and the description of the laptop, which was sporting a very cool Chicken Kitchen Tokyo sticker on the lid. But I had little hope of ever seeing the machine again.
Feeling rather defeated, I was already looking up the address of the closest Apple Store when 2 hours later the concierge called. The train people may have my laptop. Amazing! But now we had to find Lost and Found in Tokyo Station — no easy task. This may be the very largest train station in the world. It is epic. Imagine Penn Station NYC and 10x it.
Navigating Tokyo Station
Lucky us, the train station personnel seemed to be practicing for the deluge of tourists about to invade them for the Summer 2020 Olympics, and had every hundred yards, a fresh-faced English-speaking helper in a bright smock offering direction to anyone who needed them. I am trying to think of any train station in the world I have been to where helpful, smiling people are everywhere with the sole mission of providing navigational advice for the catacombs of a train station. Note: GPS doesn’t work underground.
Victory! For Awhile…
With their cheerful help, we arrived at Lost and Found, and a rather severe-looking man in a sharp, quasi-military-looking uniform performed a short interrogation of me and the particulars of the lost laptop. He then goes into a back room, returning with the gleaming sticker-adorned machine. Victory!
This sort of traveler mess apparently happens all the time. People leave all manner of things on the trains, and the efficient and courteous return of said objects is normal.
The sad part of the story is that the laptop ended up being crushed by a car a week later, but that is another story. By that point, I had uploaded my deck into the cloud as a precaution and my presentation went swimmingly. The moral of the story: If you are an absent-minded jet-lagged traveler in Japan, there is a whole society looking after your well being.