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Police across Japan to launch unified online lost-and-found system by fiscal 2026

This file photo shows the Central Government Building No. 2, located in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward, which houses the National Police Agency. (Mainichi/Kenji Yoneda)

TOKYO -- A unified online procedure for reporting lost items to police in Japan is set to be implemented in some regions from as early as March 2023 and be ready nationwide by fiscal 2026.

    The National Police Agency (NPA) is aiming to integrate lost-and-found systems used by police across Japan to create a network that enables individuals to retrieve lost items wherever they are found throughout the country as long as they file reports with police.

    Individuals can currently visit police stations, police boxes, and other places to submit slips reporting lost property in the event that they dropped the items or left them behind. There are also many places that allow residents to file reports with police on the phone.

    Each prefectural police headquarters in the country has its own system for managing information. Police that receive lost item reports check them against stored items that have been found and turned in, identify the owners, and help to have the items returned. The methods used for this process and the mechanism of searching, among other factors, vary from prefecture to prefecture.

    In addition, the current system functions so that information on lost cash totaling at least 10,000 yen, driver's licenses, bank books, mobile phones, and other valuables specified in regulations are shared and collated among police nationwide. When it comes to other lost items, however, individuals can only register them with up to three prefectures other than the one with which the lost item report was originally filed.

    According to the NPA, if an online procedure for filing lost item reports is implemented uniformly across Japan, it will become possible to carry out swift searches regardless of where the items were discovered. Previously in cases where applicable regions extended among numerous prefectures, it had been necessary for each prefectural police force to go to the trouble of obtaining information relayed by the NPA. An NPA spokesperson commented, "A time lag had unavoidably occurred." A common online system will make it unnecessary for the NPA to distribute the information to each prefectural police force.

    In cases to date involving transportation via bullet train and aircraft where the location that the items went missing is unclear, individuals have not been able to receive information about the items' discovery when they are found in places besides the originally registered locations. Such issues will apparently be resolved under the new system.

    Moves to register lost items online are already underway in some areas. Online reports of lost items have been used by the police forces of Yamanashi, Mie, Kanagawa, Yamaguchi, Ibaraki, and Saitama prefectures, as well as by Hokkaido Prefectural Police, which implemented an online system in April 2005. Although these systems notify owners by phone or through documentation when their lost items have been turned in, there apparently has been no remarkable change in the number of filed reports.

    The NPA has also been aiming to unify systems across Japan including the management of driver's license information, which currently differ from one prefectural police headquarters to another. The management of lost items will also be incorporated as part of this project, and the development of a lost-and-found program is due to be completed by fiscal 2022. Prefectural police have respectively signed contracts with private businesses for their current systems, and the online system will be implemented after the contracts are terminated. Implementation will begin in March 2023, and a transition to the new system is scheduled to be completed in all regions across Japan in fiscal 2026.

    Online reports enhance convenience as they can be submitted by smartphones without going to police stations, and police officers can also be spared the work of manually entering information on paper into electronic records. However, there are also challenges as police officers are unable to ask specifics such as, "Was a strap attached to the bag you dropped? What does it look like?" which is possible during inquiries made in person or over the phone.

    The NPA continues to work on how the format for entering information on lost items can be upgraded as trivial characteristics that the owner does not notice often become a key aspect to identifying owners of lost items. An NPA official commented, "Even if online reports are implemented, police will ultimately make inquiries to individuals by phone if the content of reports is difficult to follow. We'd like to devise an elaborate new system."

    Reports for about 12.59 million lost items were filed with police nationwide in 2019. The Metropolitan Police Department in Tokyo recorded the largest number of items, at 2,407,027, followed by 1,561,561 reported to Osaka Prefectural Police and 932,297 items with Kanagawa Prefectural Police. The sum of cash that had been reported missing in 2019 was around 36.8 billion yen, or about $356 million.

    Meanwhile, police provide information online on lost items that have been turned in, and their owners are able to search for them. The disclosure of lost items on the internet was set down in revisions to the Lost Property Act in 2007 to speed up the process of returning them. About 29.75 million lost articles were turned in to police nationwide in 2019, and about 11.06 million items, including those collected the previous year, were returned to their owners.

    (Japanese original by Naritake Machida, City News Department)

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