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Japan is in a cashless payment boom, so why is more cash ending up in lost-and-founds?

The Hakata Police Station's found property room is seen in Fukuoka's Hakata Ward, on Dec. 16, 2021. The room stores lost items reported by railroad companies and commercial establishments within its jurisdiction. (Mainichi/Noriko Tokuno)

YOKOHAMA -- Cases of lost cash being turned in to police are on the rise in Japan, which raises the question: why is so much physical money getting lost even as the country is going increasingly cashless?

    According to the National Police Agency (NPA), a record 19.7 billion yen ($160 million) in lost cash was reported to police nationwide in 2019. Even in 2020, when people were encouraged to stay in for long periods due to the coronavirus pandemic, 17.7 billion yen (about $144 million) in cash got turned in, 3.6 billion yen (about $29 million) more than in 2010.

    And this is happening despite the quick uptake of credit cards, electronic money and payment apps in recent years.

    One possible background reason mentioned by experts is that elderly people living alone keep cash in their homes. When one of these people passes away, the money and possessions in their home are passed on to their next of kin. Sometimes, money and valuables apparently end up in the trash, where they are discovered.

    In one case in April 2017, 42.51 million yen (about $346,000) in cash was found in the garbage on the premises of a waste collection and transportation company in Numata, Gunma Prefecture. The money was reported to the police as lost property, and the owner was eventually identified as a late prefectural resident. All that cash had been mistakenly tossed out with other unwanted items.

    If a person dies alone in a private home with multiple occupants, or in a facility with a shifting resident population, their money and property are reported to the police if no next of kin comes forward.

    Yoshitaka Nakamura, president of Nakamura judicial scrivener office in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, assists with inheritance procedures including inspecting assets of vacant houses. He pointed out that "there is probably a fair amount of found cash reported to police as lost property after the death of a senior who kept cash at home."

    Kotaro Ogura heads a Yokohama-based contractor that does building demolition, and clears out belongings left by the deceased or those leaving their homes for good. About five years ago, he and his team were sorting through the house of a man in his 70s who was moving into a nursing home when they found 2 million yen (about $16,300) in coins and notes. According to Ogura, the man, who lived alone in Kawasaki, had dementia.

    Ogura explained that many 500-yen coins were found in a can in a room that had all the hallmarks of a hoarder. When counted, they amounted to over 1.5 million yen (about $12,200). "We found so much more money and property," he explained, including a 10,000-yen note in an envelope.

    According to a National Institute of Population and Social Security Research estimate, the number of people aged 65-plus living alone will swell from 6.25 million (11.7% of all households) in 2015 to 8.96 million (17.7%) in 2040. The amount of lost cash is likely to increase as well.

    (Japanese original by Minhyang Hong, Yokohama Bureau)

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