By Natalie Laber
I don’t want to brag, but I might be the queen of losing things. There’s nothing these magic fingers won’t drop, break, or set down and forget about. Back in America, I can think of three separate times when I set down something worth over $100, only to go back for it and find it gone, presumably stolen. (A fourth time, a real low point in my life, I lost a cellphone down an automatic flushing toilet.)
But here in Japan, my recovery rate of lost items is a perfect 100%, and it’s happened so many times I have honestly lost count. I’ve lost my smartphone, my wallet, luggage, omiyage, and various items of outerwear, in a multitude of locales and circumstances, and I’ve been lucky enough to always get my stuff back in the end.
I’ll never forget the first time it happened. I was a junior in college, in Japan for study abroad, and my friends and I had made a day trip into Tokyo on our first day off from classes. We went into a game center, played a few lively rounds of Mario Kart, and then walked around outside for a while. It wasn’t until an hour later, as we were descending into the train station to return home, that I realized I didn’t have my IC card—or my wallet. Panicked, I hurried back to the game center, sprinted up the escalator to the third floor, and checked the Mario Kart machines. My wallet wasn’t there. One of the game center employees passed by, and I waved her over frantically.
“Sorry,” I said in English, then tried to remember how to speak Japanese. Bear in mind, I’d been in the country for less than two weeks. I had studied Japanese for three years, but right now nothing was coming out. I frantically searched through my memories for even any little bit of vocab that would help me, and then, with striking clarity, I recalled the lesson in our textbook about lost items. We’d had to listen to some dialogue about Tanaka-san leaving a paper bag on the train, and at the time it had felt so pointless, but now, finally, it would pay off.
“I forgot something,” I told the staff in Japanese.
And sure enough, she ran through basically the entire dialogue from the textbook with me—what had I lost, and when, and what color was it, and what was inside, etc. I didn’t answer nearly as eloquently as Tanaka-san would have, but I was able to get my meaning across somehow. After telling me to wait for a moment, the staff produced my wallet from a back room, and just like that I was good to go.
[Sidenote, as I was typing this I suddenly remembered that after returning to America, I actually lost that same wallet at a Vons. And I never got it back.]
The moral of the story is based off of purely anecdotal evidence, but if I bothered to look it up there’d probably be statistics to back me up: Japan is a better place to lose stuff than America.
The other moral is that sometimes language textbooks actually really do teach you the stuff you need to know. Shout outs to the Situational Functional Japanese textbooks for keeping it real. Life imitates art.