To anyone who reads my blog, I apologize once again for the hiatus. I was working on a post related to travel, but I decided to write about an unfortunate event that occurred to me last week instead. If you’ve glanced at the title of this post, then I’m sure you can guess what happened.
Last Wednesday, after a long day of helping students prepare their speeches, I went to an ATM to pay some bills via furikomi (I’ll have a separate post up on paying bills in Japan soon). The darned machine wouldn’t accept my phone number. After a few minutes of drawing kanji on Google Translate, I finally realized I needed to enter my area code. To be honest, I use my phone number so infrequently that I completely forgot about the area code. It’s a poor excuse, but most of my communication happens through the popular Line app. Fortunately, it was an error easy enough to fix, and I successfully entered the number and paid the bill. Hurray for keeping the lights and gas on another month—now I could get out of there. But in my rush to leave so the other customers queued in line could withdraw their cash and stop gawking at the silly foreigner unable to use an ATM, I failed to zip my bag properly.
With my bag hanging half open, I plopped down on a bench outside of a yummy looking burger shop. I told myself I really shouldn’t eat a burger for the second time that week. Instead, I stuffed my receipt into my folder and decided to use the restroom while I waited for the bus. When I returned from the restroom, I lost all my willpower to the calling of a featured menu item, a burger topped with cheese, a fried egg, and avocado (my favorite combination ever). How could I resist? But, as I dug through my backpack, my wallet was nowhere to be found. I looked through every pouch and then retraced my steps to the restroom. I even checked behind the freaking toilet. Nothing. So I ran back to the ATM to check there, but I still didn’t find anything. When I returned to the burger place and began another round of searching through my bag just to make sure I hadn’t overlooked it, the cashier approached me with worried expression.
“Did you lose a wallet?” He asked me in Japanese.
“Yes! Did you see it?” I was sure this kind man had just saved my life.
“I saw an old man walk away with a brown leather wallet.”
My hopes shattered into a million pieces. He said he told the man to take my wallet to the information desk, and I remembered I was in a country where most lost articles are returned. I thanked him for his help and made my way to the information desk. Although I was nervous, I had faith in this man to leave my wallet at the lost and found. But no one had turned in a missing artifact that day. The employees suggested I head to the police station because it was likely the man had indeed stolen it.
The police station was located nearby, but to my dismay, when I arrived it was closed. The officers working there had gone on patrol, and the sign didn’t indicate when they’d be back. I realized now I couldn’t handle this situation alone and messaged my friends for advice. They told me to call our supervisors at the Board of Education. One friend who happened to be nearby offered to meet me at Mcdonald’s to give me some cash since all of my money and credit cards were in my stolen wallet. I can’t tell you how much that act of kindness meant to me. I had just enough in my coin pouch to buy a double cheeseburger and some chicken nuggets, which I devoured with no shame because it had been a stressful day.
My supervisor was kind enough to meet me at 8:00 o’clock in the evening at the police station to help me file a report. The entire process took just over an hour. The officers asked for a description of my wallet, where I had lost it, and why I thought it had been stolen. I told them to the best of my ability what the man at the burger restaurant told me. My (amazing) supervisor helped interpret and file the paperwork. They documented all the items in my wallet which included my Permanent Residence Card, cash card, debit and credit cards, insurance card, and gym membership card. I also had a week’s worth of grocery money inside. Because they didn’t know when or if they’d find it, they urged me to go to the Immigration Office the next day to replace my Permanent Residence Card. Foreigners in Japan who are working or studying abroad must have this ID on them at all times. I wouldn’t be allowed to teach without it.
They also advised I call my bank in Japan to turn off my cash card so the thief wouldn’t be able to empty my account. My supervisor helped me with this as well while I used my American bank app to temporarily turn off my credit and debit cards. The next day I took nenkyu (paid leave) and went to the nearest Immigration Office about an hour away by bus to request a new card. The issuance of the new residence card itself is free, but you will have to pay to take a photo that meets the requirements. Fortunately there are usually photo booths nearby that cost anywhere from 800-1000 yen. I took a photo (let me tell you it wasn’t pretty) filled out some paperwork and had my new card within an hour.
Of course, when I returned home from the Immigration Office, the police called to say they had recovered my wallet. The thief had taken out all the cash and tossed it next to the police box I visited the day before. Because he tossed it in the gutter, my wallet was soaking wet, but all of my cards were inside and intact. Not surprisingly, my cash was gone. I reactivated my cards and recovered my lost residence card, so ultimately things worked out. It could’ve been much worse. If you’re living in Japan or anywhere abroad, it’s important to protect yourself from incidents like this occurring. Pickpocketers and opportunists are everywhere. To reduce the damage they can do, make sure you keep one of your credit or debit cards secured at home. This way, even if your wallet is stolen, you still have access to your funds. Keep your belongings secured and know where they are at all times. Have copies of your foreign identification cards and passports. (If you can, leave your passport secured at home or in your hotel.) This makes the re-issuance process much easier. Also, limit how much cash you carry. Japan is still very much a cash-based society, but make sure you won’t be hurting if you lose what’s on your person. If you must carry large quantities of cash, separate your money so if a thief makes off with one wallet, you still have the rest of your funds.
If I had been more careful, this unfortunate incident could have been completely avoided. Going through a stressful event like losing your identification or money while abroad can feel overwhelming. It’s important to remember these things happen can happen to anyone, so if it happens to you, stay positive and have a game plan. As soon as you realize your wallet is missing, call someone you trust for help and go to the local authorities. Take the appropriate measures to secure your bank accounts and remember to take a deep breath. Everything will be okay!