The policeman sitting across from me took down my name, address, and place of employment. He looked old enough to be retired.
“You are missing a brown business case, in Akasaka or Shibuya, or in between, sir?”
His English was stilted but precise, and he addressed me, a gaijin, as “sir.” I wanted to ask if he’d been an interpreter for the U.S. military during the Occupation. But that would be impolite.
“Yes, that’s right.” I did my best not to look sheepish.
“And there was something of value in your bag?”
“Value?” My breath probably still reeked of sake.
“For example, jewelry, stock certificates, legal documents, … money?”
“Only some business papers.
“You are quite sure, sir?
“Well sir, it happened this morning that a worker of the Tokyo sanitation department found a bag. It is the same color as the bag you have lost.”
“Great! How conscientious.”
“Would you come this way please?”
I stooped to avoid banging my already aching head against the door frame. By the washbasin in the back room lay umbrellas, briefcases, and one brown shoe. The morning’s catch, waiting to be sent on to headquarters.”
“Yes, that’s it, my briefcase. That one there.”
“You are quite sure, sir?”
“Yes. Thank God you found it.”
“Oh no sir, the sanitation man found it.”
“Well then thank the sanitation man.”
“Of course, sir, and how much will you express your gratitude?”
“You have the obligation to pay the finding person a percentage of value.”
“But the bag is worthless.”
“If no value then you would not look for the bag.”
“Okay, okay. Just tell me how much I should give him. I’m a gaijin, I’m not familiar with your local customs.”
“It is law that you are obligated. It is custom to pay 20% of the bag’s worth.”
“By approximate figuring, that is fifteen man-yen.”
“One hundred and fifty thousand yen? But that’s preposterous.”
“It is nonsense.”
“Sir, I do not say you lie. You drank so many Japanese o-sake you lost your bag. So maybe you forgot its contents.
“Would you like to open your case sir.”
“Very much, thank you.”
I crouched on the concrete floor and released the bag’s catch. The lid flipped open. A fat brown envelope spilled out crisp 10,000 yen notes.
Then it came back to me.
I had been told not to expect any bonus like the Japanese employees. But in the half light of the Akasaka club my boss had reached over and slipped an envelope into my inside jacket pocket. At one of the backstreet red-lantern bars that followed, I had transferred the envelope to my bag.
After that I could only guess what had happened.
When I got home I must have put down the bag while fumbling to pay the cab driver, then left it out on the curb where people put out their trash in the morning.
I looked up at the cop.
“Yes, please give the sanitation worker 150,000 yen and my most humble thanks and apologies.”
“Very well, then we must fill out one more paper.”
I followed him back to the office, almost bumping my head for the second time.
“You will sign here please that you have received the briefcase and all of its contents.”
“Yes, and please tell him that I was fortunate to have lost this bag in Japan where people are so considerate. In America it would have been thrown into the garbage truck along with everything else.
“Oh? In America they do not separate the burnable trash from the non-burnable trash?
“What do you mean?”
“Your briefcase. Tomorrow is the day for non-burnable items.”