Police departments in Japan are struggling to handle the rising number of unclaimed umbrellas.

In Tokyo, about 3,300 lost umbrellas are recovered per rainy day, but only about 1 per cent are reclaimed.

Although police have introduced a system that allows people to search for lost items on the internet, the percentage of reclaims has not risen and police storage facilities are approaching full capacity.

To reduce storage costs, the National Police Agency is considering getting prefectural police departments that lack space to dispose of unclaimed umbrellas and other inexpensive items two weeks after processing them.


Storage sites full

About 100,000 umbrellas recovered by railway operators in Tokyo fill the racks of an about 1,200-square-metre storage space in the basement of the Metropolitan Police Department's Lost and Found Center in Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo.

The center said about 3,300 umbrellas on average are received on rainy days. As a result, its racks are permanently full.

Although work to expand the space has been carried out since last year, it has not kept pace with the steady stream of umbrellas that continue to flood the center.

The Lost Property Law stipulates that lost items reported to authorities should be kept for three months, in principle. But a 2007 revision permits police to dispose of inexpensive items such as umbrellas after two weeks.

However, police officials continue to store cheap items for three months, partly because they are wary of receiving complaints from owners.

The head of the MPD's Lost and Found Center said that even if items are cheap, it is possible that they are gifts or have sentimental value, making it difficult to dispose of them after such a short period of time.

The percentage of umbrellas reclaimed from the center is 0.7 per cent.

Lost umbrellas that are not claimed within the allocated time period are returned to railway companies or other organisations that brought them to the center. Finally, they are discarded or sold as recycled goods.

According to the NPA, there were 18,964,770 cases of lost items being reported to the authorities in 2015 nationwide, up about 12 million since 2006.

However, the number of reports submitted by owners of lost items was 4,416,969, up only about 900,000 in the same period.

An online service was introduced in 2007 on prefectural police headquarters' websites for people to search for lost items by submitting information such as dates and locations. But the reality is that the percentage of lost items being returned to owners has not risen.

In 2014, the NPA checked the return percentages of lost items across the nation.

The percentage of valuable items, such as driver's licenses, bank cards and mobile phones, was high at 85.9 per cent. But that of umbrellas was 1 per cent, and that of handkerchiefs was 1.6 per cent.

The Cabinet Office conducted a lost items survey on about 3,000 people in October and November last year.

Of the 1,804 respondents, 74.5 per cent said it is all right if inexpensive unclaimed items are discarded or sold after two weeks or even before two weeks.

The survey results encouraged the NPA, which has been worried about the lack of storage space, to change its stance.

An NPA official said: "I wonder if, in this era of mass consumption, people's affections toward their belongings have decreased. People probably consider it too costly to bother searching for cheap lost items."

But the official stressed, "We want people to understand that storing lost items is also costly."

To raise the percentage of lost items that are returned, the NPA will revise as early as April the regulations of the Lost Property Law so that owners can arrange via telephone to have their recovered items delivered.

Under the current regulations, if it is difficult for owners to collect their lost items at police stations in person, they have to download application forms from police websites and send relevant information by mail with reply envelopes.

The new regulations will cover all kinds of lost property. Claimants who contact the police by phone will be asked for details about their lost items, including shape, size and where they were lost.

If police can verify ownership, people will be able to arrange for their items to be delivered, with payment made on delivery.

An NPA official said, "We hope the percentage of returns will rise by making the procedure more efficient than before."