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While you may be safe in Japan, your umbrella probably isn’t

Steve Mollman
By Steve Mollman

Weekend editor

Japan is known for having some of the world’s safest cities, and stories of lost or forgotten items ending up back with their owners are common. But while you can probably find your expensive camera right where you accidentally left it a few hours ago, one item in particular is likely to vanish: your umbrella.

For whatever reason, umbrellas seem to be fair game in Japan, and there’s a decent chance that when you leave yours in the umbrella stand most restaurants have at the entrance, it won’t be there when you exit, especially if it’s raining hard.

It’s somewhat surprising, then, that the late-March opening of a new bullet-train service to Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, was celebrated with a free umbrella loan service. The goodwill operation started with 1,000 umbrellas offered at six location throughout the city of Hakodate, one of the stops in Hokkaido on the train’s way from Tokyo to Sapporo. The service was launched by the Hokkaido Shinkansen Promotional Organization, in association with the Hakodate Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The umbrellas are clear and feature the city’s logo. Though they’re offered as a gesture of hospitality for tourists, they can be used by anyone, and returned to any of the locations. Of course, just because the can be returned doesn’t mean they will be. By the time last month’s Golden Week holiday ended, all but about 100 umbrellas were gone. The service added 500 more, but a recent count showed only 400 umbrellas remain, meaning 1,100 of the 1,500 offered are missing.

The organizers retrieved about a dozen umbrellas that had been left at local hotels, but it now believes that most of the missing umbrellas are in the homes of local residents. With each umbrella costing 400 yen ($3.74), the future of the program is now in doubt.

Image by kurisuuu on Flickr, licensed under CC-BY-2.0.

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