Little hubs for asynchronous connections

A photo of a koban and a policeman
A photo of a koban and a policeman

Yesterday evening, I found a pair of house keys next to the ATM machine in a bank kiosk. Like any properly trained Japanese citizen, I crossed the street to deliver it to the neighborhood police box, the koban.

Not surprisingly, it was empty. Kobans are left open while the policeman on duty is out patrolling, and a sign instructs you to place a call to… someone.

Inside of an empty koban
Inside of an empty koban

I’ve had two good experiences with this particular koban, the closest one from my home. Perhaps that’s why I was willing, without a thought, to voluntarily spend 10 slightly uncomfortable minutes in an empty police box on a rare, early weekday afternoon, to wait for a policeman to come back so that I could fill out the paperwork.

You see, I’m fairly certain that the keys I delivered will make their way back to their owner. It had one of those little keychains that come with a 500ml bottle of sports drink, a campaign for a past World Cup. There was just something so ordinary about that keychain. Foolish perhaps, but I’d like to think that upon realizing that they’d lost their house key, the owner would have the same instinct that I had – to cross the street to go to the koban. Who knows, they might even have picked up the phone, where the same gentleman that I talked to would tell them that someone had just delivered a set of keys.

Let me share two stories about my other experiences:

My iPhone, a young lady, a policeman and I

My iPhone slipped unnoticed from the bicycle basket while riding along Roppongi Street one day. When I noticed it was missing, I knew that bump I rode over a few minutes ago must have been my phone. I quickly backtracked but of course, it was gone.

The next morning, I stopped by the police box. After the paperwork had been filled out, a policeman placed a call to the central lost and found. My phone had been delivered to the Shibuya Police Station, which was about 15 meters from where I must have dropped it.

I went to pick it up, where I was told that a nice, young lady had delivered it the day before. She didn’t want recognition or compensation, just asked that “the phone be returned to its rightful order”. It’s quite possible that my phone was already in the hands of the police while I was frantically searching for it.

Another set of lost keys, a lost boy, two policemen and I

A little boy, probably around third grade, was wandering around on the street in front of the neighborhood grocery store. I asked him what was wrong. He’d lost his house key and no one was home. After half heartedly joining his search for a minute or two, I suggested we go to the police box.

Two gruff policemen took over from there, trying to get an address out of the boy. They said there was nothing more that I could do, so I said good luck to the boy, and left.

Police boxes are little hubs for asynchronous connections.

I’ll never meet the owner of the keys, the young lady, or the lost boy’s parents. Or perhaps we will meet one day and never know.

We’re simply random strangers passing through time, connected by fleeting moments at a small police box in a big city.