The Amazing Japanese Part 4: The Journalist, the Mama-san and the Missing Traveller’s Cheques


In 1964, there are countless stories of people losing something, often of some value, and then getting it back. If I dropped my walled or camera in a store or a taxi in Manhattan, chances are south of 33% that I’d ever see it again.

In Japan, the odds go up significantly. Christopher Brasher recorded the events of the 1964 Games on a daily basis in his book, A Diary  of the XVIIIth Olympiad. And in the middle of the book, he told this unique, and yet oft-told tale of Japanese kindness. A jounalist lost his traveller’s cheques. One was signed, and ready for exploitation, and yet, two days later, he got all his cheques back.

What’s amazing about this story (and yet easy to believe if you’ve lived in Japan) is the extraordinary effort that went into returning the cheques to their owner:

One entirely un-Olympic story of today is of the British journalist who lost his traveller’s cheques earlier in the week. Unfortunately only one of them was signed so anyone who picked them up could have cashed them. Last night he was rung up by a Japanese woman who asked if he would like to come down and collect his cheques.

When he got to the address, he was handed his cheques by the mama-san of a night-club, who explained that she had had a little difficulty in finding out who the cheques belonged to. And when you see this particular journalist’s signature it is not surprising. It is an entirely illegible scrawl and yet it was the only clue to the ownership of the cheques. So the mama-san took a large sheet of paper and for two days she traced and retraced the signature until she could make out the first three letters of the surname.

And then she rang the hotels and, finally, the Press House, and discovered who they belonged to. When the journalist presented her with a bottle of whiskey in thanks she refused to accept it. The Japanese are truly an incredible race.