This may look like just another small plastic bag. Just another plastic bag with a plastic bracelet inside. And to most people, that’s exactly what it is. Just another plastic bag, just another plastic bracelet, except that at second glance, you may notice that the bracelet is a Fitbit, one of those activity trackers, workout buddies that count steps and calories, and track sleep.
Yet, it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in a while.
And I’m going to tell you why.
The Fitbit in the bag is mine but I lost it on one of them shinkansens going from Tokyo to Kyoto last week. In hindsight, I figure it must have fallen off when I lifted my backpack onto the shelf, or maybe when I lifted the big suitcase, or the middle suitcase. I guess even the smallest suitcase could have done the trick.
I didn’t notice the loss until I was already i Kyoto, taking a shower at the hotel. I told Wife, Son and Daughter about it, and lamented that “the hotel room just got a little bit more expensive.”
Wife was sympathetic – after all, she had already given me hers after I’d lost mine in Finland last summer, and then found it crushed on the sidewalk – while Son and Daughter just shrugged their shoulders, busy with other things.
I couldn’t drop the topic, though, and when we were looking for a restaurant later that night – and I was counting my steps in my head – I brought it up again.
“It’s such a shame I lost my Fitbit, I’m such a doofus,” I said.
“I saw an orange Fitbit on the train floor,” Son replied.
I stopped dead in my tracks.
“You saw it? Oh, maaaaaan, if you’d only said something, I could have picked it up,” I said, and was only cursing my bad luck, not blaming Son for my misfortune.
However, Son, 12, felt sorry for me. After all, he has lost a thing or two on the buses and trains in Stockholm over the years so he knew what losing something feels like. Or maybe he thought it had been his fault that I was now walking the streets of Kyoto without any idea of how many steps I had taken, poor man.
Obviously, I had immediately lost all hope of ever getting my buddy back. I don’t think I’ve ever recovered anything I’ve left on a bus or train, and in Japan the language barrier between us and them seemed too high to climb over.
Son, on the other hand, had already started to collect useful phrases, first translating them on Google Translate, then copying the words and phrases into his little, red notebook. They included the usual ones – “Hello, we’re from Sweden” – and some more unusual ones like “If I buy this PlayStation and one game, will you cut me a deal for 3100 yen?”
Now he had a new mission. He would get my Fitbit back.
Back at the hotel, Son spent 30 minutes translating phrases he thought would be useful and then, armed with his notebook and a healthy dose of self-confidence and optimism, he headed down to the front desk to take care of some business.
I followed him down, but let him do the talking and instead, sat down on a sofa in the lobby, watching Son stand at the desk. He held the notebook in his left hand, and used his right hand to gesture to the man he was speaking with.
After a good twenty minutes, he turned around, and as we walked to the elevator, he gave me his report.
“So, they’ve found it. Your Fitbit’s at the Shinagawa station, and the man at the desk will call them tomorrow morning to see how we could get it sent here,” he said matter-of-factly.
“Are you serious?” I yelled.
“Yes, of course. They’ll call us or bring it to our room tomorrow.”
“Did you speak Japanese?”
“At first, but then we switched to English.”
I raised my hand to a high-five. He slapped it.
“You are something else,” I told Son.
“Thank you,” he replied.
The next morning, there was no Fitbit, and not only that, the night staff had gone home and there was a new team behind the desk. When I told Son that now he’d have to explain everything to them again, he looked at me and told me that would be unnecessary since they had “opened a file”.
He pointed to a file cabinet behind the day team staff, and then went through the case with a new person again.
We hit the streets of Kyoto and headed to the Kinkaku-ji, the golden Zen Buddhist temple.
That night, Son guided the rest of the family to Nintendo’s old headquarters with the same persistence and methodology he had used with the Fitbit. When we got back to our room, the phone rang. Son picked it up.
“Yeeellow,” he said, and then after a pause, “yes, yes, that’s right, the bracelet.”
He leaned back in the chair, put his feet on the table, and gave me a lesson in the art of negotiating.
“That’s good to hear. I understand it’s been difficult to get through to JR. Aha. OK. Sure. That’s nice work, very nice, but that won’t help us because we’ll be checking out of here tomorrow. No, we won’t be going to another hotel, but we’ll be staying at a friend’s house for the remainder of the week, and maybe they can send it there,” he said.
The call lasted fifteen minutes, and again, they told Son that they’d keep calling the JR Lost & Found, and would ask them to send the Fitbit to my friend.
In the morning, we checked out, and that night, took the train to my friend’s place. I admired Son’s confidence and poise, and that was a big enough reward for me. We went back to our vacation, and I stopped counting my steps.
The next day, when we got back to my friend’s house after a long day of sightseeing, there was a package waiting for us.
Inside the package, there was a plastic bag and inside the bag, there was an orange bracelet. It was blinking, ready to go.
“Hey, Dad,” Son said, with a smile. “A Pakarinen never gives up, right?”