Photog Loses $7,000 of Gear On Japanese Bullet Train, Gets Every Bit of It Back


News in the photo world isn’t always uplifting — what with all the layoffs and copyright scandals — but once in a while you stumble onto one of those ‘renew your faith in humanity’ stories that just make you smile.

That’s the uplifting story told by Imaging Resource Editor-in-Chief Dave Etchells, who recently lost $7,000 on a bullet train in Japan, only to have it found and returned to him with nary a piece missing.

Etchells was in Japan on business recently when, due to some incorrect information, he accidentally boarded a bullet train going the wrong direction. In the flurry of activity that followed he somehow became separated from his gear bag packed full of $7,000 worth of equipment. We’re talking:

  • Fujifilm X100S
  • Olympus E-P5
  • Panasonic GM1
  • Sony RX100 II
  • Ricoh GR
  • Canon G16
  • Sony RX10
  • Nikon AW1
  • 5 interchangeable lenses
  • 3 audio recorders
  • batteries
  • filters
  • cables
  • and accessories

But the story actually has a happy ending. Because while the chances of getting all that stuff back might seem slim, that’s exactly what happened to Etchells. By the next morning, the rail line officials had gone looking for it, found it AND forwarded it to a more convenient station for him to pick it up!


The story, for many of us, might seem outrageous. Etchells himself could hardly believe it. But this, he says, is a prime example of just how accommodating the people of Japan can be.

To read the full account, Etchells’ interesting commentary on Japanese culture and a very useful list of lessons learned that anybody who travels with gear would do well to peruse, head over to Imaging Resource by clicking here.

Why I LOVE the Japanese people: How to lose $7,000 of gear and get every bit back [Imaging Resource]

Image credits: Photographs by Dave Etchells and used with permission

  • Allen

    I left a camera back with an X100 and a few other things on an Airport shuttle from San Francisco one time. Tracked down the cabbie the next day and he brought it directly to our hotel. There are good and honest people in the world after all.

  • Ted Lee

    Being that this happened in Japan, I’m not at all surprised. I was there for my first visit last October, and was amazed to see everywhere I went, people left their bicycles on the sidewalk, unlocked. The people of Japan are raised with respect and honor, and it shows thru in their everyday culture.

  • DreadPirateZed

    Japan in general has a strong cultural bias against theft and/or property crimes. (I’m not trying to say they’re universally law-abiding – we’ve all seen enough yakuza movies, and they do have some basis in fact – just that petty theft, vandalism, littering, etc. are extremely rare.)

    A few years ago we visited Tokyo, and while waiting at the airport on the way home I put down my brand-new (at the time) Android G1 phone and, distracted, walked away from it. (Ancient history now, but at the time it was the new hotness and completely unavailable in Japan.) If I’d done that in any airport in the US, it would have been gone in seconds; however, when I finally retraced my steps and found where I’d left it – about 45 minutes later – it was untouched. Definitely restored MY faith in humanity.

  • Northwest Photography

    it’s funny $7000 worth of equipment = 1leica

  • David Guerra

    It’s sad to hear that this sounds unbelievable…

  • Renato Murakami

    Case of bad luck in a very fortunate situation. Can’t think of many other countries he would have a happy ending like that. But in Japan, loosing stuff on trains and finding it intact is a pretty common thing to happen.
    It happened when I went there with family, and apparently, there are dozens of cases a day or more.

    But man, what’s up with all that gear? 8 cameras? Damn

  • Dylan Roberts

    Awesome, awesome… I just can’t think what on earth type of business trip requires 8 camera’s??
    I could maybe understand if they were all the same camera, to shoot multiple angles of video at once. But that would just get confusing with so many different camera brands/button layouts right..?

  • Gareth

    Why would anyone take 8 cameras, which are all practically identical? And why 3 audio recorders?

  • tttulio

    Why carry so many cameras and recorders that do the same function?

  • ZUCO

    That’s normal in Japan. I used to live about 7 years there and I lost a lot of stuff in trains and restaurants. I got everything returned. Amazing country and beautiful people!

  • Mike

    It still doesn’t make up for all their tentacle porn.

  • Tooki

    Read the article! He’s the editor-in-chief of Imaging Resource so one would assume that he’s reviewing them.

  • northlander30

    Wow lucky man! To have it all returned unscathed is just phenomenal of the person!

  • Steve Oakley

    don’t use NY or LA to imagine thats how the rest of the US is….

  • Leo Bella

    I would like to live in a country when I could use a Canon-branded backpack on the streets.

  • Chris D Johnson

    That’s Japan for you. I wouldn’t have even thought ‘the chances of him getting his stuff back might be slim’. It’s Japan, wish I could say the same about where I’m from.

  • James F. Reilly

    It was actually replaced by expertly made counterfeits.

  • Louis

    especially when they’re not actually all that good – why have 8 mediocre cameras when you could have a couple spectacular ones?

  • Mihai Cristian

    bloody right there

  • SeoulFood

    “Haha – I was wondering how long it would take for someone to ask that!

    When I interview camera company executives, or go on tours of their
    facilities, I always like to do so with one of *their* cameras. So, a
    Nikon camera to take the headshots of the Nikon execs, Canon for Canon,
    Ricoh for Ricoh, etc, etc. I didn’t actually interview anyone from Sony
    on this visit, but brought along two Sony cameras anyway, just for their
    versatility, the RX10 and the RX100 II. The RX10 was very handy for
    shots at the show itself, as it covers a wide range of focal lengths,
    always with a constant f/2.8 aperture, and focuses in very close for
    macro shots as well. I expected to use the RX100 II for my pocket
    camera, to just have on me all the time, but in practice, I found myself
    gravitating to the GM1 for this. This was surprising to me, as the
    RX100 II had up until now been my favorite pocket camera of all time.
    The GM1 is just *so* compact, though, takes such great shots, and has
    such a great kit lens, that it’s now my new favorite. (Equipped, as was
    the RX100 II with a Richard Franiec grip.) This is still our sample unit
    of the GM1, but whenever we have to finally return it to Panasonic, I’m
    sure I’ll be buying one with my own money, I like it that much.

    So, a rather long-winded answer to your question, but it basically all comes down to ‘brand etiquette.’ :-)” Dave Etchells is the founder, Publisher, and Editor in Chief of Imaging Resource

  • Martin Joergensen

    I often think about what I would do if I found a camera (not to mention a kit like this) anywhere. I would go through fire and ice to find the owner and return the gear, and I’d hope that people would do the same if they found my lost gear.

    We once found a small P&S camera in Sweden (I live in Denmark) and managed to find the owner through the Swedish police and got the camera returned, with many thanks and great satisfaction as a result.

    I have asked around amongst my photographer friends and colleagues, and all of them agree that it would be worth spending some time and energy finding the owner of the gear – expensive or cheap. Think about how pleased you would be if someone called you and said: “I have your stuff, come pick it up”.

    So people; mark your gear with your name, email, phone etc. and make it easy for us to find you!


  • Mario Liedtke

    I would like to ask him why he is stressing hisself with mastering so much totally different cameras? Or did he just did a big comparison??

  • Eddie8899

    He he. You said happy ending.

  • tobieopenshaw

    I live in Taiwan, and I have a list of similar stories as long as my arm – this doesn’t surprise me at all. That said, the guy was definitely overpacked :)

  • Ricky

    The total price not even enough to get a Hasselblad. Or even a first hand Leica.

  • Nicolas Harter

    Maybe a hint : a guy working for a website that makes camera reviews, not just “anyone”

  • csmif

    Not that its a perfect culture by any means, but i was in Japan last fall and was absolutely blown by what appeared to be the lack of petty theft. I saw COUNTLESS unlocked bikes, unattended phones or tablets everywhere i went. If only the rest of the world could be like that.

  • tap0

    So many different cameras, so much duplication of formats. So much confusion as to which camera to shoot with.

  • Alfred Wu

    For those wondering why he packed so many cameras, he states in the article comments that he takes headshots of the company executives, after interviewing with them, with their brand of camera. He calls it “brand etiquette.”

  • Hwoarang5

    question will be why would any japanese want those low end gears… lolx…

  • marz

    though theft does happen in Japan (had it my self a few years back, fortunately only a small backpack with clothes) the above story pretty much matches an experience I had. After a hiking trip in Akita prefecture I was going to mail my hiking gear back home to Australia so bought a Japan post box wrote up the delivery label and packed it up. plan was to post it in Tokyo before flying out but some how managed to leave it on the Nagano shinkansen (bullet train)
    wrote it off as lost $2000+ of snow tent, stove, down clothing…. real bumber… but 3 months later it rocked up on my door step, some one found it and posted it at their expense, over $200usd, and not even a return address to send a cheque and thank you note

    every time I pack that gear I say a silent thank you to the anonymous person who did that.

  • markz

    hope you not knocking the Hokusai – that man was a true master, octopus tentacles or not

  • Leif Sikorski

    True. You can even leave your laptop in a cafe and go in the next store for a while without having it stolen – there it’s “normal”. They’ve a much higher respect for other peoples property which is also a reason why they can have so many vending machines in the streets. In many other countries they would be damaged after just a couple of days. And if something bad happens the people around actually care about it.

  • BenOverschie

    I have been to Japan. It can happen like this in more places. The main thing is to not be confronted by poor people or by people with poor ethics on property values. Since there are few poor people travelling on Shinkansens and Japanese workers have strong work ethics your were saved.

  • Aditya Mukherjee

    Had this been India. Need I say more ?

  • csmif

    That would be China you are referring to.

  • Kinu Grove

    Great to see some places in the world where honor and respect for other peoples stuff still exists.

  • Branden Hughes

    I left $6 grand of gear on a train in Naples, Italy and never saw it again. The sad thing is that I had 9 days of images on my memory cards.

  • Ramatis

    Don’t try lose your stuff here in Brazil.

  • ninpou_kobanashi

    My brother in law lost his wallet on a family trip in Tokyo, while exiting a cab. It was hilarious; by the time we figured out he had lost his wallet [as well as most of his travel funds] and found a Koban [police box] to report it missing, a person had already picked it up off the street and checked it in.

    BTW, there are plenty of bicycle thieves there though, my mom has had hers stolen twice; she just switched to a crappier older model, and now people leave it alone (^_^).

  • Made in DNA

    Common in Japan.

  • Rob

    My parents lived in Japan for over a year and this type of thing happens all the time. My dad used to tell me that he believed if you dropped your wallet full of cash on the street you could come back and find it the next day. If it was touched, it would have only been to move it to a safer place.

    And on top of that, my brother had a similar story. They took a cab to the airport because they were going to China for a week. My brother accidentally left his camera in the cab in the rush to catch their flight. When they got back to Japan, his camera was waiting for him at the front desk of my parent’s apartment building. The cab driver apparently found it and immediately drove back to the building and dropped it off with the door man. Absolutely amazing.

  • ajfudge

    People who have lived in Japan confirmed that the Japanese people greatly respect other people’s belongings. They are not natural thieves, and lost-and-found stations are actually crowded by unclaimed things. :)