It used to be a common joke among foreigners in Japan that the Japanese were a nation of bicycle and umbrella thieves. I don't joke like that anymore. Maybe some do, I don't know. I try not to listen to foreigners. It's happened to me a couple of times over the years - I went into a shop during heavy rain, left my umbrella in the umbrella stand at the door, and when I came back out into the heavy rain my umbrella was gone. the first time I had no choice but to go out into a typhoon with no umbrella. the second time I stole an umbrella in turn.
Thursday, September 20th was my second time. It was raining in Tokyo. I had to leave home for some evening work nearby. I walked north on Nakano dori. On the way to my destination I stopped by a Family Mart convenience store for a snack. There were only two other umbrellas in the stand. Mine was the third. The shop was not crowded, and I was confident that I could be in-and-out in a jiffy. The two other umbrellas I saw in the stand belonged to the two other customers already in the shop when I entered. I got my snack. I stood in line at the cash register. There was one guy in front of me already paying. He left. I put down and paid for my one item lickety-split. I had almost exact change and no bag was necessary. I could just slip it in my item in my pocket and be on my way. When I stepped out of the store I looked down at the umbrella stand and immediately saw that my umbrella was gone. I didn’t witness it happening, but I assumed the guy in front of me at the register took it. Maybe I was wrong to think so, but I doubted it. I could easily tell my umbrella from the others. Could he not do the same? If he could do the same, that means he deliberately stole something that he knew didn’t belong to him. If he could not tell the difference, that means taking my property was a simple mistake.
I immediately looked around and saw the suspect on the sidewalk about 15 meters to my right, walking away in a southerly direction. I was so pissed off at him, the young, overweight slob. I could have easily run after him, and overtook him to reclaim my umbrella. But I didn’t, because I did not actually see him take it, so it was impossible to be absolutely certain. Of course, I was right, he did take it, and he was walking away with it. But I thought that pressing the issue required a nearly 100% certainty. I didn’t actually see him take it with my own eyes, so that certainty didn’t exist.
My umbrella was not expensive. They never are. It was a 70 cm diameter, opaque white thing from a convenience store, that probably cost me ¥700. I forget. I liked it. Even if they are the same size and the same price, not all umbrellas are the same, and this one was very good for me. I’d had it a long time. I liked the size and shape of it. It was as tall as a walking stick, or cane, which I like. I liked the feel of the handle in my fingers. I liked the black ribs and stretchers that made it easily recognizable, the opening button and the smooth operation of the runner up the stick. I like my stuff and I don’t want people touching or disturbing my what belongs to me. Why? Because my stuff is mine, that’s why. I like to have a material sufficiency to facilitate maximum readiness and independence. But although I am a materialist in many ways, I certainly do not think that reality is nothing more than the accumulation of physical stuff. The truth is that the umbrella was just a little thing, nothing to have a confrontation about. There were other umbrellas in the store’s stand that I could take, so I did. I wasn’t as happy with the one I took as a replacement. It was flimsier and didn’t feel right, but …