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Japanese residents return over $78 million from earthquake wreckage

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How about something heartwarming and life affirming to kick off your Friday? Japan is still working to rebuild after the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck in March, and while many stories about the recovery effort are less than promising — like, say, radioactive beef found in Tokyo food markets — this one could restore a bit of your faith in humanity. In the five months since the quake, officials say that over $78 million, mostly contained in wallets or safes, has been turned in by those looking through the debris. The next step, obviously, was returning it:

Determining who the safes belonged to, proved to be the easy part. Saiki says most kept bankbooks or land rights documents inside the boxes, containing their names and address. Tracking the owners down, was much more challenging.

"The fact that these safes were washed away, meant the homes were washed away too," he said. "We had to first determine if the owners were alive, then find where they had evacuated to."

Saiki says Miyagi police fanned out across the region, searching for names of residents posted at evacuation centers, digging through missing person reports at town halls, sorting through change of address forms at the post office, to see if the owner had moved away. When they couldn't find the documents, police called listed cell phone numbers, met with mayors or village leaders to see if they recognized the names.

It may be only a small comfort for those who lost their entire houses — not to mention potentially friends and family members — to receive money recovered from a safe or wallet. I couldn't pretend to know what these people are going through, but hopefully even that little bit can give them some tiny bit of solace after losing so much. Either way: stand-up job, people of Japan.