Tokyo: Free umbrellas for tourists – what could go wrong? Pretty much everything, as it turns out.
Officials at the local chamber of commerce in a northern Japanese city have been left red faced after hundreds of umbrellas left for visitors to use while they were in town vanished.
The mass brolly theft — about 900 disappeared — has left historic port city Hakodate's feel-good tourism scheme in tatters, and triggered an angry response from some local taxpayers, who slammed it as a waste of money.
Launched at the end of March, the programme was designed to celebrate the extension of Japan's iconic bullet train service to its northernmost island Hokkaido, where the city is located.
Visitors and locals alike could pick up one of about 1,000 transparent umbrellas — embossed with a multilingual city logo — left at stands around town.
Keep them as long as you like and return them when you're done, signs advised.
But it seems many umbrella lovers helped themselves to a permanent souvenir.
Hakodate's chamber of commerce, which was behind the promotion, says it has added 500 more umbrellas to the depleted stands.
But checks with local hotels, museums and other businesses have turned up just 13 of the missing umbrellas.
"Preferably, it would be good if as many as possible are returned," a chamber of commerce spokesman said.
"But the people who borrowed them are no longer in Hakodate if they were tourists. There may be no way to get them back."