|RANT 'N' RAVE|
In praise of Tokyo taxi
Yes, that's what I said.
Before coming to Japan, one of the few pieces of firm information I could get was that (a)
Tokyo taxi drivers are rude and expensive, (b) you could never get a taxi after midnight,
and (c) as a gaijin, your chances of getting any taxi at any time were slim.
Because of this bad publicity, it was almost a year before I attempted to flag down a
taxi, and then only because I had no other choice. Imagine my surprise when the first taxi
driver I hailed (after waiting about a nano-second for one to pass) screeched to a halt,
greeted me politely, and charged me a lot less than I was expecting. Surely, I thought,
this must be a fluke. But since that time, there has only been one taxi driver who lived
up to the reputation for rudeness, and even he turned out to be a perfectly OK guy by the
end of the trip. (He was just scared because he didn't know the way, and thought I
wouldn't be able to tell him.)
It's true that unlike their counterparts in London, who have to study the
"Knowledge" before they can drive a cab, Tokyo taxi drivers often get lost. The
first thing the driver does is to ask you for exact instructions on how to get to where
you want to go - even if it's only a couple of miles. Sometimes you have to help him read
his own map. On the other hand, this is Tokyo and in these hard times, when a lot
of the drivers are doing the job because they got downsized, you can hardly blame them for
struggling. After a recent terrifying taxi ride with a Japanese friend in London in which
the driver did nothing but use the F-word and cut up other drivers, I'm prepared to swap
the arrogance of Knowledge for the great free Japanese language lesson I get discussing
the pros and cons of the tricky shortcut versus the gridlock on the expressway.
Tokyo taxi drivers love to talk - whether it's to ask the usual "foreigner"
questions, to boast about their own travels, or to discuss the weather, your plans for the
evening, what's wrong with the Japanese economy, etc. One driver, after hearing me moaning
on my keitai that I'd forgotten to buy booze to go with a planned sukiyaki dinner,
insisted on stopping at a handy 7-11 and waiting while I bought "o-sake."
How could we enjoy our dinner without some chilly beverage, he demanded to know. And
he didn't charge me extra for waiting.
So here's to the men (and the occasional brave woman) who thread through the Tokyo traffic
jams at all hours of the day and night, and don't even expect to get a tip at the end of
the journey. May the road rise up to meet you! And I mean it in the nicest possible way.
Many thanks to Susan Andrews for this Rave.