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In praise of Tokyo taxi drivers

Illustration by Dot.

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.

Metropolis Online
381: The Crisp Linen Suit Syndrome
Unbearable heat and crisp linen suits
380: Smile
Smile when you see another foreigner
379: What sign are you?
When signs start to complicate life
378: Off with the gloves
Battle of the readers
377: Stop before you shop
Stores that scare away gaijin
376: Home sweet home
Modern housing in Japan?
375: Nihonjinron
Theories of Japaneseness and insecurity
374: Plastic bags
Do we really need them for everything?
373: Doctor knows best?
A scary visit to a Japanese hospital
372: Don't forget the finger wagger
So you've never complained about Japan?
371: A-choob tale
The Sneezing Salaryman
370: The gaijin language snob
Dare to cross his path
369: Nihongo
One man's struggle...
368: Making sense of Roppongi
Why do I keep going back?
367: Hateus Japanus Expatricus
Great bar bores of the world
366: Plants and animals
Darwin's turning in his grave
365: No more groping - for now
Women only train cars
364: Man's best friend
Pets have it rougher
363: In praise of Tokyo taxi drivers
A good ride all around
362: The Big Boot Brigade
Masters of the oversized-shoe
361: The case of the missing garbage cans
Where art thou o garbage can?
360: Ramen for the soul
Japanese chicken soup
359: Revenge of the nerds Part II
Geeky guys with hot girls
358: Little old ladies
Grandmas packing a punch
357: Starbucks sanctuary
Stop the Starbucks insanity
356: Pet name problem
My sweet little... carrot?
355: Unclean Jeans
Jeans McNasty
354: My chosen profession
Lindsay Nelson's the name, English teaching's the game
352/3: Merry Christmas... sort of
Merry and not-so-Merry Christmas in Japan
351: Last temptation of rice crackers
Breaking big bills the hard way
350: Revenge of the nerds
Gaijin girls are just jealous

ISSUES 300-349
ISSUES 250-299
ISSUES 233-249