White-gloved men and women drive the taxis of Japan’s big cities. Hundreds of different colored vehicles bumper-to-bumper lining the already clogged roads waiting for their fares. Many others cruise the roads of the city hoping to be flagged down by some cash rich individual. The evenings are the busiest times for a Japanese taxi driver – especially after the subways and trains have stopped for the night. Like hungry hyenas, the drivers converge on the entertainment district of a city and cruise the narrow streets in search of a fare. The driver scans left and right of the car – the neon from the bars and restaurants dancing on the car’s hood. He watches the plethora of drunken souls wandering across the narrow lane in front of the cab and he slows. Suddenly to his left he sees a hand go up – a young woman and man. The driver halts, and pulls the lever on the side of his seat, popping open the rear door. The couple climb into the backseat, laughing and – from what the driver can see in the rearview mirror – fondling each other. He again pulls the lever and the door swings shut – a thud tells him it is secure.
There are some points visitors to this country should know when taking a taxi. Firstly, when you’re comfort in the rear seat, don’t try to close the door, the driver will do it (he has the lever). If you try to pull the door close it won’t lock. Many years ago, a friend visiting this country, pulled the door close and as he did he trapped a certain Aikido teacher’s finger in the door. The pain must have been excruciating, needless to say my friend was about as popular as pig farming in Israel after that. What made matters worse, for the teacher that is, was the taxi driver repeatedly saying “Jeez, that must’ve hurt. Wow! I never seen that happen before.” All the Aikido master could do was force a smile and wish the taxi driver would just shut up and drive. So, be warned don’t try to close a the rear door of a Japanese taxi. As for the front door – give it a good tug.
The next little piece of advice for any visitor to Japan who decides to experience a taxi ride. It is unnecessary to tip the driver. He or she isn’t expecting it, so don’t give him or her one. If, in the event you were really happy with the ride, the fare was reasonable and the driver was friendly and didn’t bend your ears speaking in a language you didn’t understand about the most uninteresting things, then by all means tell him or her to “Keep the change,” chances are he or she won’t understand.
Which brings me to the final point. Most Japanese taxi drivers can’t or won’t speak English. Apparently, it is against the taxi driver’s code to speak any foreign language. So, with that in mind, get someone to write your destination in Japanese on a piece of paper and then shove the note in the face of the driver. If you’re heading for a subway station and you’re worried your pronunciation of the station will have the driver laughing for the rest of the evening, give him the station number – in English.
For the most part, Japanese taxi drivers are reasonable friendly, although as mentioned above, forget about having a converation about politics in English. Most of the driver’s are older men or women and driving is their life. A large percentage of the male drivers, have their own road rules and don’t seem to understand, or care, that other vehicles use the same roads. Running a yellow light or even a red light, is not uncommon. When noticing a fare on the sidewalk or side of the road, male taxi drivers will invariably swerve to the side of the road, regardless of what is following behind – they see money, not people.
So, remember these little tips if you ever take a taxi in Japan.