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In a country that has such a robust public transportation infrastructure, it’s easy to forget the humble car. Looking at a map of train and subway lines in the Tokyo area, it’s clear to see how far-reaching the two modes of public transport are. However, there are still plenty of people who choose to drive. And just like any other major city, there are many who prefer to travel by car, but don’t want to do the driving themselves.

Enter the humble taxi. An iconic fixture of cities such as New York and London, how does the Tokyo taxi driver compare? Are Japanese drivers and passengers just as interesting? Or does their business-like mental focus keep them from acting out in the car? Join us after the jump as we interview the humble Tokyo taxi driver, asking such probing questions as “Do you give rides to yakuza?” and “Can you tell what kind of people your customers are before they get in?”

We talked with a taxi driver in his sixties who mainly works the Tokyo area. He hasn’t been a taxi driver all his life, but when he was looking for a change of pace, he decided to hit the streets. Driving a car seems to be his calling though, and he was happy to answer a few questions while en route.

taxi driver 2Image: Flickr (Ko Fujimura)

RocketNews24: Do you give rides to yakuza?

Taxi Driver: You can’t refuse rides to yakuza members even if you don’t like the yakuza. If you do, you’ll find yourself with complaints and other problems at the office. Not all yakuza are bad people though; you hear stories of some of them leaving 10,000 yen (US$83.55) tips.

RN24: Between Ikebukuro and Shinjuku, which one has more customers with higher fares?

TD: I think Shinjuku has more customers who travel long distances. In Ikebukuro, a lot of the customers are going to Saitama, but in Shinjuku, you have customers who need to go in all directions.

RN24: Is it true that taxi drivers cover the transaction fees for credit cards?

TD: A lot of taxi drivers do cover the transaction fees. Sometimes the taxi company and the driver split the fee, but that as well as how much each covers differs between companies. This is why we prefer when you pay in cash.

RN24: Can you tell what kind of people your customers are before they get in?

TD: Once you become a taxi driver, you can immediately tell what kind of person the customer is. Our senses are keen, we are almost always right on the money.

RN24: You don’t have a privately owned taxi, but are driving as part of a company — roughly how much is the base pay?

TD: We get paid 20,000 yen (about $167). We make most of our money on the fares, so the base pay is really low.

4749160044_1b243f9b31_bImage: Flickr (Phillip Kalantzis Cope)

RN24: How many days a month do you usually work?

TD: About 11 days a month. Since I am over 60, my hours are limited by the Labor Standards Act, so I can’t work more than that in a month.

RN24: About how much do you make from fares?

TD: It depends, but the easiest way to explain it is about half the fare, after you take out the taxes and any processing fees. Depending on the amount of the fare, the percentage I receive can go a bit higher.

RN24: Is it possible to make more than 100,000 yen ($835.60) in a day?

TD: No, that is a bit difficult. On average, at my company, you make about 35,000 yen ($292.45) in a day. On a good day maybe about 60,000 yen ($501). So 100,000 yen is pretty rare.

RN24: Sometimes there are bumpy rides in taxis and if the passengers are drunk, it might not be that comfortable for them. What can the passengers do?

TD: It’s OK for them to tell us to not break or hit the gas suddenly. We don’t have any problems with that. But there are times when the taxi is old and the ride is really bumpy, so there isn’t much that can be done.

RN24: How long does a new car last for a taxi driver?

TD: Probably about five years. Any longer than that and they will be forced to buy new parts and it wouldn’t be as cost-effective.

RN24: Do the drivers pay for gas?

TD: If the fuel was covered by the drivers, all the taxi drivers in Japan would quit.

RN24: Have you had any interesting customers?

TD: It’s always interesting when groups of three ride in a taxi. They all cram into the backseat and when we get to the final destination you can learn some interesting things about their character. Since you have to get out one by one, some people can develop some bad attitudes and you can see it when they leave the car.

RN24: How’s the pay on the weekend?

TD: Even though my main area is Tokyo, my company is off on the weekends, so the pay ends up being lower. The pay is definitely better on the weekdays. Also, when it snows in Tokyo, there are usually very few people in Shinjuku. Since the trains stop if there is snow coming, everyone goes home early.

12382075405_fcf9e770c7_kImage: Flickr (Takashi Hoshoshima)

RN24: Please tell us something that taxi drivers should be thinking about every day.

TD: Definitely listen to the route that the customer tells you. Surprisingly, there are a lot of drivers who don’t do that, so they end up getting in trouble with the customers after. The other thing is to get the address of customers who are drunk and put it in the GPS before you start driving.

RN24: What do you think about being a taxi driver?

TD: Before I started driving, I was managing a company that worked with LP gas. When I got to my sixties, working in that company became very painful. The summers were really hot, the winters were really cold, and my body just couldn’t take it anymore. Even my wife said I should quit. So I thought, “Why don’t I try being a taxi driver?” We make our money on commission wages so there’s insurance and security in that. I’ve also learned a lot of things since I switched jobs–the details of the Tokyo streets, things about the service industry and giving good service to customers, I really feel comfortable with it now. I’m good at driving so I feel like I really found my calling in being a taxi driver.

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There you have it, straight from the mouth of a real Tokyo cabbie! If you’ve never taken a taxi ride in Japan before, you should know you’ll probably get a story out of it. Next time you have the chance, why not try the door-to-door service that a taxi ride can afford you? Maybe your driver will be happy to answer your questions as well.

Top Image: RocketNews24