These guys don’t need a cool car to catch a girl’s eye.
For the most part, if you ask a woman in Japan what kind of jobs cool, attractive guys do, you’ll get similar answers as you would in any other country. Artistic types like actors and musicians have a special cachet, as do highly paid high-flyers such as pilots, doctors, and bankers.
But there’s one profession that’s been seeing its stock, in the eyes of Japanese women, slowly but steadily rising: rickshaw pullers.
Since Japan is not just a modern nation, but also one of the largest producers of automobiles on the planet, obviously a ride in a rickshaw isn’t part of daily life for most people here. Still, you can find fleets of rickshaws waiting for passengers in historical tourism destinations such as Tokyo’s Asakusa or Kamakura in Kanagawa Prefecture. And of course, you can’t have rickshaws without shafu, as rickshaw pullers are called in Japanese.
Shafu, also known as jinrickisha danshi (“rickshaw boys”) by their fans, are almost uniformly lean, muscular young men. After all, when your job involves pulling people around town day after day, you’re definitely getting a good muscular and cardiovascular workout.
As a matter of fact, a number of shafu are also current or aspiring professional athletes in sports outside of Japan’s lucritive media darlings of soccer and baseball. For example, Yuki Sakamoto, pictured on the far left in the image above, is not only a shafu, he’s also a martial artist and owner of Japan’s super welterweight shoot boxing title.
Several shafu are also artists, actors, or comedians, and their female admirers say this combination of intense physical exertion and their dedication to their personal dreams makes for a unique appeal. Our Japanese-language reporter and resident rickshaw puller fan, Yayoi, says that during her numerous rickshaw rides she’s always found her shafu to be extremely friendly and easy to talk to, which isn’t surprising when you consider it’s a service sector job in which many workers are hoping to eventually get into show business.
There’s even an entire book dedicated to Asakusa’s shafu, titled Asakusa Jinrikisha Danshi, that just went on sale this month. While it features interviews with current Tokyo shafu and a guide map of Asakusa featuring their favorite hidden sightseeing spots and restaurants, the real draw is the collection of photos of its hard-working, hard-bodied subjects. It’s sure to be a big seller with women who aren’t waiting for their Prince Charming to come riding up on a white horse, but to come running up pulling a rickshaw behind him.
Casey doesn’t have any martial arts titles, but he’d be grateful if you’d follow him on Twitter anyway.