All About Tokyo Taxis – Part 1

In which I discover a minor taxi racket in Akasaka, ogle taxis from the top of Tokyo station, go taxi hunting, and end up calling myself an otakushii. You can get descriptions to all these photos by reading the alt text (hover) or by looking through this imgur album.

New York City has, for all intents and purposes, just two kinds of taxi cabs: yellow (medallion) and green, both managed by the Taxi and Limousine Commission. Transport for London licenses taxicabs, all of which are black. In Tokyo — population 13 million — no fewer than 10 large companies operate taxis across town, and they’re each a bit different. Uber is trying to make inroads here, but it’ll be a while before the taxis of Tokyo become replaced — if ever.

Four major companies operate as part an organized entity (Tokyo Yonsha) established in 1963, all with either lemon yellow and red stripe or black vehicles and globes for lights. These are:

  • Daiwa, established 1945, 2,458 vehicles
  • Nihon Kotsu – started 1945. Flowery “N” distinguishes it; now has 4,073 taxis.
  • Teito, established 1938, 920 cars, of which taxis are 490
  • Kokusai Jidosha (km) – started 1945; 3,360 taxis, 17 subsidiaries

If you rearrange the first characters of each (和自動車交通, 本交通, 都自動車, 際自動車) you get 大日本帝国, or Empire of Japan. There’s strong historic underpinnings to the usage of the name, however.

There are at least 5 smaller associations:

  • Green Cab group – established 1952, with a peppermint color body, and some 60 subsidiaries. 1,307 vehicles. First nationwide to install wireless radios in all of its vehicles back in 1958.
  • Tokyo Musen group – established 1961, with some 60 subsidiaries; green with orange stripes 4,415 vehicles.
  • Checker Cab taxi group – started 1964, has 4,400 vehicles, owned by Toyota, has some 60 subsidiaries – orange body with checkered white stripe.
  • Kojin (privately owned) – white body with yellow lights; first approved for operation 1959. The fact that the lights look like a snail gave rise to the term “でんでん虫” (snail). There are also lanterns. See below. Privately owned taxis in Tokyo number some 15,564
  • Hinomaru group – yellow with red stripes; established 1960, 607 cars.

Here are some bite-sized interesting facts:

  • Yes, all taxi doors in Tokyo are automatic and are operated by the driver. A 100-person company called Toshintec has installed nearly 90% of automatic doors for the taxis and vehicles in Japan. It’s said that the initial motivation for these was the 1964 Tokyo Olympics as a way to impress visitors to the Olympic events (source)
  • Fender mirrors were required by Japanese law until the prevalence of door mirrors from imported vehicles pushed an amendment into effect allowing these in 1983. Today, most vehicles with fender mirrors in Japan are taxis. (source).
  • でんでん虫 (snail) is used to refer to taxis that are privately owned, because of their rooftop lights (source).
  • Women drivers were allowed to do overnight shifts starting in 1999. As of last year, 1.3% of drivers are female (source).
  • There are almost always black painted (and often better vehicle) variants of each company’s color scheme, known as “high grade” cars. These offer a slightly more luxurious feel while maintaining the standard fare. (source)
  • Tokyo Toyopet, a sales subsidiary of Toyota, owns stock in the Checker cab group company. The company does operate Nissan vehicles too, however (source).
  • In the Tokyo Musen group there are two distinctions one can get as a taxi driver: service leader and tower leader. The former is based on nominations for reliable and superior service; one can spot service leaders by their neck ties, which have red stripes going through the gray fabric. The latter is based on lack of accidents, experience, and passing additional tests. Being a tower leader offers additional privileges, like access to better vehicles, priority queues, and access to better areas of town, like Kasumigaseki, Aoyama, Hibiya (source).
  • There are basically 3 vehicles most often used as taxis: the made-for-taxi Toyota Comfort, the longer-wheelbase Crown Comfort, and the Nissan Cedric. The first two were released in 1995 and both have fender mirrors. All Cedrics after 2009 have door mirrors, and Nissan ceased production of the vehicle in September of 2014.
  • There’s a question on Yahoo Chiebukuro (kinda like Yahoo Answers) asking whether or not people in the rest of the world have to open taxi doors by themselves.
  • Some 50,494 taxis (20% of taxis in Japan) are operating in Tokyo, while there were 13,429 medallions in NYC (December 2015). The average annual salary of a Tokyo taxi driver is $38,000.

In Japanese there’s a term called otaku which generally equates to obsession or deep fascination with a specific topic (generally things like anime or manga). As part of my quest to find out everything and anything about Tokyo’s taxis, I ended up buying these diecast models from a company called Targa, which 6 years ago released minatures of taxis. It turns out it’s not the only company to stock these sorts of model vehicles: Gulliver and Tomica have them as well, though Tomica’s are always out of stock.

Part 2 will cover the taxi racket in Akasaka.

Sources and additional references

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