Due to the spread of the new coronavirus, the cab industry was exposed to an unprecedented crisis.
Income temporarily dropped to less than half of what it had been, and many people lost their jobs. In my book, ” Surviving the Covid-19 Disaster: The Taxi Industry Survival,” I wrote about the reality and future of the industry in such a turbulent time.
I have interviewed more than 100 cab drivers through my interviews, and it is not uncommon for them to give rides to celebrities when they are driving in Tokyo. As they take a breather in the car, we sometimes catch a glimpse of their true personalities. Here are some of the interactions between the drivers and celebrities.
A sudden change in payment…!
We asked Mr. Kamata (pseudonym, in his 50s), a veteran driver based in Tokyo Station, about the passenger who left the biggest impression on him. The name of Mr. Z, who was famous in the Koshien (National High School Baseball Championship) and then as a professional baseball ace, and who was in demand for variety shows even after his retirement, came up.
“I’m a big fan of the Yakult Swallows. Even when I’m at work, I listen to the Swallows radio on my route. So I know a lot about the professional baseball world. It’s not uncommon for me to meet baseball players in my line of work. I’ve given rides to more than a dozen of them, and the one thing they all have in common is that they pay well and often say, “Keep the change.
Mr. Z, however, had the complete opposite pattern. He has been retired for a long time now, but he was very stingy and offered me a huge discount (laughs). At that time, I was picked up from the downtown area to the hotel where I was staying, and the fee was about 12,000 yen. He seemed to be in a jovial mood in the car, and he talked to me, saying, ‘You know me, don’t you?
It was when we were paying the bill that things changed.
“All of a sudden, he said, ‘I only have 10,000 yen in my wallet, can you give me some? No matter how many times I explained to him that it was impossible, he said something incomprehensible like, ‘It’s cheap if you think of it as the cost of talking with me,’ and started to raise his voice. The conversation continued for about 20 minutes at the hotel. The amount of time we had to spend on the hotel was not worth it, so in the end we gave in and discounted 2200 yen to 9800 yen. Then, he handed me 10,000 yen and said, “Keep the change,” and I was taken aback (laughs). The difference? Of course, I paid for it myself. I don’t get to see him on TV as much these days, and I think I can understand why.
Mr. Yamada (pseudonym, in his 60s), a private cab driver operating in Tokyo, is an excellent driver with many VIP customers. His usual territory is the Roppongi and Azabu areas, but sometimes he picks up and drops off passengers from their homes when filming TV programs. When I asked Mr. Yamada what was going on at Aoyama Cemetery, the cab driver’s resting place, he mentioned the name of Q, a foreign celebrity who has been in Japan for a long time.
“He had a mansion in the suburbs of Tokyo and was a good customer, making many long trips. Perhaps because of the long distance to Tokyo, he often asked for my car, which was a large car. That’s how we got to talk a lot, and I got the impression that he was a top-notch businessman, quite different from the third-rate face he showed on TV. He divulged that he was also developing his own business and that TV was just a side business. He also said that in Japan, just being on TV is a good advertisement. He also said, “In Japan, just being on TV is good publicity.
In recent years, Q’s media exposure has declined due to certain scandals. I asked him again what had impressed him the most.
“Most celebrities are on their cell phones in the car and don’t pay much attention to us. When he wasn’t talking to me, he was on the phone giving orders for his business. His way of speaking is totally different from TV, too, and he speaks very fluent Japanese (laughs). (laughs) I haven’t had any more requests from him lately, but he had a humanity that made me wish I could see him again…”
Anyway, he talked a lot of vulgarities…
In some cases, he was arrogant at times and made me feel uncomfortable. Mr. Asamura (pseudonym, in his 50s), who is based in Shinagawa Station, sometimes gives rides from Shinagawa Station to the recording location of a TV station. She was angered when she saw the behavior of X, a female comedian who was currently on the market, in the car.
She said, “She wasn’t a big seller at that time, but she’s been on TV a lot lately. He came with his manager, and he was always giving his manager bad advice. He would say things like, “You’re really useless,” and he would use a lot of abusive language. I felt sorry for the young manager when I saw him apologizing, saying, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry.
He asked me if I didn’t feel the same way about the drivers, and when I told him, “Please don’t do that anymore,” he gave me a blatantly disgusted look. He also talked about his favorite host, when he had sex with him, and other vulgar things. To be honest, I don’t want to give them a ride again.
On the other hand, there is a heartwarming anecdote of a driver who was encouraged. Mr. Akita (pseudonym, in his seventies), who works at the Shinkansen terminal of Nagoya Station, told me that he was surprised by the gap between the two when he picked up anchor S from Kansai.
I really didn’t like the TV personality,” she said. She had a thick Kansai dialect and looked like she was from Kansai! That’s why I recognized her as soon as I picked her up. That’s why I recognized him immediately when I picked him up. I took him from Meieki (Nagoya Station) to a certain TV station, probably because he was filming a program here. In the car, I asked him, “How is the economy in Nagoya? When I told him about the severe sales, he gave me 10,000 yen and said, “I’ll give you change as a tip. I think it was about 7,000 yen.
It was about 7,000 yen. That kind of attitude toward us made me think that this person was like that on a regular basis. From that point on, my impression of not only that person but also of people in the Kansai region improved (laughs). (laughs) Even now, I can’t help but watch him when he appears on TV, and I have come to support him since then.
Lastly, I would like to introduce a story of a cab driver based in Akasaka and Ginza, the social gathering place of Nagatacho residents. Mr. Takahashi (pseudonym, in his 50s) said that he picked up a member of the Diet from the entertainment district to the Diet members’ dormitory around the time when it was reported that politicians were going to lounges in Ginza in February this year.
He said, “It was a ruling party member who was reported, but I also picked up two opposition party members. It was in Ginza. It was before the issue came to light, and they were in a good mood, saying, ‘It’s our job to drop money outside.
After that, he was bashed by the public, but strangely enough, Mr. Takahashi did not feel bad about it. The reason for this is because of his unique perspective as a cab driver.
“It’s probably just a way of saying, ‘In the world of politics, important discussions can only take place over drinks,’ but for us, people who spend money are better than people who just complain and don’t spend money. There was something human about them, and I couldn’t dislike them.
As many tail lights as there are in the city, there are human dramas spinning with passengers.
Reporting and writing： Shimei Kurita