Kyodo: Kyoto taxis specializing in foreign tourists begin one-year trial. Separate taxi stands? What’s next: separate hotels?


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Hi Blog.  Here’s something that feels more problematic the more I think about it:  “Foreigner-friendly” taxicabs being introduced in Kyoto.  As noted below, they are government-sponsored vehicles with multilingual drivers and more space for tourist luggage.  Sounds good so far.  Until you get to the fact that they have a separate alighting point at one station in Kyoto.  Already, we are getting into shades of “separate but equal” (as opposed to equal and undifferentiated), which we are seeing in a number of venues dealing with foreign tourism (for example, here).

While I applaud the effort to improve service, it doesn’t resolve the root problem (mentioned within the Kyodo article below) — that taxi cabs are refusing NJ passengers.  So instead of going after miscreant taxis, they’re creating a separate taxi system to equalize things.  Except that it won’t.  Think about it.  Now we’ll have busybody train station ojisan waving  “foreign-looking” people over to the foreign taxi stand even when they’re not tourists.  Or we’ll have people being told that they have to go to that solitary Kyoto Station stand, regardless of where they are, if they want to get a “foreigner-friendly” cab.  And, with the law of unintended consequences, we’ll have even more taxi drivers refusing to pick up foreign-looking people — after all, their logic will go, “There’s already a taxi designated for them, so I don’t have to bother picking them up — they can wait for one.”  As if foreign-friendly taxis could ever have the same coverage as regular taxis.  See, “separate but equal” essentially never works because, as history demonstrates, it’s too hard to achieve.

If they really want to improve service, have the city assign somebody “foreign-looking” to hail taxis in Kyoto, and have him or her officially report misbehaving taxis to the Kyoto Tourist Agency (there is one, and I’ve done this very thing for at least one exclusionary Kyoto hotel; there were repercussions).  And tell those taxis (like restaurants hear that they’re being reviewed by reviewers posing as regular customers) that there will be person(s) posing as an evaluator so you better not avoid picking up customers.  Monitoring for consumer quality is quite normal, and if Japan is serious about omotenashi, it had better avoid making historical mistakes.  Dr. ARUDOU, Debito

(Further comment by submitter JDG here.)


Kyoto taxis specializing in foreign tourists begin one-year trial
KYODO/JAPAN TIMES MAR 1, 2016, Courtesy of JDG

KYOTO – A one-year trial run for taxis aimed at non-Japanese tourists started Tuesday in the city of Kyoto, the first such service in Japan aimed at enhancing the experience for overseas visitors.

The “foreigner-friendly taxis” accept credit cards, have space for two large suitcases and drivers who are able to communicate in a variety of languages such as English and Chinese, project officials said.

The trial is being jointly organized by the city, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism and other bodies.

A taxi stand for the cabs has been set up in front of JR Kyoto Station in Shimogyo Ward. A total of 69 taxis and 87 drivers from 23 cab operators will operate the service through next March.

According to city officials, some taxi drivers have tended to refuse to pick up foreign tourists because of communication difficulties, and the new project is aimed at resolving this.

A ceremony to mark the start of the service was held Tuesday in front of the taxi stand.

Mireia Daroca, a 30-year-old language teacher from Spain who lives in the city, said she has sometimes been asked by drivers in the past to write down her destination in Japanese, but with this service that will not be necessary.


21 comments on “Kyodo: Kyoto taxis specializing in foreign tourists begin one-year trial. Separate taxi stands? What’s next: separate hotels?

  • Jim di Griz says:

    Thank you for discussing this Dr. Debito.

    Now it’s ‘But there are English speaking taxis for gaijin! THIS is a taxi for JAPANESE people!’.
    They already got the onsens to themselves.
    I guess you’ll be ok if your escorted by a Japanese handler.

    Next I do expect that ‘the restaurant across the street has English menus, so THIS restaurant is for JAPANESE people’, to be followed by ‘the hotel across the street has English speaking staff, so THIS hotel is for JAPANESE people’.

    I also expect a sudden explosion of signs that say NJ unaccompanied by a Japanese handler will be refused (regardless of whether the NJ in question can speak Japanese or not), simply as a way of being able to now legitimately discriminate against NJ.

    I also now expect this to herald an official two-tier system designed to discriminate openly against NJ; ‘Sorry, we cannot accept foreigners because we don’t speak English’ will now become ‘code’ for ‘We Japanese can enjoy this taxi/hotel/restaurant is racially pure Japanese only, no dirty gaijin’.

  • Debito makes good points in para 2. I also highly suspect that if such a policy were implemented, you would get the separate treatment. Its a very Japanese solution to a foreigner “problem” Never change or disturb others, just make exceptions.

  • This has an underlying aspect to it that really worries me that Griz and Debito both pointed out; Further segregation.

  • I had the same thought. I avoid “tourist friendly” places like Kyoto whenever possible.

    Japanese handler is one thing, but it gets grotesque when I go out with my
    Taiwanese girl-friend, who does not speak Japanese, whereas I do. I talk, they reply
    to her, and are surprised that she doesn’t understand.

    On a similar note, whenever I stay at a hotel, they like to copy of my residence card,
    and I always refuse because it is not necessary and they don’t copy ID’s of Japanese.
    How do other people deal with this?

  • Kirk Masden says:

    I thought about my university students as I read this. Generally speaking, I really like the majority of the students I teach at Kumamoto Gakeun University, but I’m also fairly sure that most of them would not imagine that adding a foreigner friendly taxi stand could be anything but good. Of course, I agree with Debito and I think most of my students could be helped to understand why this might be problematic after some discussion, but I am also fairly sure that many well-intentioned people in Japan would not see anything even slightly problematic in this policy unless the problems were explained to them very carefully. That general cluelessness when it comes to these kinds of issues is probably a factor in the establishment of such policies in the first place.

    Another similar problem (in my view at least) is the elimination of Romaji from signs in favor of English. I get the impression that a lot of Japanese people have trouble imagining that it might actually help foreigners to have access to Romanized versions of the actually place names that Japanese people on the street would recognize. See, for example, the first comment written in response to the following article:

  • Mark in Yayoi says:

    On a similar note, whenever I stay at a hotel, they like to copy of my residence card

    They could not possibly pass this off as some kind of “we ask all non-Japanese visitors this because we assume they are tourists” thing.

    The set of people required to write down their passport numbers is mutually exclusive with those who would have residence cards: if you have a residence card, you have a residence in Japan.

    The mere possession of a residence card means that they do not need to acquire, much less copy, any information from you.

    Putting on my tinfoil hat, I’m guessing that the National Police Agency decided to make up their own law and then made requests of local hotels, who believed it. It would certainly explain the vehemence occasionally encountered from hotel clerks who do not like being contradicted.

    *Always* refuse these extra-legal requests. If you think it’s no big deal to have to submit identification and have it copied, remember that it only takes one dishonest hotel employee (whom you will never see after checking out and whose name you will never know) to create a huge identity theft problem for you. It depresses me that someone is trying to illegally extend an existing law like this. What benefit can the public possibly get from it?

  • Something does not make sense. If you go to Kyoto, you would notice the surplus of taxis waiting for passengers.
    Kyoto is a popular destination.
    In Tokyo there are taxi drivers who actually study English in order to make more money.

  • Hotels in Osaka already separate foreign guests fron Japanese guests by putting them on different floors.

    — Source?

  • Jim di Griz says:

    @ Brooks #8

    I think this makes sense if you see it in Japanese terms;
    Top-down decision making.

    I can only speculate that Kyoto City officials are desperate to cash in on the tourism boom, and the expected tourist rush for the 2020 Olympics. They don’t want to be left out of the tiniest possible benefit.
    Therefore (I speculate further) they decided to survey a limited sample of tourists in an attempt to make improvements. This survey specifically targeted tourists which is why they have concocted such a bizarre response that will leave resident NJ flapping their arms at taxis that will now ignore them.

    Of course, I am only speculating, but maybe some tourists were ignored by racist cab drivers, whilst on other occasions the taxis had reasons not to stop that the tourists were not aware of. This is not apologism on my behalf, I am merely applying the Japanese limited awareness top-down decision making process to attempt to understand why such a bad policy was put in place, and the cultural and social Japanese flaws that allowed this to happen;

    Did they survey resident NJ about taxis? (I would suggest that they didn’t, since they were operating on the misconception that NJ don’t ‘live in Japan’, but are only temporary guests).

    This is a plausible scenario that demonstrates the level of rampant institutional racism, and ‘O-yaji knows best’ culture of Japan.

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    I was about to read the article on the day it was published in the JT online. But almost as soon as I saw that headline, I decided NOT to read it because I had premonition on hidden assumptions through such practice. Two questions come up to my mind: 1) Why is it necessary to offer separated public transportation service based on ethnological/ethnocultural backgrounds rather than physical disabilities?(Isn’t it so stupid and dumb to make it manifest about common attitude toward “foreigners” held among cab drivers, bus drivers, or Ubers—that is, they choose passengers based on what passengers look like?) 2) What is the point for the media to report “internationalization” of local tourism to the detriment of ‘cultural anachronism'(Japan is the 3rd largest economy! And Kyoto is one of popular destinations among tourists!! This is 2016, not 1868! I wonder what kind of mindsets Japanese media staff have by painting Japan as ever-unchanging monocultural, homogenous, agrarian society.)

    A good example of how “creativity” turns out to be a bad idea (I agree with Tom Frank on this, oh well). Like stupid sento internationalization article, I’m now putting this piece into shredder. Enough of arigata-meiwaku.

  • Jim di Griz says:

    ‘What’s next?’ You ask?

    I’ll tell you. Hospitals.

    There are now ‘special’ hospitals that ‘can cope’ with NJ ‘tourists’.
    Expect resident NJ to be told to go to one of these ‘hospitals for gaijin’ next time you go to your nearest Emergency Room for treatment (‘So sorry, no English’, even if you speak Japanese. Actually, didn’t someone already post about that experience here last year? Well, now it’s formalized by government policy).


    This is Abe’s vision, gotta keep those gaijin away from Japanese people.

  • Re: source

    Notice how it’s a japanese vs foreigner issue, not a good customer vs bad customer issue…




    ネストホテル大阪心斎橋 大崎 淳

    –Not sure I follow, based on this answer.

  • Onceagaijin,alwaysagaijin says:

    Hi Jim,
    Yes hospitals. As you probably know, MEIT (former MITI) has never really recovered its status after the yen was floated in 1971, and I guess its search for it former glory when its puppets were “prime ministers” has been an underlaying narrative ever since. Each year it seems METI launches new projects that encroach on other ministries bailiwicks to try to increase its budget (whether the programs actually have any benefit at all to anyone is, of course, secondary) so they are always trying it on- primary examples include agriculture (for example the “plant factories”) or space (which should be under the control of the MEXT and the MOD or the Cabinet Office by rights) or anime and the creative arts (MEXT) etc.

    One of the primary examples is healthcare, for example. Some of it seems legitimate (although not plausible) for example healthcare robots for the aged, although the context here is xenophobia; we don’t want to pollute Japanese society with foreign workers to wipe bachan Tanaka’s incontinent bottom (a) because she would probably find it distasteful, having lived through seven or eight decades of being told that foreigners are only for education, entertainment or exploitation and are basically trouble and (b) because our policy is not designed to produce such an infrastructure because of (a) and our “attempts” to get lower-ranked Asians in to become nurses because Japanese is too difficult for them, not because we deliberately set up the program to fail.

    But as has pointed out elsewhere, medical tourism is a major plank of METI policy- get the rich tourists, show them lots of omotenashi and showcase Japan’s superiority, take their money and send them back.

    However more creepy are plans to set up Dejima-like investment zones that attract foreign companies in with special tax rates. Again its a sort of win-win for getting the honorable johnny foreigner in. These special zones are designed to have access to international schools and specialist clinics and hospitals for the “convenience” of the foreign communities. I’ve read so many internal proposals for this over the years.

    The thinking is fundamentally Meiji-era and binary thinking and I don’t think it will ever change now. It’s us and them and no shock or pressure is going to change that. That won’t make me give up, but we are now in 2016 and Japan’s elite will not move the country on from the 19th century.

  • Onceagaijin,alwaysagaijin says:

    @ TTJ

    Thanks for that. This is where all the Chrysanthemum sniffers’ arguments fall down, because when you hear what Japanese people really think in forums where they think the gaijin won’t see them and they can say what they really feel all that “its cultural misunderstandings” or “Japanese reticence” or “Japanese uniqueness,” etc. is exposed as smelly bullshit It’s plain old discrimination and us and them.

    Look at the litany of whining below: hotel is too crap for us, but good enough for gaijin who won’t return.

    掃除も備品も充分で不満はありませんが、お風呂が大変不満。なかなかお湯が温まらないし温度調節も難しい。湯量も少ない。同様に古い建物で営業している他 のホテルはもっと努力してますよ。安かろう悪かろうではいまの時代リピート客はつきません。一見の外国人だけ泊めてればいいという経営方針のようですね。
    – translation: this hotel’s facilities are not up to snuff. No hot running water, difficult to adjust the heat. Water comes out in piddles…should do better as other older hotels are trying their best. Such cheap and nasty dives can’t survive in an era when they need repeat custom. They should change their business plan to attract first time/ one time gaijin…


    The walls are so thin, was kept awake through the night because of the noisy gaijin tourists…


    – With the hotel being very apologetic and saying it tries to do its best to put the gaijin on different floors…sorry you suffered so.

    Funny incident today. The maid came round to do the cleaning (we have a company comes round once a week) and I’m always out at work. But this time I had a day off and I answered the door. It was a Japanese woman, mid-40s, quite well dressed. You should have seen the look of shock on her face as I opened the door. She froze in a look of horror and angst.

    Yes I was fully dressed and shaven. She forgot any form of basic politeness and froze. Then went into some sort of weird busy fussy manner and seemed very stressed. When she was was washing the dishes and cleaning up the kitchen while I was discussing a business deal in English with my (Japanese) wife she was looking at me in horror. Then I said to her お疲れ and she looked angry, no reply, so then I said よろしくお願いします and she looked even more pained. I don’t know what sort of horror she felt but somehow I didn’t feel welcome on my own property. What a sad, sad situation. Yes, a gajin does live here, and yes it is his house, and yes, you are cleaning it. Nobody’s forcing you. Get over it.

  • Baudrillard says:

    By contrast, “Pommy” (like “gaijin”?) is apparently not offensive- this “moving of the goalposts” rather than punishing discrimination reminded me of the gaijin taxi system. I.e. The J Gov sidesteps the discrimination aspect and gets to define what words mean.

    “the terms Pommy, Pommie and Pom, in Australia, South Africa and New Zealand usually denotes an English person (or, less commonly, people from other parts of the UK).[7] The Oxford Dictionary defines their use as “often derogatory”[8] but after complaints to the Australian Advertising Standards Board regarding five advertisements poking fun at “Poms”, the board ruled in 2006 that these words are inoffensive, in part because they are “largely used in playful or affectionate terms”.[9]

    A comparison and a slight tangent, but when I read this I was reminded of what the J Gov always seems to do.

    I coudl go on and say that like Japan, Australia has a recent past issue with exterminating “inferior” races (Aborginal Australians) and sweeping it under the carpet, but maybe I am thinking too much…?

    — No, but you are digressing more than slightly. Back on track, please.

  • I think TJJ was referring to this answer:



  • I’ve also noticed that restaurants and other service industries are doing the “separate but equal” thing by, for example, automatically speaking English to any foreign-looking customer, regardless of whether that customer can even speak English. This happens even when the customer is speaking fluent Japanese.

    — This, alas, is nothing new, and is not part of new policy to deal with the record tourist influx or the 2020 Olympics.

  • Onceagaijin,Alwaysagaijin:
    I am guessing – the cleaner has standards. She, like many Japanese people, believes herself to be superior to NJ. So she suffered a partial system shutdown as she tried to process the shame of being a cleaner for an inferior NJ. Throughout her life, her education, the media, society have all convinced her that foreigners are beneath Japanese people. So even though she is a cleaner, she can take pride in cleaning the apartments of Japanese people. But she felt great shame learning that she is cleaning for a foreigner – since everyone knows that foreigners are below Japanese.

    It all makes perfect sense, if you throw logic to the wind, and consider how the average Japanese person views foreigners.

    So the taxi’s are “foreigner friendly”? Meaning what, exactly? The driver’s speak the only foreign language that matters?
    Are all other taxi’s now officially known as “foreigner unfriendly”?
    Can foreigners use the regular taxi’s?

    I think despite Japan’s efforts, this will backfire on them, and further tarnish their image overseas.

  • Baudrillard says:

    It just seems to be following Ayako Sono’s Japartheid vision.

    Maybe it was in fact descriptive of Japan, rather than just prescriptive!

  • Andrew in Saitama says:

    I caught part of a segment on this on the news last night. (Somehow, “Foreign tourists come to Japan” is newsworthy on a nightly basis, but I digress)

    The segment featured two drivers, one whose English was essentially non-existent (so why was he in the “foreigner friendly” taxi game in the first place?), and one whose English – the program claimed – was fluent. (His vocabulary was impressive, but his grammar was unsteady and his pronunciation was difficult to understand)

    Our first driver sometimes had to rely on online translation via smartphone, and we all know how unreliable that is.
    I then remembered how, on the eve of the Beijing Olympics, when Tokyo was still pushing for 2016 and the local media was mocking China’s taxi drivers’ English ability, Team Japan was going to have voice recognition translation so the drivers wouldn’t need to be language experts.

    Sorry Team Japan – 2016 is here and your technology has still failed to surface.

    But the whole point of the segment was how Omotenashi trumps all.


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