One of the ways taxis and other commercial vehicles in Japan are identified is by dark green license plates -- as opposed to the white plates on privately owned vehicles.
In the Japanese vernacular, when an unlicensed vehicle is used illegally to transport passengers for remuneration, it is referred to as a shiro-taku or white (plated) taxi. The word is not particularly new, dating back to the 1950s, but with the system of licensing kojin (owner-driver) cars the problem was largely eliminated. Until recently, that is.
According to Nikkan Gendai (Aug 30), the white-plate taxis have been particularly conspicuous in popular tourist areas such as Ginza, Kyoto and Naha, Okinawa -- as well as at major points of entry such as Narita and Haneda international airports. In most cases, the drivers are Chinese nationals who cater to their compatriots visiting Japan as tourists. Communicating via the internet, the travelers arrange to be met at the airport upon arrival and driven to their hotels. They are also utilized for visiting tourist destinations and other sightseeing or shopping.
Including part-timers, the number of available divers is said to already number several hundred. And Mr A, an unnamed source in the transport industry voices concerns not only over the illegal taxi operations, but possibility that organized crime may be moving in.
“This kind of thing can’t be tolerated forever,” he told Nikkan Gendai. “Unless the government steps in, they’ll keep getting worse until really nasty things start happening.”
Around 1 p.m., the reporter went to Ginza’s Chuo-Dori near the Kabuki theater to see what he could dig up. There he saw an estimated 50 Toyota Alphard and Hi-Ace passenger vans with white license plates parked along the roadside. Groups of what appeared to be Chinese, carrying shopping bags, could be seen embarking and disembarking.
Despite the openly illegal operations on such a large scale, there’s no evidence that the authorities are enforcing the laws. Part of the reason may be that few complaints have been heard from the Chinese visitors who employ them, and none at all from Japanese nationals, who for the most part are blissfully unaware of the phenomenon. Inquiring at the Tokyo taxi association, the reporter was told, “We’re not aware of the details.” And a spokesperson for the Tokyo Metropolitan Police acknowledged that the matter “is currently under investigation. No action has been taken at this point.”
According to the aforementioned Mr A, reservations and payment for taxi services are settled in China before the travelers’ departure for Japan.
“Since there are no monetary transactions, we’re unable to come up with evidence, and the police have their hands tied,” he explains. “The Chinese who contract them pay less than they’d pay to regular cab services, so they’re not complaining either.
“That said, it’s still illegal and we can be certain it is hurting the business of legitimate taxi companies. Something’s got to be done.”
Between now and 2020, when Tokyo hosts the Olympics, more foreign tourists will be coming, among them more Chinese. It’s time for the authorities to step in and put a stop to these burgeoning shiro-taku operations, concludes Nikkan Gendai, before things start getting out of hand.© Japan Today