"Is the interior temperature comfortable?" the driver of a Hinomaru taxi, Austrian Wolfgang Ruger, 52, asks his passenger in polite Japanese. Somewhat relieved, the gentleman in the back seat returns his smile and nods in the affirmative.
Being driven about by a foreigner is an everyday occurrence in cities like New York or London, but in Tokyo, reports Yukan Fuji (May 5), it's still something of a novelty.
Still, the employment of foreigners as drivers -- on condition they hold permanent resident status, can function competently in the Japanese language and pass the test for a commercial operator's license -- makes plenty of sense. For one thing, they will be in a good position to serve the soaring number of foreign visitors, with over 30 million last year and 40 million predicted by 2020. At the same time, the number of taxi drivers has been shrinking, in part due to their advancing average age, which means growing numbers will soon face retirement.
A year ago, Ruger began driving a cab for Hinomaru, a major taxi firm that dispatches vehicles from four business depots in Tokyo. He arrived in Japan some 30 years ago, and was first employed at a restaurant in Niigata Prefecture; but his wife wanted to reside closer to her family home in Saitama, so he moved to the greater Tokyo area. As a speaker of German and English along with Japanese, Ruger is well versed in the streets of the capital, enabling him to pick up passengers when summoned, confirm their route and destination, and, when prompted, provide a degree of guidance to well known points of interest in the city.
In 2017, Hinomaru took the initiative in active recruitment of foreign drivers, and currently employs 37 from 22 nations, including Canada, Brazil and Egypt. The company coaches foreign job candidates in geography, traffic law and other subjects needed to pass the examination for an operator's license. It sees the use of foreign workers as part of the company's strategy to secure a regular force of long-term workers.
Kazumi Ozu, manager of the company's global employment section, is quoted as saying "We'd like to boost the number of foreign drivers to 100 by the time of next year's Olympics."
Other taxi firms are also said to be considering opening up positions to non-citizens.
Hajime Tosaki, a professor at Tokyo Metropolitan University, tells Yukan Fuji, "In positions that require a high degree of specialization, the measures presently put in force by the government have limitations. Hiring more experienced foreign drivers represents a sensible choice."© Japan Today