Ginza is easy to love, but the truth is, this Tokyo neighborhood is secretly terrifying (for your taxi driver).
“Welcome to my taxi! What will be your destination today?”
During our last ride, we took a tour of everything that made Shinjuku unappealing. This time, we’ll be examining another part of Tokyo through the eyes of a taxi driver.
Our next destination? Ginza.
Exit Shinjuku onto Yasukuni-dori Avenue, continue along Showa-dori Avenue, and you’ll find the gleaming glitz of Ginza waiting to swallow you up. To be entirely honest, Ginza after dark can be a little nerve-wracking.
Personally, I actually really like Ginza! But deep in my heart of hearts, I must admit that driving a taxi in the area can be scary. Ginza is fairly low-key compared to other parts of Tokyo, but it’s also full of potential passengers who are used to taking taxis in the city on a daily basis. For a newbie taxi driver, when your customers know the streets of Tokyo better than you do, every choice you make is charged with nerves.
Within Ginza, certain areas are officially designated as Boarding Prohibited Zones. In order to maintain the flow of traffic and protect businesses, city law officially forbids taxis from picking up customers in certain parts of Ginza (outside of taxi stands) from 10 pm to 1 in the morning, except on weekends and holidays.
Because these regulations aren’t an official part of Japan’s Road Traffic Act and aren’t a matter of public safety, violations aren’t policed by the actual local police force, but they are a part of the very real policy that controls taxis in Japan. Break these laws, and it comes under the jurisdiction of the Taxi Center at the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism. During the relevant hours, Taxi Center staff keep a close eye on the streets of Ginza, and they’ll come flying over to write you up if you ever think about breaking the rules. Taxi companies are penalized for these minor infractions from their drivers, so you have to brace yourself before diving into the mire of Ginza at night.
At first I thought it might be hard to approach without a passenger in the back, but the lights glowing from streetlamps and shop windows still bring back fond memories of Ginza, as comforting as an old friend even on lonely nights driving through the city. Once upon a time, a passenger brought me from Ginza all the way south to Osaki, where we picked up a companion and headed back up to Shinagawa. Long, long ago, I drove a customer from Ginza through the busy streets of central Tokyo and around to Korakuen, only to find out it wasn’t a regular passenger at all, but a secret monitor checking to make sure I was doing my job.
Even just returning to Ginza to stroll through the streets, those silly little memories bubble up one after another. Clearly your feelings about a neighborhood depend a lot on what kind of memories you’ve held onto from that area.
But let’s face it. Walking through Ginza on days when the roads are closed off and it’s reserved just for pedestrians, I can’t help but think “forget taxis, Ginza is for walking.”
Being able to move through the city without a care in the world for something silly like “traffic regulations” really is the best.
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