Traditional & Culture

The 5 Worst Parts of Tokyo, According to Your Taxi Driver – ③ Roppongi

Even long after leaving the taxi business, I still stay away. Sorry Roppongi.

“Welcome to my taxi! What will be your destination today?”

After finding out exactly what’s wrong with Shinjuku and Ginza, it’s now time to explore the third terrible place to be a taxi driver in Tokyo. That’s right, today we’re going to Roppongi.

Personally, out of all the parts of Tokyo I’d like to avoid, Roppongi really has no competition for first place.

As a taxi driver, I took on plenty of passengers in and around Roppongi, including quite a few people from all around the world. Younger customers were usually seeking designer shops or heading out to the clubs, but older customers had me dropping them off at high-class restaurants or hotels with 3 stars at the very least.

From Roppongi, you can see Tokyo Tower glittering nearby! But despite all the glitz and glam, for a taxi driver like me, Roppongi was the last place I wanted to go. There are two big reasons for this deep-seated dislike:

① Street Parking Is Everywhere
This isn’t actually limited to just Roppongi proper. Despite street parking being less common in Japan than in many other countries, there are actually cars lined up along the side of the road all over Tokyo’s Minato Ward, and it’s hard not to notice. Plus, they’re all fancy cars too. (God forbid I scrape the paint job!) When those parked cars suddenly lurch out into the middle of the road, it makes a person want to cry.

② Fares Are Low
After braving Roppongi’s obstacle-filled roads, and carefully following the complicated Roppongi Hills taxi stand rules to a tee, we finally have our first passenger!

“What will be your destination today?”
“Roppongi Station. Oh, and can I use this taxi pass from work?”

That is sO! CLOSE! (*inner voice)

Wait wait, for real? Wouldn’t it be faster just to walk? (*inner voice #2)
Even if you have a free taxi pass, is it really worth going out of your way for a taxi!? (*inner voice #3)

Even after all that effort, a short ride means a low fare. And now I’m just stuck going back through the trap-laden streets of Roppongi in the opposite direction. Oh cruel world.

On a different note, Japan doesn’t really have a tipping culture, and many service workers won’t accept them. But taxis are one of the few situations where tips are actually fairly common even in Japan.

If you know Tokyo and you’ve heard about Minato Ward’s reputation (it’s the wealthy area surrounding Roppongi), you might be thinking “Really now? Then all those rich folks in Roppongi must be great tippers. Don’t you get a lot of tips?”

Bless your heart.

Such naivety.

Passengers would occasionally grace me with lines such as “You’re such a hardworking young lady, driving a taxi like this. Maybe I should give you a tip~” But inevitably, those passengers were blind drunk – sometimes enough to have a reversal of fortunes all over the back seat. Straight from their stomach, if you know what I mean. And on top of all this, drivers from competing taxi companies could get pretty aggressive about snatching up customers in the area. After a series of pretty bitter Roppongi experiences that left a bad taste in my mouth, this cookie from my coworker was as sweet as a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down.

The taste of consolation!
Roppongi is full of the kinds of customers that most people never get a chance to meet, like Japanese celebrities and VIPs from all around the world, so I knew a number of fellow taxi drivers who intentionally spent a lot of time in Roppongi in hopes of meeting someone famous. I, on the other hand, was always trying to escape Roppongi as quickly as humanly possible… but there’s no denying that there’s plenty of demand for taxis in the area.

Sorry Roppongi, I think it’ll be a long time before we can ever be friends.

Taxi Trivia: The Aoyama Cemetery just north of Roppongi is a favorite break spot for taxi drivers in the area, so it’s not uncommon to see tons of taxi drivers parked there during their break times. The Denny’s right in front of Aoyama Cemetery has long been particularly beloved, to the point that if you’re a taxi driver in Tokyo, more likely than not you’ve been there at least once. Taxi drivers have given it the cute nickname “Ao-Denny.”

(Breaking news update! Apparently, as of summer 2023, the beloved restaurant just recently closed its doors for good. Thank you for your service, Ao-Denny. 😢)

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