A Frustrating Taxi Ride in TokyoMar 20th, 2009 | By Shane Sakata | Category: Lifestyle, Tokyo and Vicinity
Put two foreigners with limited Japanese language skills into a taxi in Tokyo and frustration is almost certainly coming along for the ride!
One evening, after a relaxing dinner at a great restaurant, my husband and I decided that rather than take a bus or train back to our home we would splurge on a short taxi ride and that’s when, unbeknownst to us, frustration decided to ride shotgun on our journey and the relaxing part of the evening had ended.
But let me backtrack just a bit – there are a few things that you need to know about taking a taxi in Tokyo, or anywhere in Japan for that matter, when your language skills are limited.
- Taxi drivers in Japan generally know their way around the vicinity of where they pick you up very well but ask them to go too far astray and they are apt to get lost without an address, phone number or intersection to input into their in-car navigation system.
- The address system in Japan is complicated and street address as you might find elsewhere in the world don’t really exist. It’s all about landmarks and train stations when you can’t speak the language.
- If you have a map of where you want to go – bring it with you and show the driver.
So back to my frustrating taxi tale and how you can avoid a similar experience.
Knowing full well that the taxi driver probably wouldn’t be able to find our home address, even if we could even utter it correctly in Japanese, we asked him to take us to the nearest station from which we would take the short stroll home. So far, so good, and we were on our way.
As we headed down the street and approached our neighborhood we realized that we were going to drive right past our mansion (apartment building) and that there was no need to walk back from the station. All we needed to do was ask the taxi driver to drop us off…in Japanese.
My husband and I quickly found out that neither of had the Japanese vocabulary to do this and my husband decided that experimentation was in order. The Japanese tend to borrow a lot of words from English and change the pronunciation to the equivalent in their phonetic system. Taxi becomes takushi, fakkusu is a fax machine and “‘On-za-rokku” is “on the rocks”, which is how I like my martinis’ but that’s a whole different story. Anyway, given the number of “loan words” that end in “U” my husband suggested trying “stoppu, onegashimas” or “stop please”. We had nothing to lose so I tried it and the result was one confused Japanese taxi driver!
It was obvious that he didn’t understand me and he replied to us in Japanese that we couldn’t understand to which we responded with blank stares. Plan B, on the fly, was to point at the curb which seemed logical at the time but resulted in the driver changing lanes – away from the curb! At this point I said “No, no, okay, okay!” and repeated the station name.
During this attempt at conversation, I am leaning forward toward the Plexiglas partition between the driver and us so that I can hear him and try express myself, either through sign language or one word Japanese. Somehow, the taxi driver finally gleaned what I was trying to say, I don’t know how, and stopped quite abruptly causing my head to hit the Plexiglas partition! We saved ourselves a walk from the station but I exited the taxi with a bump on my forehead!
I looked over at my husband for sympathy only to realize that he was very amused and was trying very hard not to laugh. It was funny to me too, but only after my bump went away…
Avoid my fate and take note of some Japanese words that will help you take a taxi effectively in Japan. Don’t let frustration ride shotgun on your next taxi ride in Japan.
Japanese Taxi Vocabulary
- Masugu (straight)
- Hidari (left)
- Migi (right)
- Spido otoshite (slow down) Notice the “loan word” meaning speed in this phrase.
- Magatte (turn) sono (at the)… kado (corner) or shingo o (traffic light)
And the phrase that I needed desperately, and that I will never forget, to avoid a bump on my head?
- Koko i des (here is fine, or loosely translated “please stop”)
Image Credit: Flickr, Tokyo Yellow Taxi Cab