For most of Japan’s international community, a taxi driver is probably not one of the first professions that spring to mind when thinking about jobs. However, perhaps we should think again: Spearheaded by their “Go Driversity” initiative, Hinomaru Taxi in Tokyo has been steadily adding non-Japanese employees to its team in recent years.
Hinomaru Taxi’s employees enjoy a flexible schedule, competitive salary and a supportive working environment. We spoke with Karen Imada of the firm’s employment center about recent developments at Hinomaru Taxi and heard from several of the drivers themselves.
Diversity in the driver’s seat
Hinomaru Transportation Co. was founded in 1991, when the parent company Hinomaru Limousine Co., a company with history and tradition established in 1950, made an independent taxi department. Today, Hinomaru has four offices, more than 700 vehicles and approximately 2,000 employees.
“Driversity” is a combination of “drive” and “diversity” and represents Hinomaru Taxi’s commitment to being a company where people from different backgrounds can come together, building a satisfying career that fits their lifestyle. These values are also expressed in the multicolored “Go Driversity” logo.
“We adopted ‘Go Driversity’ as our slogan six years ago. A person of Egyptian nationality applied for a job here and was duly accepted, and then we began thinking that perhaps other international residents might come and work for us,” explains Imada.
“At the time, inbound tourism was on the rise, bringing a need for drivers who could understand different languages. There was also a growing awareness of the issues faced by various other groups in society, including members of the LGBTQ community, working mothers and those caring for family members,” Imada says.
Equal opportunities for all
Wolfgang Loger, from Austria, has worked for Hinomaru Taxi for five years. As a foreign national in Japan, Loger says he is very happy to be working for a company that takes diversity seriously.
“People from various nationalities, minority groups, religions and cultures are working together without having to worry about any prejudice!”
Fellow driver Léo Abadie agrees.
“Hinomaru offers chances for employment for people from any country and of any gender identity. I think it’s great progress and brings a good vibe for the new way of the world.”
Hinomaru Taxi is committed to listening, learning and implementing change.
Abadie, who comes from France, joined the team nine months ago after working as a chef. He enjoys the opportunity to meet new people and make a better salary in his current role, along with spending more time with his family.
Hinomaru Taxi’s workforce includes 70 foreign nationals from 26 countries, such as China, Korea, Mongolia, Myanmar, France, Kenya and Tanzania. Applicants need a valid Japanese license and at least three years of driving experience (from any country); otherwise, no previous experience is required.
Drivers should be able to communicate in everyday Japanese but do not need to be fluent readers of Japanese to take the taxi driver’s exam. The ability to read hiragana (phonetic Japanese script) is sufficient. Drivers are compensated during their training period and can expect to receive the full support they need to succeed. Moreover, Hinomaru Taxi can arrange to cover expenses for candidates living in other areas of Japan if they move to Tokyo.
New perspectives bring change
Growing up with both Indonesian and Japanese roots, Imada has a keen awareness of the value of creating a more diverse work culture. She initially joined as a driver for Hinomaru Taxi because she enjoyed being out on the road and was interested in escorting international visitors as a kanko (sightseeing) taxi driver. She was then tapped for an administration role in the firm and is now helping bring fresh insights to the firm as one of the youngest team members.
As an occupation, taxi driving has typically tended to attract a middle-aged cohort of workers. However, Hinomaru Taxi’s efforts to appeal to younger drivers have led to an increase in drivers who join as new graduates, bringing their energy and youthful perspectives.
Values are changing in Japan, and Hinomaru Taxi is moving with the times. For example, in the past, drivers had to choose between a tie or a ribbon for their uniform, dating back to when it was the norm for men and women to have different uniforms.
The excellent instructors taught me many skills…[in] an environment that was easy to work in
“We’ve recently changed the uniform so that all drivers have a tie, as we recognize there is no longer a reason to base clothing on gender,” says Imada.
Thai national Walai Sukratanawong joined the firm almost a year ago. She enjoys wearing the uniform and says it gives her confidence and reminds her of her responsibility to drive safely.
“I was working as an interpreter and translator, but those jobs have almost disappeared during the [coronavirus] pandemic,” says Sukratanawong. “I applied for the job after looking at Hinomaru Taxi’s website and learning that the company offers a thorough training program for newcomers. The excellent instructors taught me many skills, and I also got advice from the friendly, experienced staff members, with an environment that was easy to work in.”
Looking to the future
Sometimes compromise is needed. For example, although tattoos are still taboo in most areas of daily life in Japan, Hinomaru Taxi will not turn down candidates based entirely on body art, as long as the driver is willing to cover their tattoos.
Facial hair is still not very common in Japan, and most service industry jobs stipulate no beards for employees. Abadie would like to see Hinomaru consider personal choices in this respect, too, noting that in some cultures, facial hair is regarded as a sign of having reached adulthood.
“We know we have a way to go, and there are still things that we need to consider as a firm,” Imada says candidly. “Hinomaru Taxi is committed to listening, learning and implementing change—and we invite interested individuals to join our team and grow with us.”
Loger offers these words to fellow foreign nationals who might be considering a role as a Hinomaru driver: “You’ll be pleasantly surprised at the support the firm will provide for you. If you’re interested, don’t hesitate!”