Transporting a Tour Group | Japan | Living in Mexico

Transporting a Tour Group

How do you move a 25-person tour group around in one of the more densely populated places on earth, when the locales you want to go are on narrow streets with no parking?

1) You walk. We did lots of that.

2) You take the subway. We'd leave the hotel in a group, Andy leading, talking us through the maze of streets on his headset, Steve bringing up the rear, making sure no one got left behind. We each had been assigned a number, and occasionally the group would coalesce and count off. Once we got into a subway station, Steve would run over to a ticket vending machine and start feeding it coins, handing us our tickets as the machine spat them out.

As on BART, you use your ticket at least twice, feeding it into a turnstile to record your point of entry into the system, and into another to mark your exit point. A computer somewhere makes sure you paid enough for the length of the trip you just took. If you haven't paid enough, they're very accommodating. You just go over to a uniformed man in a small glassed-in booth and hold out a handful of change. He takes what he needs and off you go. Apparently even Tokyo-ites have difficulty figuring out the fare system, so they just buy a minimum price ticket and settle up at the end of the trip.

Losing your ticket is another matter. I got the impression that you never wanted to lose your ticket. I visualize bamboo slivers under fingernails. Andy advised us to choose a "happy place" somewhere on our bodies and to always carry our tickets there. I'm relieved to report that neither Jean nor I lost ours. Thanks to our happy places.

3) You take taxis. A taxi will carry four people so that means that for each trip we needed... that's four into twenty-five, carry the one... uh... six or seven taxis whenever we did this.


One of our leaders would go out and line up the necessary number of cabs. We'd pile into them and Andy or Steve would tell the driver where to take us. One traveler in each cab would be handed a manila envelope with two or three thousand yen in it, and given instructions to put the change in the envelope and GET A RECEIPT!

Each cab driver would take off, and we'd all hold our breaths until we arrived at someplace where we could see other members of our tour group. Many of our drivers would greet us in English, but "Hello" and "Thank You" pretty much was the extent of it. To try and explain we were supposed to go to Hanabaku, not Fufufufu, was beyond our abilities. If we even knew the name of the place we were going. Much less where it was located.

Tokyo taxi drivers have to pass a test proving they know how to navigate through the city without getting lost. This is both essential and difficult, because addresses are not assigned logically--at least as I see it. A numbered street address won't cut it. You have to know what prefecture the place you're going is in. You have to know what neighborhood. Then the street it's on. Finally, you have to know what landmark your destination is near, because addresses are not always assigned in numerical order as you go down the street. Sometimes buildings are assigned numbers in the order in which they were built.

So cab drivers are highly skilled. And these days, many are supported by substantial technology. Some cabs bristle with antennas. There's the usual two-way radio. There's antennas feeding the GPS system, so you can see your location and progress on a screen with a map that rotates so that your direction is always indicated as up. Another set of antennas receives real-time traffic data, and plots congested areas on the same display. So if your intended route is displayed in blinking red, you know to pick an alternate.

Cab drivers wear uniforms, police-style hats and white gloves. Their vehicles are immaculate, with white antimacassars on the seats, washed, starched and ironed every day. Every surface inside and out has been cleaned and polished within the last couple of hours, and there is not a dent, scratch nor a single particle of rust on any of them.

In fact, there are no dents or scratches on any cars in Tokyo. I think it's a law. Sure looks different from San Miguel where one notorious truck has a piece of plexiglas siliconed over a hole in the windshield, and another has its gas tank bailing-wired to the roof.

Speaking of cars, Japanese ones have English model names in chrome letters on their trunks. You'd expect Chinese characters, but for some reason, model names are in an alphabet most Japanese people can't read. Moreover, the names are different than the ones we buy in the US and Mexico. In part, this is because the models themselves are different: both larger and smaller. The names are wonderful examples of the most charming form of Engrish—proper words used in vaguely inappropriate ways:

Nissan March
Honda Scrum
Suzuki Every
Crown Comport
Suzuki We've
Toyota Majesta
Honda That's
Daihatsu More
Toyota Sovereign

Some names are made-up words:

Toyota Windom
Subaru Sambar
Honda Acty

And the unfortunately named Toyota Emina.

Wealthier Japanese buy German imports: Mercedes, BMW. Always big ones. The vehicle with the most cachet, though, is a chopped Harley.