Kyoto's MK Taxi tries to transform Japan: a Korean entrepreneur seeks progress in a xenophobic nation.
THE KOREAN PENINSULA WAS colonized Colonized
This occurs when a microorganism is found on or in a person without causing a disease.
Mentioned in: Isolation by Japan from 1910 to 1945. Many Koreans chose to come to Japan to seek higher standards of living and employment. During World War II, over 1.2 million Korean males were forcibly shipped to Japan to work as laborers, and the taking of Japanese names was made mandatory. At the end of the war, some 500,000 of the survivors chose to remain in the country, even though they were designated as second-class citizens.
Today, Japan is home to approximately 700,000 Korean nationals, the largest proportion of whom live in Kansai. Osaka's Tsuruhashi district is often referred to as "Korea Town." Aside from a bustling market, it is home to countless bars and restaurants catering to the city's thriving Korean population, and it has a reputation for being spirited and friendly.
v. reeked, reek·ing, reeks
1. To smoke, steam, or fume.
2. To be pervaded by something unpleasant: "This document ...
Taxi drivers, on the other hand, have a reputation for being an uncouth, somewhat surly lot. Uncommunicative, middle-aged men populating cars reeking of stale cigarette smoke are the norm. The drivers' smart shirts, ties and white gloves are mere window dressing Window Dressing
A strategy used by mutual fund and portfolio managers near the year or quarter end to improve the appearance of the portfolio/fund performance before presenting it to clients or shareholders. . Little respected by the majority of society, drivers club together in a spirit of solidarity fostered by their faux outsider status.
Battling this public perception was one of the key tenets of Aoki Sadao's plan when he started Japan's most progressive taxi company, MK Taxi, in Kansai's cultural capital, Kyoto. Initially starting out as Minami Taxis, the company merged with local rival Katsura Katsura or Katsuura might refer to: Architecture
From the beginning, Sadao, a Japanese citizen of Korean descent also known as Yoo Bong Shik, placed great emphasis on presenting a polite, smart face to the public to encourage the belief that MK was a cut above the average Japanese taxi firm.
"I wanted to make drivers feel proud of their job, to have greater self-respect and self-confidence," he says. In order to help realize this goal, Sadao started paying MK drivers a higher-than-average wage. Special employee apartments were designed and constructed, and drivers were encouraged to continue their education in night classes or at foreign-language schools.
The English language English language, member of the West Germanic group of the Germanic subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages (see Germanic languages). Spoken by about 470 million people throughout the world, English is the official language of about 45 nations. ability of many MK drivers has made them a favorite of the multitude of foreign tourists who visit Kyoto every year. Offering personal tours as well as regular metered taxi services, MK has transported high-profile passengers including Stevie Wonder, Audrey Hepburn and Britain's Prince Philip Noun 1. Prince Philip - Englishman and husband of Elizabeth II (born 1921)
Duke of Edinburgh, Philip . Encouraged by company founder Sadao's exhortations, taxi drivers who show an exceptional aptitude for English are sent abroad for further language instruction.
In 1975, MK started hiring university graduates as drivers, which caused consternation among some parents. But a survey of students by a member of Kyoto University's Faculty of Economics in the mid-90s found that MK Taxi ranked in the top 10 of national companies offering the best-quality goods or services. Alongside household heavyweights like Sony and Toyota, MK Taxi pulled in at No. 9. Mitsubishi came in tenth. "Our customers are often surprised to find that their driver is a university graduate, but we offer many career opportunities and job security for our drivers," Aoki explains.
The ongoing battles over fare reduction began with a 1981 proposal by Sadao to reduce passenger fares. This proposal was based on the cheaper-fare-equals-more-passengers-equals-greater-profits theory, but was met with indifference by Osaka's transport ministry officials.
Permission was reluctantly granted two years later, but the subsequent chain of appeals and counter-appeals dragged on for 10 years until 1993, when MK introduced its lower fare policy. It was an immediate financial success.
tr.v. em·bold·ened, em·bold·en·ing, em·bold·ens
To foster boldness or courage in; encourage. See Synonyms at encourage.
Adj. 1. by this victory, MK expanded as the rest of the country stagnated. Operations in Osaka started in 1997, closely followed by Tokyo, Kobe and Nagoya. The latter city was the scene for MK's 2001 battle with the authorities.
Though the Nagoya District Court, in a landmark decision A landmark decision is the outcome of a legal case (often thus referred to as a landmark case) that establishes a precedent that either substantially changes the interpretation of the law or that simply establishes new case law on a particular issue. in August 2001, granted MK the right to run a promotional free taxi service, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport refused to recognize the court's decision and declined to issue license plates to the cabs.
Nonetheless, in a rare show of defiance, the Nagoya District Court refused to back down in the face of the ministry's intransigence in·tran·si·gent also in·tran·si·geant
Refusing to moderate a position, especially an extreme position; uncompromising.
[French intransigeant, from Spanish intransigente : , and in October 2001 again told the government that MK's free taxi plan was legal. Facing mounting media and public pressure, the government backed down at the end of the year.
Shortly after deregulation Deregulation
The reduction or elimination of government power in a particular industry, usually enacted to create more competition within the industry.
Traditional areas that have been deregulated are the telephone and airline industries. , MK kept up its pressure on the competition by slashing fares by 20 percent, offering an initial tariff of just [yen] 500 to cover the first 1.8 kilometers of a journey.
Tied in with this expansion is the group's ongoing dedication to training its drivers to be unfailingly polite and ensuring that they are nattily nat·ty
adj. nat·ti·er, nat·ti·est
Neat, trim, and smart; dapper.
[Perhaps variant of obsolete netty, from net, elegant, from Middle English, from Old French; see attired in tailor-made uniforms.
But it's not just on the human front that MK continues to forge ahead: In conjunction with Fujitsu, the company has recently installed a GPS-controlled CTI (Computer Telephone Integration) Combining data with voice systems in order to enhance telephone services. For example, automatic number identification (ANI) allows a caller's records to be retrieved from the database while the call is routed to the appropriate party. (Computer Telephony Integration Computer Telephony Integration - Computer Telephone Integration ) Automatic Car Allocation system at a cost of some [yen] 600 million. Implementation of this system immediately increased the number of taxi allocations from 5,900 to 7,000 a day and halved the average waiting time for customers to approximately 5 minutes. Within three months, daily receipts had increased by 7 percent.
"The customer-oriented principle is a causal factor causal factor Medtalk A factor linked to the causation of a disease or health problem in the successes of the system," stresses executive managing director Aoki Yoshiaki.
Because of the company's willingness to challenge the establishment over the years, MK Taxi is not without its critics. Other taxi companies resent MK's high media profile and aggressive discounting policies, while conservative media critics snidely snide
adj. snid·er, snid·est
Derogatory in a malicious, superior way.
snide call the company "flamboyant."
One particularly sour moment occurred in the summer of 2000, when owner Sadao held meetings with the Democratic People's Republic People's Republic
A political organization founded and controlled by a national Communist party. of Korea's vice-premier, Kwak Porn Gi. Ethnic Korean Sadao was keen to take advantage of the then-warming relations between the DPRK and Japan with a view to exporting 1,000 taxis in order to establish a tourism-oriented taxi business in North Korea.
This meeting met with furious distaste among the far-right nationalists with their ear-splittingly noisy trucks. One June weekend, as I entered the MK Bowl to watch a five-a-side soccer tournament, trucks were circling the complex, speakers cranked to 11, as a voice agitatedly ag·i·tate
v. ag·i·tat·ed, ag·i·tat·ing, ag·i·tates
1. To cause to move with violence or sudden force.
2. bellowed out, "MK Taxi! Nippon kara dete-ike!" (MK Taxi! Get the hell out of Japan!)
Three years later, MK is still here, still run by the Sadao clan, and still battling officialdom in its quest to transform the public's perception of the nation's taxi drivers.