The other day I was invited to join one of the Tourism Taxi Trial Tours organized by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government's Tourism Promotion Project. That day the tour focused on shopping in three downtown areas: Shinjuku, Omotesando/Harajuku and Aoyama.
Our group of eight was divided up into three shiny black taxis – two vans and one sedan type. Each was driven by an English speaking driver from a different Tokyo taxi company certified by the Tokyo Hire-Taxi Association to be able to provide guiding services as Tokyo Sightseeing Taxi Drivers.
This certification system was introduced in 2012 as a way to promote tourism in Tokyo and to increase the number of sightseeing taxi drivers able to provide tourist guidance about the attractions in town. The certification process also includes classes in basic services, knowledge, manner of speaking and personal appearance, as well as special training in understanding and responding to the needs of the elderly and disabled. Over 100 drivers in town have passed this training and certification process.
We soon arrived in Shinjuku and were guided to two different stores. The first was a discount store for fun, weird, cheap items where any tourist will find a variety of souvenirs to take home, and the other one was one of the big electronic outlets, with several floors of electronic equipment and household appliances. We were given 30 minutes in each store and ran for it.
Our next stop was Omotesando where we were given one hour to check out the high end stores of this chic neighborhood, after which we took a short walk with our drivers to Takeshita-dori in Harajuku to freely explore the young hip area of clothing stores, gadgets shops and cosplay fashion over a two hour break that included lunch.
The last stop of the day was at the Japanese Traditional Crafts Aoyama Square in the Aoyama neighborhood, which presents traditional handcraft items from all over Japan. Again we were given 30 minutes to explore. The variety of goods and excellence of the craftworks were amazing.
That day’s survey tour was on a pre-arranged itinerary, but for tourists actually wanting to go shopping, the stops at the different stores were definitely too short for looking around, choosing, shopping, maybe lining at the cash register as it often happens in these kinds of stores, and requesting the tax return offered for foreign tourists. However, the participating taxi companies also offer personally tailored tours, which seems to me a better deal when it comes to shopping: no hassle on the subways with all the shopping bags and the drivers will help take care of the all the luggage.
All that said, for a day out in a taxi, I was surprised when I checked my smartphone’s health check app that evening and realized I had walked almost 15000 steps and over 12 kilometers that day.