(Photographs by The Tokyo Reporter, June 2009)
FIJI (TR) – The green and yellow-striped taxis (or perhaps those colored in white and orange) that motor through Tokyo’s streets have become an unmistakable symbol of Japan’s capital. Yet one recent trip to the South Pacific revealed that these very same cabs are also in demand on the roads of Fiji.
Cab companies in this island nation often pick used Japanese taxis for their fleets because they are roomier, outfitted with better seats and require less maintenance.
“The customers are happy because they are more comfortable,” says Iqbal Ali, the 50-year-old manager of Nausori Taxi & Bus Service, from his small and cluttered office near the departure terminal at Suva Nausori Airport in the capital of Suva. Ali estimates that eighty percent of the cab companies in Fiji use vehicles that formerly ferried passengers in Japan.
Ali’s firm, established in 1945, has four Nissan Cedrics (which operate on liquefied petroleum gas) and six Toyota Crown Comforts, each of which was a taxi in Japan around five years ago. (He also has 15 conventional Toyota cars that run on diesel.)
Upon arrival in Fiji, Nausori Taxi might have to replace the mud flaps, change the radio, and add a taxi meter (though in truth not that many cabs in Fiji have them — negotiation of the fare with the driver upon entry is fairly standard). Also common will be the addition of the “TAXI” sign on the top of the vehicle, a requirement given that Japanese taxis usually use that space for the name of the cab company or other designation.
Everything is else nearly the same; from the color of the paint to the kanji characters appearing on the sedan’s side (such as “Tokyo Musen”).
Prices average 12,000 Fijian dollars (roughly 550,000 yen) — a figure that is one third less than that of similar models available domestically. Other costs include the various inspection and insurance fees must be paid to the Land Transport Authority.
“Overall, these cars are more reasonable than what we can get in Fiji,” explains the manager, whose team of drivers and assistants — roughly 42 in total cover all shifts — continually pull cabs up to the curb to serve exiting passengers, who likely will be making the bumpy half-hour trek to the city center (for 27 Fijian dollars).
Though maintenance, too, tends to be less, the requisition of spare parts is a problem. Ali cites non-functioning fuel pressure regulators, which ensures that fuel delivered at a steady pressure to the injectors and the intake manifold, as his greatest frustration. “The car consumes more fuel and the pistons tend to misfire,” says Ali, who guesses that the continuing problem has something to do with the change in climate between the two countries.
He then pauses for second and taps his desk.
“Hey, when you return to Japan,” he begins, inching to the edge of his seat, “would you mind seeing if you can locate a source for parts? Really, it would be a great help…”