SHOWA SNAP: Toyota taxis queue at the old Kyoto Station

Kyoto is one of Japan’s most historic cities, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at its travel hub. Bullet trains pull into Kyoto Station on an hourly basis, sending hundreds of passengers into a vast structure of glass and steel resembling a spaceport. That wasn’t always the case, as this photo of the old Kyoto Station, taken in 1991, shows. 

Built in 1952 and in service until 1997, a much more traditional-looking structure once served as the city’s nerve center, with columns of Toyota Mark II, Carina, and Corona taxis waiting to take incoming train passengers to their destinations. As our friend and late auto journalist Hiroshi Yoshida pointed out, the cars tended to be smaller, as to better navigate Kyoto’s older, narrower streets. 1991 doesn’t seem that long ago, but all these taxis are long gone, taken over by Crown Comforts purpose-built for Japan’s taxi industry.

Image: Si-take

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8 Responses to SHOWA SNAP: Toyota taxis queue at the old Kyoto Station

  1. Nigel said:

    Wish I could have been there in the early 90’s !!

    • MikeRL411 said:

      Was there then. Good layout for the station and easy to find delicious Bento vendors.

      My brother in law had a relative who owned a town house near the old Imperial palace, so we stayed there. Great house and great location.

      Like Archie Bunker sang “Those were the days !”

  2. Negishi no Keibajo said:

    ” a vast structure of glass and steel”: I thought I was back at the Kansai airport when I went there.

    I’m really hoping Uber or Lyft doesn’t invade Japan. Japanese taxis are so much a part of the culture, I hate to see them get run off the map. You will NOT find doily covered seats, automatic door openers and drivers cautiously dusting off their piano black hires with feathered brushes with Uber. It’s one of the most Japanese things you encounter arriving there.

    I remember riding the hire (hi-ya) from the Kamakura Train Station with my mom as a kid. The Yen Dollar ratio was frozen at 360 Yen. Taxis were also frozen at 360 Yen until around 1970.

    Thanks for the Showa Snap!

    • Ben Hsu said:

      It seems most of the Tokyo area cab companies are teaming up with tech companies to modernize and give the cabs Uber-esque features, so I don’t think ride hailing will take over in the same way it has in the States. The thing that’s more worrying is autonomous taxis. Sure, they will be convenient and clean and summonable by phone, but the charm of the white-gloved drivers will be gone. Thanks for sharing the trip down memory lane.

      • nlpnt said:

        One of the things that prepared the ground for Uber at home in America is the idea that by the time a taxi became a taxi it had already hauled thousands to the drunk tank. Ex-police Crown Vics may have been rugged and cheap to buy and fix, but they didn’t do much for the customer experience.

      • Negishi no Keibajo said:

        Autonomous: Stick one of those approaching a yellow light at the Shibuya scramble and watch the carnage from the Starbucks above…

  3. John Moran said:

    I have visited Kyoto 4 or 5 times and it remains on my shortlist of all-time favorite cities.
    This is a great pic, but I really like the new station. Kyoto seems to have a way of blending historical and modern better than most.

    I happened to be in Japan in 1991 and one of the things that stood out about the taxis were the column shifters. Some drivers seem to have a smooth touch with their white gloves while others slapped through the gears like a scene from Airplane. I think the column shifters were around in taxis until the late ’90s, but maybe someone can confim/correct.

    • Negishi no Keibajo said:

      We were riding along out of the airport, when the driver pulled over and started to apologize profusely for not turning on the WI-FI. 🙂

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