Kyoto’s MK Taxi tries to transform Japan: a Korean entrepreneur seeks progress in a xenophobic nation

Following up on my earlier two posts on Korean business and Japan I thought that perhaps I should make sure not to make it sound like the Korean-Japanese community is composed of criminals. Here’s an article I recently came across about a Korean-Japanese owned company based out of Kyoto (where I live.) I’ll post a couple of excerpts and you can click on the title for the full article.

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 Taxis in 1961, thereby forming MK Taxi, or just “MK” as the company is popularly known.

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.


One particularly sour moment occurred in the summer of 2000, when owner Sadao held meetings with the Democratic People’s Republic 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 bellowed out, “MK Taxi! Nippon kara dete-ike!” (MK Taxi! Get the hell out of Japan!)

MK Taxi is only one of several taxi companies whose vehicles can be seen continually roaming the streets looking for fares. They are particularly noteworthy for their very convenient door-to-door Kansai International Airport shuttle service, which costs only about $35. They can afford this through economy of scale; instead of using personal taxis they send a minivan to take about a half-dozen passengers in a single trip, stopping at each address in turn, the route planned out by a GPS based navigation system. Their English language web page (which includes information on the shuttle service) is located at this address.

4 thoughts on “Kyoto’s MK Taxi tries to transform Japan: a Korean entrepreneur seeks progress in a xenophobic nation”

  1. MK Taxi:

    If you are trying to create effective service then may I suggest you begin by extending service! Everytime my wife calls, well in advance I might add(at least two weeks; many times more), there are never any seats! I am sure there are more passengers from our area facing the same problem. Put on more limos to fill that need. This is not rocket science!!

  2. Well, that was the title of the article I was quoting from. Japan could be less xenophobic, but also could be moreso.

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