As some of you may already know, when our store is not so busy I love to talk to customers, because I believe one word may serve someone to lighten their heart.
I am fully aware that some people might not like it, but as long as I am serving, I don’t think I would never stop sharing conversations. I have learnt this from my precious one-and-a-half-year experience of being a taxi driver.
It was 20 years ago when I was working as a taxi driver, before I started a business. It was just after I returned home from India with my daughter and at that time Japan was going through a great depression due to the collapse of the bubble economy. I needed a job to take care of my family, so I went for two job interviews at Taxi companies. The first, the MK taxi, a long-established firm in Kyoto, however I found out later that they had a difficult procedure in times of accident. The other, Yasaka taxi, where I decided to work after turning down the job offer from the MK taxi.
Many things happened during my time as a driver. Sometimes I still have the urge to drive a taxi just to feel the ultimate responsibility over wheels and the lives of customers, to share conversation with someone whom I have never met before in such a short time and space. When we have customers in the car, we say “Otomosuru” which means we are accompanying the customers to their destination rather than taking them. I really liked that subtle Japanese nuance of deep modesty in that phrase. (And it is such a coincidence that it is called “Otomo” town where Premarche Gelateria is!)
Throughout the journey of accompanying the customer, I was constantly thinking about what to talk about. We were told that weather and baseball were the safe topics, just like the lyrics in “Taxi Driver” by Miyuki Nakajima, but I was never interested in winning and losing of sports. We were also told not to talk about politics andI certainly could understand the unpleasant feeling it would cause for the customers. (Maybe it is different in the USA, where I was often asked about my views on politics. It is often the case that we like to avoid such frictions in Japan and the song “Taxi Driver” captures this as well.)
It was when I had the opportunity to accompany some leaders and CEOs that I realized the important lesson. They always paid me extra and some even paid double the fair. Some gave me gifts such as Japanese whisky “Yamazaki,” after three-hour chartering. But in all of this, what touched me the most were their encouraging words. Every time I talked, they always shared encouraging words with me saying “Why are you driving taxi? You’ll be doing great things soon.”
Many faces had passed by in that little space. Some suffered from illness, some were preparing for death, some had broken hearts, some shared their deep secret and some even took their stress out on to me. What I promised to myself though, was that I would never make an unpleased face, even within the meter-drop distance. People in Japan feel apologetic to take taxi for such a short distance, but I always said to them, “It is my pleasure! It is one-in-a-million chance that we meet and share the time together!” There are times I found it hard to keep the promise, but I did everything I could and after few times I started to feel I wanted to encourage people. It is true when we think about the rare chances that we meet in such vast time and space, what else is there other than to do the best for people!
Unfortunately, I do not have special ability like supernatural power. I have rather bad memory also, I am just a simple man. I knew that I couldn’t offer more than what I had, so when I was a taxi driver, I put all my attention to the wheel while feeling the person on my back. There may be times I was talking to someone who didn’t want to talk and I might be doing the same at the Gelateria. As a gelatiere, it is in my best interest to learn and understand customer’s dietary concern, their habits, health issues, as well as cultural tendency towards different flavours. I may not sit behind the wheel anymore, but I am accompanying customers with all my skills and knowledge to deliver better precision on serving and refining the delicacy in our flavours.
Another thing to mention is that while I was raising five children, my passion for youngsters grew. When we have children at the Premarche Gelateria, I cannot help but to cherish their uniqueness, such as being shy, active, challenging, curious and their shimmering eyes! I would love to be one of their heros! It is my wish that maybe someday, they think about Premarche Gelateria and the taste of gelato, telling their lovers and family saying, “When I was small, I used to come here with my mother for great gelato that was served by this great Ice-cream man…”
What is there, is not just the sheer taste of gelato, it is the memories you share with your loved ones.
This is not something that major chain could offer.
This is not something that can be given by securing the safety.
This is not something that can be felt by having it mailed at your doorstep.
What we offer might be a drop in the ocean, but I know that one word can serve to lighten someone’s heart. I am here serving gelato and talking to customers today.