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Sunday, Feb. 26, 2009

WORDS TO LIVE BY

Jazz Taxi driver Toshiyuki Anzai


Toshiyuki Anzai, 67, is a cabbie in central Tokyo whose love of jazz drove him to start a unique Jazz Taxi service. His 90-minute cruises pair cityscapes with the most fitting music. Anzai plays songs that match not only the view but his passengers' moods — though he is partial to jazz, he sometimes throws Deep Purple and Wagner into the mix. His car is jazzed up with powerful Soviet-era 6BQ5 Class-AB vacuum tubes set in a Japanese power amplifier, which is connected to an iPod filled with 11,000 songs. This superb sound system makes cruising Tokyo a pleasure, and nobody enjoys the ride more than Anzai, who has been on the road for over 36 years yet says he is still mesmerized by every twist and turn that appears in front of him.

Toshiyuki Anzai
Toshiyuki Anzai JUDIT KAWAGUCHI PHOTO

If you're an expert at something, people look up to you. Driving a cab is not the most respected of professions, which bothered me a lot when I was working for a cab company. For 18 years I kept wondering how to free myself from the feeling that I was doing a low-class job. The minute I got my private-cab license in 1991, I knew I didn't want to simply take people from point A to B. What did I have that others didn't? Knowledge. I have been a jazz fan since my teens, so I really know the music. I figured that people would want to ride around with me because I am an expert at both jazz and Tokyo. This is how Jazz Taxi was born.

The same view looks and feels totally different depending on where you come from. I drove three French guys to Tsukuda, near the Sumida River in Tokyo. As they looked across the water, tears welled up in their eyes. They said they felt like they were in Paris. When I drove Americans there, I had "New York, New York" blasting, and the same thing happened: They got emotional and said they felt like they were in New York.

Nothing beats surprising someone. People book rides through my Web site and give me details of who the cruise is for. Maybe it's a birthday gift for a boyfriend or a retirement present for a nice boss. When I pick them up, they always think I am just a normal cabbie, but soon they sense that this is not an ordinary ride. The element of surprise is the best part: Here is a tired salary man suddenly being healed by music and the love of the person who is treating them to a Jazz Cruise.

Having selective hearing keeps a marriage happy. Sometimes my wife gets angry because my room is a mess or because I take off from work. Her voice goes in one ear and out the other. Only jazz stays inside.

Love can be expressed without words. I don't tell my wife I love her, but she knows I do. For the past 22 years, she has been taking care of her mother, who is 89, and her mom's sister, who is 87. They both live with us, as do our two kids, who are 28 and 32. I do little things to help my wife, such as taking my mother-in-law and her sister to the hospital. That is my way of showing her my love.

Rakugo (comic storytelling) and kabuki are very much like jazz. All three are about ma (timing). And all three have standard story lines onto which the performers add their own flavors.

Look at things from many different angles. Tokyo Tower is most beautiful when seen from behind, yet so few people check it out from that angle. With music, it's even better!

Recession? Hard times? This is nothing compared to war. When I was a kid, we were so poor, but still our parents fed us. We ate potatoes mixed with a bit of rice. The percentage of rice increased as our economy improved. It was probably 1955 when I first ate 100-percent white rice. Compared with those days, we are OK now! And guess what? Even in times of war, women have babies and raise kids, and life goes on. So whenever you feel things are hard, think of that.

If you plan for tomorrow, it's easy to forget the past and all the things that you feel were setbacks. Someone hurt you? Forget it. Trouble at work? It's in the past, so keep it there.

Originality is key! Anyone can play jazz in a cab, yet so far no driver has surpassed me as a jazz taxi. Some have tried, but they looked foolish when passengers asked about the music and they couldn't explain anything. So if you want to stand out, make your special knowledge shine. For example, I know a cabbie in town who is originally from Okinawa. I recommended that he play Okinawan music in his cab and serenade his passengers on the shamisen. If you do what you love and know well, people will make a beeline to you.

If business is down, your business power alone won't bring it back up. Recession is a chance to change: Read, study and improve yourself! It's silly to feel down; the whole world is in recession. Things might get worse, but there is always a way out of any hole.

Tokyo is a jazz town: The music matches our landscape perfectly. Jazz is improvised, and so is our city. Many streets are curving and narrow — they are messy, unplanned and fun. No wonder Japanese love jazz — even Japanese punk kids love jazz. We are emotional people, so jazz suits us.

Being 60 is the best. I have less interest in sex, so I can be friends with anyone. Passengers always send me thank-you e-mails, and we stay in touch. It's all innocent and cute.

Life is all about being good at ad-libbing. Nothing goes as planned, so the ability to improvise is essential for survival. Now, if you can sound great, you're set for success.

Judit Kawaguchi loves to listen. She is a volunteer counselor and a TV reporter on NHK's "Weekend Japanology." Learn more at: http://juditfan.blog58.fc2.com/


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