KYOTO, JAPAN -- It's 7 a.m., and the taxi company has just called a second time to say they can't find my house. Once again I spell out directions even a blind cabby could follow, glance impatiently at my watch, and wait ... now only two hours until my flight leaves -- and it's an hour-and-a-half trip to the Osaka airport.
Outside, torrential rains are threatening to sweep my little house off the mountain slope on which it teeters, so far north in Kyoto that the city buses lurch past it only three times a day.
The telephone rings again. "Terribly sorry ... ," begins the dispatcher. Then I realize what's happened. Flooded with calls, the company's maximizing profits by handling only in-city runs. I'd heard this happens when the weather gets bad. Never mind if someone reserves a pick-up the night before. Desperately I shout into the phone that I have a plane to catch -- must be in Seoul by noon -- and I'll meet the taxi a few hundred meters away on a bridge over the Kamo River.
Standing over the roaring, gale-swelled torrent, horizontal wind-driven rain drenching my overcoat, I gaze up and down the road. No taxi. Finally, umbrella propped up from under one arm and suitcase in the other, I begin to hitchhike. A sedan goes by, driver and passenger staring at the lunatic, well-dressed foreigner walking backward and holding his thumb out in the downpour.
From the other direction a white Nissan approaches, passes, then jams on its brakes, squealing into a U-turn. A young man throws open the door, gesturing for me to get in. Shaking with cold and anger, I climb inside.
In the most humble and respectful Japanese, the man identifies himself as the dispatcher with whom I have spoken three times this morning. To get me to my plane, he has abandoned his post and raced from the company in his personal car. He apologizes profusely, but offers no explanation as to why a taxi could not pick me up, except to say that they are "very very busy" this morning. Delivering me straight to the boarding stop for the airport bus, he refuses the 2,000 yen I press into his hand and with more apologies implores me to patronize his company in the future.
A few hours later, settling back into my seat as the storm-delayed 727 takes off, I open the newspaper. On the second page my eyes wander to the headline of a short article, "Taxi Strike Begins This Morning in Kyoto."
The writer is an assistant professor of foreign affairs at Kyoto University.