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Jan 2004
Issue 044

KS Classifieds combined with Kansai Scene this issue!

Chikako Yamada
Life in the Bus Lane

Ask any little girl what she would like to be when she grows up and the answer will probably be, an air stewardess, nurse or teacher. If you had asked Chikako Yamada the same question, she would have answered, a bus driver.

She was not joking. Today, Ms Yamada is the only lady bus driver at Nara Kotsu Bus Company. Pretty, polite and professional, she is endearingly called, Chika-chan, by the regular customers.

"Ever since I can remember I've loved buses. As a child, whenever I rode the bus I would sit at the front and become absorbed watching the driver operate the bus. I also loved cars. My family didn't have one, but I was fascinated by my neighbour's car."

This fascination with vehicles never left her, even after graduating from university with a teacher's license in home economics, even after starting her working life, her dream never left her. "I got my driving license at eighteen. To become a bus driver I had to pass the large vehicle license test."

But she soon found out there is more involved to being a bus driver than simply driving. A knowledge of machines is a very important part of the job because the driver is responsible for filling the petrol tank, checking the water, checking the tyres, and general maintenance. Ensuring the vehicle is in tip-top condition is not the only requisite either.

When Ms Yamada landed the job at Nara Kotsu, she had to pass
a written test and another driving test for the company. After that, there was in-house training to learn maintenance and to become familiar with the bus routes. Turns, zigzag manoeuvres, backing up
and driving in narrow lanes had to be practiced. Trial runs without passengers, then regularly scheduled trips with passengers, accompanied by an experienced driver. All this before being able to drive the bus on her own.

Once on the road, the driver is always on the alert to prevent an accident, especially in heavy traffic or in bad weather. Always making sure the bus runs on schedule and the drive is smooth without any sudden stops or swerves that might jar the passengers.

Thousands of people every day rely on the buses to get them to their destination, be it for work or for leisure. Nara Kotsu has many bus routes, each with its own atmosphere. On the regular bus route, Ms Yamada built a rapport with the regular passengers. If she was not driving on a particular day, they enquired to find out if she was ill.

In contrast, the people riding the "100 yen bus", which stops at key points in Nara, such as Gango-temple, a world heritage and the famous Nara Hotel, come from far and wide.

"Our paths cross just the once," she says. Currently Ms Yamada drives the Nara Kotsu bus which is one of the bigger buses. Life in the bus lane requires strong customer service skills and interaction with passengers to make the trip as comfortable as possible.

"Customers trust me to take them safely from A to B, so when a passenger says, thank you, it makes my day. I love the job."

She has been the only lady in a man's world for eight years now. Asked what are the disadvantages of her career choice, she answers: "When I was growing up it was my dream to be the only woman in an all-male working environment. My dream has come true. I am doing exactly what I have always wanted to do. I am fully satisfied with my life."

What advice would Chikako give to girls who want to challenge
a profession in an all male domain. "Never give up on your dream and you will succeed," she answers sweetly.

Even though this is the 21st century and sexual discrimination
is slowly being wiped out, women bus drivers are still very few in numbers. The reasons can be manyfold. Perhaps women still see a predominantly male working environment as hostile, perhaps company recruitment campaign don't go far enough to attract the female gender, or is it just that little girls still want to grow up to become air stewardesses, nurses or teachers.

Text & Photos: Mylene Oishi


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Chikada Yamada Life in the Bus Lane.