TOKYO — Rickshaw puller Yuka Akimoto breathlessly dashes down the streets of Tokyo under a scorching summer sun, two French tourists enjoying the sights from the back of her black, two-wheeled cart.
When the 45-minute tour comes to an end, the 21-year-old bows deeply to her clients and offers a blistered palm — covered with a clean cloth — to help the couple alight. Sweat pours down her flushed face.
Ms Akimoto joined Tokyo Rickshaw two years ago after the pandemic dashed her plans to start a job at Tokyo Disneyland. The company, which mainly operates in the Asakusa tourist area, says about a third of their 90 pullers are now women, and they are seeking more female recruits.
“The first girl who joined was cool,” said Tokyo Rickshaw President Ryuta Nishio. “Since we posted videos of her on social media, many girls have followed suit and joined us.”
“Going forward I want to create a place where women feel comfortable to work and play an active role,” he added.
The pullers actively promote themselves on social media, winning repeat customers who request them personally.
And it was those social media posts that drew college student Yumeka Sakurai to join Tokyo Rickshaw.
“I’ve watched many videos of women training hard and becoming rickshaw drivers themselves. They gave me confidence that I could do it too if I tried hard,” the 20-year-old said.
After four months of training, and overcoming opposition from friends and families, Ms Sakurai says she is now proud to haul passengers in her rickshaw.
Tokyo Rickshaw’s Nishio said sometimes he gets complaints that women should not be doing such physically demanding work. Female pullers also occasionally face sexual harassment or have their knowledge challenged by male customers, he added.
“We treat both male and female pullers completely equally,” Mr Nishio said. “The women say they want to be treated as same as the men, and in fact, many of them are way tougher.” REUTERS