This is a series of unguarded portraits of taxi drivers and passengers in Japan’s capital: a city where manners are of paramount importance, even within the privacy of the taxi cab.

Traveling a lot you usually find taxi drivers to be keen talkers. At home in London or in New York, it’s rare to exit a vehicle without an earful of opinions. In Tokyo, however, interaction is kept to a minimum. The formality of the situation is fascinating: drivers wear clean-cut suits and white gloves, car doors open automatically, and they never expect a tip.

Who’s Driving Tokyo? © Oleg Tolstoy. Series Finalist, LensCulture Street Photography Awards 2018.

I soon discovered that this aloofness is not just personal, but professional. Drivers rated y ūryō untensh—excellent driver—have their own stands at major stations and special markings on their cabs. As people, we naturally crave connection, but even in this tiny enclosed space, the line between driver and passenger persists. I was intrigued by these professionals who spend most of their days in silence, despite often being sat less than a meter away from another human being.

Who’s Driving Tokyo? is a fitting companion series to Who’s Driving You?, my 2015 study of London’s beleaguered cabbies. As Uber attempts to muscle in on the Japanese taxi market, it could be that the world of the Japanese “excellent driver” may soon be equally under threat.

—Oleg Tolstoy

Oleg Tolstoy’s series “Who’s Driving Tokyo?” was singled out for distinction in our Street Photography Awards 2018. Explore work by all 39 of the winners, finalists, and jurors’ picks.