More women getting behind the wheel in male-dominated industry

By Ryohei Moriya / Yomiuri Shimbun Photographer
Kana parks her truck to replace the cargo bed in Hamamatsu on June 24. Kana drives from Saitama Prefecture to Shizuoka Prefecture, a 700-kilometer round trip that takes her 12 hours, four times a week.

In an industry that is dominated by men, more women are getting behind the wheel of large trucks and are making their mark in Japan’s logistics industry.

Kana, 25, drives a 10-ton truck for Fuji Transport Co.’s Tokorozawa branch in Miyoshi, Saitama Prefecture. When Kana was in high school, she saw a woman driving a dump truck and could not take her eyes off her.

“She was so cool, and it made me want to drive [a truck], too,” Kana said.

She got her driver’s license at 21 for mid-sized vehicles and started working for a transportation company. At 23, she got her license for large vehicles and became a truck driver, her dream job.

She made a post on social media about her daily routine of driving late at night on expressways and eating local specialties in the driver’s seat. She was surprised by the response she received.

“I was shocked to see 2,000 likes the next morning,” Kana said.

This prompted her to start her YouTube channel “Kana-Channel,” where she posts videos about the positive aspects of driving trucks and offers advice to aspiring drivers.

New regulations related to the work style reform law, which prevents employees from working long hours, are set to be applied to truck drivers from April 2024. However, with truck drivers working fewer hours, there is a concern that it will lead to a slowdown in the logistics industry. The issue is referred to as the “2024 problem.”

Shion Shimizu, 27, an operations manager at Fuji Transport’s Noda branch in Noda, Chiba Prefecture, compiles driving assignments for 58 drivers. To lessen the burden of driving long hours, she utilizes a strategy called relay transportation, which has a driver take over for another along the way.

To transport goods from Tokyo to Fukuoka, without relay transportation, it would require two people to take turns driving for 18 hours. However, with relay transportation, it would only require one person to drive from Tokyo to Osaka, and one person to drive from Osaka to Fukuoka, greatly reducing working hours for each driver.

“We take advantage of our nationwide network to create efficient transportation methods,” Shimizu said.

With more women driving large trucks, companies are starting to outfit certain vehicles for women. Saitama City-based Asahi Logistics has customized its trucks for its female drivers. After asking women for their opinions, the company made various changes to the vehicles. One such truck, called Clover, has curtains on the windows to allow some privacy.

“People can’t see me from the outside during my breaks, and it also helps prevent sunburn,” driver Miyuki Koizumi, 48, said. “It’s comfortable.”

Asahi Logistics, which now has 1-ton vehicles and automatic transmission vehicles that can be driven by someone who only has a standard license, is encouraging women and new drivers to take on the challenge.