Moonlighting: Exciting story of a Japanese Train Driver and Author

Moonlighting, a common term in the labor world, has gained renewed traction in recent years, following the increased adoption of remote work and other changes to the workplace. Stakeholders have put the term under the spotlight again from various angles, including the legal and economic implications, which traditionally made the practice a gray area for many employees.

Rie Kobayashi is one of the few chosen ones who have found a perfect spot within that gray area. So far, she has successfully blended being an Odakyu Romance Car driver with a fledgling career as a picture book author. She has published one book and is already working on a second.

Rie Kobayashi
Rie Kobayashi

What is Moonlighting?

Moonlighting is the practice of working a second job outside business hours. Employees involved in this practice may work the 9-to-5 job as a primary source of income but work nights at a different job to earn extra money or to pursue a hobby. While many critics tend to paint the practice in a negative light, working two jobs is not expressly illegal. However, some employers institute work contracts that forbid their employers from taking a job or pursuing a business that conflicts with theirs.

Thankfully, Kobayashi doesn’t have to worry about that. Her job at Odakyu Electric Railway, which allowed her to volunteer within the community, was the foundation for her foray into publishing. “I became involved with picture books after joining Odakyu Electric Railway. At first, while working as a driver, I volunteered to read picture books,” she said.

Rie Kobayashi volunteer within the community
Library readings are also performed in the uniform of a Romance Car driver. (Courtesy photo)

Volunteering, a Connection Track

Although Kobayashi loves reading picture books, her decision to volunteer as a reader stemmed from much more than love.

She recalls, “At Odakyu Electric Railway, there are various projects that employees voluntarily carry out, such as railway safety classes for kindergartens and elementary schools, and English conversation classes for employees”.

Odakyu Electric Railway

“As part of this, I thought that if I held a picture book reading class at a facility for the elderly and went to a kindergarten with the elderly to read aloud, the community would be connected. I wanted to become a “track” that connects people through picture books. To do that, I thought I needed to learn more about picture books, so I got a certificate as a picture book specialist.”

Odakyu Electric train

Picture Books: From a Reader to a Writer

Kobayashi would probably have been content as a picture book reader if her employer didn’t organize an internal contest soliciting ideas for new activities and services to improve the value of the company’s Romancecar. Her submission, a plan to create a picture book, finished first out of a hundred ideas.

Odakyu Trivia" drawn by Kobayashi
“Odakyu Trivia” drawn by Kobayashi. The driver and conductor hand it out to passengers along with the “Train Window Guide Map”.

Having won the contest, Kobayashi had to execute her plan. And that didn’t come easy, even for a serial learner driven by passion. “It was my first attempt, so it was tough until the story was decided. I wanted to write about my family, and I wanted to draw the scenery I had seen as a driver, so it was all over the place,” she said.

“I love hearing stories about when I was a baby. I feel a lot of love when people tell me things like ‘I used to be like that’ or ‘I laughed at things like this.’ So, I wanted to make a book that conveys that kind of love. I want to convey that ‘everyone’s precious life has been loved,” she added.

Odakyu Trivia" drawn by Kobayashi

“You are not Alone”

After many rewrites with help from her editors and publishers and the input of many of her colleagues, Kobayashi eventually completed the book You are not Alone, which tells the story of a boy, “Okkun”, who embarked on a journey aboard the romance car LSE to celebrate her birthday.

Kobayashi was encouraged by the reception the book got within the company and among customers. “It was well received within the company, and I was very happy when my colleagues thanked me for making the picture book,” she said.

Rie Kobayashi Picture Books
Picture book “I’m not alone”. The name of the main character “Okkun” comes from the “O” of “Odakyu”.

Beyond the sense of fulfillment the book offers her, Kobayashi has pledged the sales proceeds to the Odakyu Foundation and other charity activities such as planting trees along railway lines, scholarships, and railway safety classes.

She said it was her way of “contributing to everyone along the Odakyu line and spreading happiness throughout the country from the areas along the Odakyu line.”

Odakyu Foundation

What is the Driving Force?

Those who have excelled at combining dual roles can testify that it’s no mean feat. They pull it off only because of an internal driving force that propels them to push through the obstacles they face. It has been the same for Kobayashi, who said her driving force was her desire “to give back to my customers.”

She recalls: “Around the time when the first state of emergency was declared due to the coronavirus pandemic, I once drove a limited express train with no one on board. At that time, I was depressed and wondered, “What am I driving for? Who am I driving for?”

Kobayashi picture book specialist
I also carefully compiled what I learned during my certification as a picture book specialist and apply it to my work.

“It was around the time when the “stay home” was called out, and people disappeared from the city. However, after the train departed, I saw many parents and children waving along the train line. Since they can’t go anywhere, they may have thought of watching the train for a change. That made me feel like I was receiving “hospitality” from the customer. When the limited express was suspended for a while, after the service resumed, there were times when children waved at me, holding up cardboard boxes that said, “Don’t give in to the coronavirus.”

Appreciation card for Kobayashi's attitude
Some customers even go out of their way to inform the company of the quality of their customer service. A number of “excellent cards” were issued to prove that Kobayashi’s attitude was appreciated.

How to Find Another Job While in Your Current Job

“Tell more people about your idea.” That was Kobayashi’s advice to people who wanted to stay in their current job and try their hands at something else. According to her, being vocal can help one find needed support from others and encourage one to stay committed to the course.

“If you put it out in your mouth, there will surely be people who will support you. By telling everyone, my feelings will harden, and if I start saying it, I will have no choice but to do it,” she said.

Rie Kobayashi

Connecting Communities Through Storytelling

Having found a dual path that blends seamlessly for maximum impact, Kobayashi does not plan to let off. She tells of her desire to “aim even higher as a romance car driver” and “to improve my skills further by taking exams in English and customer service.” 

Kitami Fureai Hiroba
Odakyu Electric Railway’s Kitami Train Depot is also making efforts to improve the environment along the railway line by greening the rooftop and creating a park called “Kitami Fureai Hiroba” (Kitami Fureai Plaza).

She has also started work on her second picture book and is thankful for receiving “a few offers from other publishers.”

“I would like to continue studying about care and picture books to make the activity of ‘connecting communities through storytelling’ that I had envisioned before COVID-19 come to fruition someday,” she said.

Rie Kobayashi Odakyu line

Interviewed: December, 2022

Production Cooperation: Masaki Inoue + Note,Ltd
Photo: Gota Shinohara