Ok, we know what you are thinking: “Taxis, that ain’t the Cheapo way!”…which is true seeing as taxis are quite expensive in Japan. Especially considering that there are plenty of cheaper public transport alternatives. However, if you are caught somewhere after the last train (usually around 1am or earlier depending on the line) or in a smaller city that does not enjoy the same public transport coverage as Tokyo, then a taxi might save you from making a very lengthy walk or hauling around whatever baggage you have on you.
Catching a taxi
Most receptions at a hotel or businesses will gladly call a taxi for you if you ask them “takushii o yonde kudasai“. In most large cities this does not incur an additional charge while in more rural areas a small charge may apply. If you are out and about, the best way to find a taxi would be to head to one of the many taxi stands around stations and major sightseeing spots where taxis line up to help you on your way.
Although unlicensed taxis are rare, you can recognize a licensed one by their green license plates as regular cars have white and yellow plates instead. You can see whether a taxi is vacant if the sign on the dashboard is red and shows 空車 (“kuusha” meaning “empty car”). When the taxi is occupied, the sign will be green and show 賃走 (“chinso”). An easy way to remember this is to think: red makes a taxi stop, and green means it’s going (away from you).
There are also mobile apps, such as Japan Taxi which uses GPS to find a taxi company near you to call for one of their taxis, Line Taxi by the popular messaging service LINE partnering with major taxi companies across Japan, and Uber which we will get into at the end of the article.
The left rear door is most often already open, except when it is cold outside. When you board or exit the taxi this door is opened and closed remotely by the driver so you do not have to open it yourself.
Fares vary quite a bit depending on where you are; taxis in Tokyo are more expensive than their counterparts in rural areas, but in general base fare for the first 2 km (1.2 mi) will range between 500 and 700 yen. After that the fare increases by 90 yen based on certain increments of about 250 m (820 ft) plus waiting time, when the taxi stands still due to traffic or if you ask them to wait.
Also be aware that when taking a taxi between 22:00 and 5:00 they will generally charge an additional 20 percent as a surcharge. Another surcharge may also be incurred when they have to take a tolled expressway.
Some taxis offer preset routes between sightseeing spots or between major stations and hotels to the airport, which often have a discounted fare or even a pre-determined fare. Using these taxis might just be a great alternative to taking a shuttle bus or using public transport.
Getting to where you want to go
Once you hop in your taxi, the conversation with your driver should be fairly simple—if you speak a little Japanese or at the very least come prepared. The best thing to do in advance is to have the business card or address of the place you would like to go to written down so the driver can just copy it into his navigation system. When giving him the address, simply say “Koko made onegaishimasu” meaning “Please take me to this address”.
When you see your destination and want to get off you can tell the driver “Koko de oroshite kudasai” (“I would like to get out here, please”) or “Koko de ii desu” (“Here is fine”).
When it is time to pay you can consult the meter for your fare. Cash payment in smaller bills is preferred as many taxis do not accept credit cards and giving change for a 10,000-yen bill can be quite the hassle. If you only have large bills or a credit card on you, please notify the driver before you get in. You can also ask for a receipt by asking “Ryoshuusho onegaishimasu“. Lastly, do not forget to say “Arigatou gozaimasu” to thank the driver for your safe trip to your destination.
Uber in Japan
The app has taken many countries by storm, except Japan where it only operates in Tokyo for hailing taxis. The reason for this is quite simple: Uber thrives in countries where the taxi industry is not well managed (where difficulties such as hailing a taxi exist)—and as we have read before, Japan’s taxis are far from that. So is Uber worth using in Japan at all then? Yes, it is! Even though Uber’s taxi fleet in Tokyo is small, meaning that there are not as many available as you may hope, they are bigger with more legroom. Moreover, the driver often speaks decent English which makes communication that much easier.
Even when it comes to the fare, Uber has two key advantages. Firstly, the transaction is cashless so you do not have to carry too much money around all the time. Secondly, Uber does not charge extra between 22:00 and 5:00 which makes them slightly cheaper than general taxis during these hours.