Taxis are a great way to get somewhere fast — especially when you’re not sure how to get there. Short distances are especially affordable in Tokyo since the new pricing system came into effect on January 30, 2017.
Taxis in Japan: The Basics
Note that the back doors of all taxis in metropolitan areas open automatically. The driver will open the door for you, so simply wait until it is opened. Most drivers will expect you to sit in the back if you’re traveling alone. If there are several of you traveling and you would like to sit in the front, open the front door manually.
Payment: Many taxis accept payment via credit cards, prepay app services, and IC cards, as well as cash. However, cash is the safest option in case they don’t take certain cards, or the card machine is broken.
Tipping: Tipping is not required nor encouraged.
Hailing a Taxi: As in many other places in the world, simply raise your hand or wave your arm to get their attention. Cabs are most easily caught on main thoroughfares, and/or near traffic lights. Although you can usually tell whether a taxi is available or not by whether the light on top of the car is on (available) or off (unavailable), a more precise way to judge is by checking the sign that’s displayed in the front window. That said, these signs may be also be a little confusing, as the colors may not mean what you expect them to – for example, red indicates an available cab, and green shows it’s taken. More on the cab symbols below:
Taxi Fares: What to Expect
Daytime base fare in Tokyo starts at between ¥380 to ¥410 for the first 1.052 kilometers. Rates across the country will vary, with base fares ranging between about ¥400 and ¥700 for the first two kilometers. After that, fares depend on the taxi company, traffic situation, cab size, and the region you’re traveling in. Nighttime fares are generally 20% more expensive and are in force between 10pm to 5am.
Getting There: Giving Directions
Most taxi drivers do not speak English, but many companies use phone translation services if needed or a point-sheet to indicate where you’re going. Even so, the easiest way to get to your destination smoothly is to be well-prepared. If you have the address on hand on either your phone or on paper, ideally written in Japanese, it will make things simpler. Also, if you know a landmark near your destination it can be helpful if the driver doesn’t know your exact destination or knows he cannot access that address directly.
Reserving a Taxi in Advance
Reserving a taxi before you go somewhere is a great way to make sure you get a car when you need it most. Some services also offer flat fares for certain distances, especially for airport shuttles. Other services will require an additional fee on top of the cab fare when you book in advance (this generally comes to about ¥400 or thereabouts).
Although many cab companies in Tokyo are well-equipped with English websites, apps, and multilingual call centers, it may be more difficult to book a cab in English in other regions.
These taxi services have phone operators that speak English:
Many taxi services across Japan have websites where you can book a ride online:
Reserve Via a Taxi App
An increasingly more useful option — especially for non-Japanese speakers — is to get a cab via an app. Here are some of the major ones:
JapanTaxi has the best coverage nationally, with more than 53,000 cars in all 47 prefectures. Using the app, you can make reservations, calculate fares, and even pay your fare (via online or credit card payments).
More info: JapanTaxi App
For Japan residents already using the LINE app, this is an extension of the already existing LINE app, making it easy to use for those already familiar with the interface. Users will need a Japanese phone number and a valid credit card to register. It can be used in most metropolitan areas across Japan.
More info: LINE Taxi
Takkun Taxi Tokyo App
Only available in Tokyo’s 23 wards as well as Mitaka, Musashino, and the Tama area. The service works with most Tokyo-based cab companies though, so there are a lot of cars available. A pickup fee (as with phone reservations) will be charged when you use this service.
More info: Takkun Tokyo Taxi
Although Uber does has an app in Japan, its ride-sharing services aren’t legal here so it functions as a taxi hailing app. It’s only available to use within the Tokyo Metropolitan area.
More info: Uber Tokyo
Main image: McFishoPhoto / Shutterstock.com