Ok, we know what you are thinking, that taxis are not the cheapo way. And that is true, seeing as taxis can be 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 an area that does not enjoy wide public transport coverage, then taking a taxi in Tokyo (or elsewhere in the country) might save you from a lengthy walk or hauling around whatever baggage you have.

Dog in Tokyo Taxi
Tokyo Taxi Easy Rider | Photo by Chris Kirkland

Catching a taxi in Japan: The basics

Most receptions at a hotel or business in Japan 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 be added to your fare. 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 if you’re in central Tokyo, you can normally flag a taxi down within a few minutes (and often seconds) just by standing on any moderately busy road.

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).

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.

Japan Taxi Apps

There are also a variety of ride-sharing apps in Japan now, and notably the infamous Uber isn’t really very popular here.

Japan Taxi

Japan Taxi uses GPS to find a taxi company near you to call for one of their taxis. You can register payment methods using the “Japan Taxi Wallet” and pay for your ride using a card. Even though the app has an English version, it’s still a has a few non-Japanese gotchas – you may not be able to register without a Japanese mobile number (as of April 2022 this is the case), also the Apple pay option may not work with foreign credit card you have regisered (with apple pay).

DiDi-Rider

Didi is a Chinese ride sharing app with some coverage in Japan. It scaled back coverage in 2020, but you can still use it in most major locations like Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. You can use their app in English, and you might find it a little more inuitive than some of the Japanese home grown taxi apps.

Line Taxi – retired

Line Taxi by the popular messaging service LINE was retired Summer 2018.

Go

Another home grown Japan taxi app. This is only useable in Japanese and requires a Japanese mobile phone number (for SMS verification), so if Japan Taxi didn’t float your boat already, then Go may well sink it.

Uber in Japan

The app has taken many countries by storm, except Japan—where it only operates for hailing a taxi in Tokyo. 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), but 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 (premium cars). Moreover, the driver often speaks decent English, which makes communication that much easier.

Even when it comes to the fare, Uber in Tokyo 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.

Uber delivery cyclist waiting at crossing in Shibuya
Not the kind of uber you can drive in. | Photo by Chris Kirkland

Taking a taxi in Tokyo: How much will it cost?

Fares vary depending on where you are; taxis in Tokyo are a little more expensive than their counterparts in rural areas, but in general the base fare for the first 1.052km will range between ¥380 and ¥410. After that, the fare increases by ¥80 every 237m, plus during waiting time—that’s when the taxi stands still due to traffic or if you ask them to wait.

Rates to ride a taxi in Tokyo actually came down in 2017—previously, base fares were closer to ¥700 for 2km, then ¥90 for every 280m thereafter. If you do the math, the new rates mean that short trips (under 6km or so) work out cheaper, but longer ones are actually a bit pricier.

When taking a taxi between 22:00 and 5:00, they will generally charge an additional 20% 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.

taxi in tokyo
Photo by Greg Lane

Communicating With A Japanese Taxi Driver

Once you hop in your taxi in Tokyo, the conversation with your driver should be fairly simple—if you speak a little Japanese. But for those less fluent, the situation is improving as a lot of taxis are much better equipped to handle non-Japanese speaker thanks to the run-up to the 2020 Olympics. A good sign of international language (and modern payment method) compatibility is the new London Black cab inspired taxis (pictured above).

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 onegai shimasu” meaning “Please take me to this address.”

When you see your destination and want to get out, 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”).

Finally, when it’s time to pay, you can consult the meter for your fare. Cash payment in smaller bills is preferred, as giving change for a 10,000-yen bill can be a hassle. In most major urban areas taxis now accept credit cards and payment apps like apple pay and google pay. If you’re in the countryside and only have large bills or a credit card on you, it’s best to 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.

This post was updated in April, 2022.

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Filed under: Transport
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