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.
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 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.
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.
Getting to where you want to go
Once you hop in your taxi in Tokyo, the conversation with your driver should be fairly simple—if you speak a little Japanese or at the very least come prepared, anyway. 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 many taxis do not accept credit cards, and giving change for a 10,000-yen bill can be a hassle. If you 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.
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.
This post was updated in March, 2018.