Tokyo is a vast city where it’s easy to get lost, especially if you don’t speak or read Japanese. The signs and complex metro and bus routes may confuse travelers, making it difficult to get to their destinations.
If you travel to Tokyo and need to get around without getting lost or if you missed the last train, then you should consider taking a taxi.
There are plenty of taxis from different taxi companies to choose from in Tokyo. Taxis are usually lined up at a taxi stand in front of most airports, so you can easily find one directly after exiting your flight.
But before you jump into a Japanese taxi, here is what you need to know:
How to Catch a Taxi in Tokyo
To secure a taxi in Japan, you first need to know if the cab is available. You can determine if the cab is idle by looking at the neon sign on the windshield or the vehicle’s roof.
The sign notifies several things, including:
- Receiving guests/vacant
- No longer accepting guests for the rest of the night
- Charging more for late night or early morning rides
- Soon vacant
Once you find an empty taxi, you can wave it over. You must raise your hand and wave it slightly to grab a driver’s attention. Avoid yelling for a cab because this is considered rude.
Don’t worry about not seeing a taxi nearby because most of them are parked all around the city in front of train stations and commercial establishments.
This is very easy to find a taxi in central Tokyo; you can also find taxi stands indicated by a blue sign. It might be more challenging to find a taxi in rural areas.
You can always see many taxis nearby train stations or nearby major sightseeing spots, so that’s where you should head to catch one.
Taking a taxi in Tokyo: How much will it cost?
Japanese taxis are among the most expensive in the world, although they are a good option in some situations when you can’t use public transport to get to your destination.
Like in most countries, the fare is measured by distance (kilometers). They also go by time. Traffic jams tend to lead to higher cab fares. Calling a cab to your location will incur a dispatch fee; it’s usually better to find one on the street. Going on the interstate will also cost extra.
Each taxi company sets its prices, but ultimately they are all the same or similar. Here are the usual prices:
- First two kilometers: ¥710 (US$5.40)
- Each additional 288 meters: ¥90 (US$0.70)
- 105-second wait: ¥90 (US$0.70)
During the night, these prices are increased by 20%.
Usually, the driver will let you know the overall fee for traveling to your desired destination ahead of time. Additionally, you can use apps and websites to estimate the price to get to your destination.
What are the payment options?
Japanese taxis accept credit cards, among many other payment methods such as:
- Cash (yen)
- Credit Card
- E-payments/ E-money
- IC Card
When ordering a taxi online or using a taxi app, you can choose the type of vehicle and payment method. Therefore you can use online payment services such as Google pay and Apple pay.
Be advised that you don’t pay tips in Japan. Therefore, you’ll seem strange if you try to give a tip to a Japanese taxi driver.
How to Communicate Your Destination to the Taxi Driver
It can be frustrating and overwhelming to try and explain where you want to go when you can’t speak Japanese.
To avoid frustration and cope with the language barrier, be sure to have your address on a sheet of paper to give to the Japanese taxi driver. It will save you time and make it easier for everyone.
If you didn’t print it out, you could use the internet or apps with satellite maps. Some apps allow you to change the language from your own to Japanese for added convenience.
Significant sites are more accessible for the driver to recognize, so it might be more beneficial to point out one of those and walk the rest of the way to your destination.
Avoid Illegal Shirotaku Taxis
In Tokyo, there are illegal and unlicensed taxis (known as shirotaku or “white taxis”). You can spot the illegal ones when you know what to look for. It’s wise to avoid illegal cabs because they don’t have insurance and can’t cover you if anything happens while on the road.
Here are some signs that you’re looking at an illegal taxi in Japan:
- They ask if you need a ride.
- A cab driver who asks if you need a ride strongly indicates that the taxi might be illegal. Most legitimate taxi drivers won’t ask you this question. Instead, they’ll line up in the taxi queues. Therefore, politely decline if a driver asks you if you want a ride because it’s likely an unlawful cab.
- They have a plain white license plate.
- Another telltale sign that a taxi isn’t legitimate is if the license plate isn’t green. Legal Tokyo cabs use license plates that are either wholly green or white with a green frame. If the license plate is only white with no green, it signifies a forbidden cab. Avoid any cars that have this characteristic.
What a Taxi Car Will Typically Look Like
In many parts of the western world, a cab is distinguishable by its often yellow color. But this is not always the case, especially in Japan. Most Tokyo taxis will probably not be yellow. Some may be black, green, or another color. However, most will have a neon sign on the car’s roof or the windshield. And as seen just before, a Japanese taxi always has green license plates; that is how you recognize legit taxi drivers.
Most of Japan’s taxi cars have a sedan body and are small. Some are larger and have sliding doors to accommodate disabled civilians. If you have a large party with you, Tokyo has taxi vans that can fit more people and luggage.
Remember, Japan and most European countries drive on the left side of the road and not on the right. Also, if you’re from the U.S. or Canada, you might accidentally try to enter the car from the wrong side. It’ll seem strange initially, but you’ll get used to it over time.
Uber in Tokyo
Uber rides are available in Tokyo. However, you may want to stick with a cab since Uber is more expensive in Japan.
Uber was created to compete with taxis since cab fares can be very high in New York. Also, New York is known for curt or rude cab drivers. It seems a bit contrary if you come from a place like New York City because it’s the exact opposite. Expect the opposite in Japan.
In Japan, taxis tend to be cheaper than Uber. What a difference! Often, drivers must wear formal attire, including a suit, tie, cap, and even white gloves. Additionally, you will not catch sloppy drivers wearing street clothes. This is why most citizens tend to choose taxis over Uber.
It’ll please you to know that Tokyo taxi drivers are usually pleasant and polite. You won’t have to worry about rude, smelly drivers who expect a big tip for poor service.
All this being said, it may benefit you to take an Uber late at night when other taxis have stopped driving. Additionally, Uber has luxury vehicles that resemble limos if you’re trying to ride in style. Keep in mind that the added luxury will cost you more.
Traffic in Tokyo may not be as bad as in some major world cities, but roads can still become congested; that’s why it’s often better to use public transportation when possible. If you need to get to your destination by a specific time, it’s best to leave early.
The good news is that Japan is known for its polite drivers. You won’t hear a lot of yelling and honking in Tokyo like in other capital cities around the world. You also won’t see many aggressive drivers jumping in front of other vehicles and causing unnecessary accidents.
Frequently Asked Questions about Japan Taxi:
Typically fares start from 750-750 yen per mile and increase to 900 yen per mile. Costs are heightened if taxis aren’t traveling long.
UberBLACK is based on a base cost of 101 yen followed by 68 yen a minute or 349 yen a km. This is more expensive compared to regular taxis. A typical cab in Tokyo costs 380 – 400 for the first km.
Japanese taxis are among the most expensive in the world. Therefore, you should only use them when you have no other option.
There is Uber in Tokyo, but traditional taxis are cheaper and easy to find, so there is not much point in using Uber in Tokyo.