A simple guide to Japan’s taxis, including costs, and more…
When traveling around Japan, taxis can be a very convenient option if you use them wisely. There are taxis all over the world, but how we use them and how much they cost varies from country to country. Read on for helpful hints for your trip in Japan about the basics of Japanese taxis, such as fares, and useful apps.
By the end, you will become an expert taxi rider of Japan!
1. Japanese taxis
Taxis takes you from point A to point B. With no need to find stations or bus stops, they are more convenient than trains or buses, but also more expensive.
Whether in rural areas with little public transportation or in big cities such as Tokyo or Osaka, taxis may be the best choice if you’re headed somewhere far from the station, are feeling tired, or are not sure which train to use.
Air-conditioned with high standards of cleanliness, catching a cab is a comfortable way to travel in Japan.
“Sightseeing taxis'' are also available, rented by the hour rather than by a meter. Mainly frequenting popular tourist spots, they are not only more convenient and faster than trains or buses, but also offer the added advantage of being able to leave suitcases, souvenirs, and other luggage in the vehicle.
2. How to use a taxi
There are three main ways to use taxis in Japan:
1.Board at the stand 2.Catch one on the street 3.Reservation by phone, website, or app
The (1) first option is to board at a taxi stand. Look for taxi stands at stations, shopping malls or other facilities. The advantage of this well-established method is that taxis are usually waiting, while the disadvantages are that it may be a bit of a walk to the stand, and depending on the time, you may have to wait in line.
(2) Catching a passing cab on the street is easy. Just look for a suitable spot where a taxi can safely pull to your side of the road, and look for taxis where the rooftop light is on indicating availability, then raise your hand to call them over. Though catching a cab this way eliminates the need to line up at a taxi stand, it can occasionally be difficult to find a taxi depending on the location and timing.
Lastly, regarding (3) reservations by phone, website, or app, some taxi companies take reservations over the phone in foreign languages, but in most cases, Japanese language skills are required. Reservations may be possible online, sometimes with foreign language assistance. Apps will be covered in the next section.
Out of these three options, most overseas travelers use method 1 or 2 to get a taxi.
Some signs to be aware of when catching a taxi.
Taxis in Japan have a small display board facing outward in front of the dashboard. This display indicates if the taxi is empty, not available, or charging a premium.
For example, when catching a taxi on a street corner, look out for the signs "空車" or "割増".
“空車” means no passengers are on board, and “割増” means a surcharge is being applied, which is common at certain times such as early morning or late at night.
Next, signs that indicate the taxi is unavailable include "賃送" (occupied), "支払" (handling payment), “貸切” (charter), "予約" (reserved), "迎車" (on the way to pick up a passenger), or "回送" (forwarding). The most commonly seen are "賃送" = in use, and "回送" = the driver is returning to the taxi office or on break.
“空車”indicating availability is often displayed in red, and recently, signs are increasingly written in English. There are some additional differences between Japanese taxis and those in other countries. For example, passengers normally sit in the back seat, and doors open and close automatically.
3. Taxi hailing apps
Recently, taxi apps are being used more and more in Japan. On such apps, taxis can be reserved in advance to come to a designated location. In such cases, there is no need to communicate in Japanese. Summoning a taxi from your smartphone is a simple, convenient method for foreign travelers.
Payment can easily be made by credit card.
4. How much does it cost?
(Reference: http://www.taxi-japan.or.jp/) National Hire Taxi Federation, General Incorporated Association
Taxi prices vary depending on the prefecture. For example, even among popular tourist destinations such as Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Okinawa, initial fares differ, which are always incurred regardless of distance traveled. The following is a comparison of maximum initial fares for regular cars.
Tokyo: 500 yen
Osaka: 600 yen
Kyoto: 500 yen
Hiroshima: 750 yen
Okinawa: 560 yen
*As of October 2023
In addition to this initial fare, there may be other charges depending on distance and time to destination, waiting time, late night/early morning premiums, etc.
Taxi fares are generally paid after boarding, but you can check how much it will cost by using a taxi app to confirm in advance.
5. How do I pay?
There are several ways to pay for taxis in Japan.
There are five main payment methods:
Foreign travelers usually pay by cash or credit card. As for credit cards, cards issued overseas such as VISA or MasterCard are usually accepted, so simply pay with the card you brought from your home country.
Learning to use the taxi system allows you to enjoy Japan sightseeing in the best possible way! With subtle differences such as automatically opening and closing doors, taxi culture can also be a unique experience of the country.