Japan is renowned for having one of the most efficient public transport networks in the world. Punctuality and regular services, particularly within the rail network, make it easy to get around even Japan’s biggest cities.
Public transport is also usually the most cost-effective transportation method, that is when buses and trains are actually running. After midnight, taxis are often the only way to get where you need to go.
While taxis may be a more expensive transport option to get around the country, Japanese taxi services tend to world class. Naturally, they’re also useful for getting to spots off the beaten path and for those traveling with luggage.
You can usually find a taxi stand located in front of train stations. Otherwise, hail a taxi at a spot where it is safe for it to stop (e.g., avoid trying to hail them as they cross an intersection).
When is a taxi ready to be hailed? It’s tricky. All taxis have a display behind the windshield, as well as a roof light that indicates whether a taxi is vacant or not. However, these signs can also be a little confusing to travelers as the colors may not mean what you expect them to.
A vacant cab will show a red light, while a green light indicates a cab that is currently carrying passengers. Fairly straight-foward, right? But taxis also display orange lights and sometimes the text means “en route to pick up a passenger” but it can also mean “off duty.”
In short, hold your hand up and see what happens. If they pass you by, there might be a good reason why they didn’t stop.
If you want to reserve a taxi for a particular time, it can be easily done via your concierge (if you’re in a hotel) or via an app, such as Japan Taxi which has English-language support. Like Uber, you can log your location so the driver can come pick you up at the spot.
And yes, the Uber service is also available in Japan, but areas of service are limited to specific cities. If you don’t want the hassle of signing up for another service or app, Uber is reliable and convenient, but slightly pricier than your average taxi.
Mind your manners
While using taxis is quite similar the world over, Japanese taxis have an extra element of luxury as the vehicle’s left rear door can be opened and closed automatically by the driver.
Remember not to open and close this door yourself, unless you are using a different door to get in and out of the taxi.
If you do not speak Japanese, keep the address of your destination written down to give to the driver, or even have a map to show the driver where you want to go.
While Japan is a predominantly cash-based country, an increasing number of taxis accept credit card payments.
Many taxis now have stickers on the door indicating which payment methods they accept. However, always make sure you carry enough cash just in case you can’t find a taxi that accepts a particular card.
There’s no need to tip your driver as tipping is not common practice in Japan.
For some journeys, such as trips to the airport, you can find fixed-fare taxi services. These are usually cheaper than a regular taxi rate, and can be pre-booked on apps or via hotel concierges. If arriving from Narita airport, there is also a queue you can join to get a fixed-fare taxi service if you have no prior booking.
There are generally two types of taxis in Japan: small taxis, which are the most common, can carry up to four passengers; and large van-type taxis that can carry up to five passengers.
However, in the lead up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, a government initiative has introduced a new taxi which is designed to be more accessible.
Toyota Motor’s “Japan Taxi” launched in 2017 and features a wheelchair ramp to cater for wheelchair users, and luggage-laden travelers, along with other luxury features such as heated seats.