Taxis, Cabs, and Ubers in Japan: All YOU need to know
So, it’s been a long day, hard at work, you’ve been out drinking with your co-workers, but you stayed out just a bit too late and now you’ve missed the final train. But you live on the other side of the city, an hour and a half walk away, and now it’s just started raining and of course you just so happened to forget your umbrella. You’ve got a meeting early in the morning tomorrow and you need to get your sleep. What are you going to do? How are you going to get home?
Thankfully, Japan and in particular their major cities such as Tokyo have some of the best cab and taxi networks in the world. There are 260,000 taxis in Japan nationwide, with 35,000 of them being in Tokyo from 333 different companies. Meaning you will nearly always be guaranteed to find a cab at all hours if you need one.
Additionally, there are numerous taxi-hailing companies that have apps which you can use to pick a taxi to come pick you up from any location you select. A few examples are apps such as Japan Taxi, TAKKUN and Tokyo Musen which operate at all hours and simplify the process of finding a cab if you are having difficulty in hailing one down. Even Japan’s most popular messaging app LINE has launched their own taxi hailing service, LINE Taxi.
International companies such as Uber also have a stake in Japan although their presence within the country is much smaller than their presence in other countries. Due to Japan’s already excellent taxi service and infrastructure, Uber has found it very hard to find a foothold within the country, in fact they are only found in Tokyo. This is because many Japanese people do not know Uber exists and use public transport or would prefer to use Japanese alternative such as Japan Taxi.
In this article we’re going to be comparing the positives and negatives of using each taxi service in Japan and the etiquette of doing so.
I will preface this by saying that if you are looking for cheap modes of transportation across cities in Japan then taxis and Ubers are not what you are looking for. The cheapest way by far is using the metro or train lines, while that option does seem harder and more complicated it will save you a lot of money over using taxis. If you are having trouble with working out how to use public transport in Japan, then please check out the rest of our Guidable guides as we have multiples articles dealing with the complexities of public transport in Japan.
Let’s start off with talking about the fares and how much you will be paying for a journey in a taxi. While fares will depend on where you are taking the journey, taxis in Tokyo are a little more expensive than their counterparts in rural areas. In general, the base fare for the first 1000 m of a trip will range from ¥380 to ¥410. After this the fares will increase by ¥80 every 237m plus waiting time – which is when a taxi stands still due to traffic or stoplights. Which adds ¥90 per 1 minute 45 seconds when they are moving below 10km/h.
Rates for taxis have lowered in Tokyo since 2017, meaning with the new rates short trips (under 6km) are cheaper, however longer trips have become more expensive.
Remember that when taking a taxi between the times of 22:00 and 5:00, there will generally be a charge of an additional 20% on top of the base price as a surcharge. If the taxi has to take a route along a tolled expressway there will be an additional surcharge.
Many taxi drivers do not speak any English so you must try and be as helpful as possible to ensure a painless journey. Once you are in your taxi the conversation that follows between you and the driver should be hopefully be simple, so I suggest that you come prepared with the enough Japanese to direct the driver to where you would like to go. A good idea is to have a business card or address of the location you want to arrive at on hand, so that the driver can simply copy it down into their navigation system.
A helpful line of Japanese to remember is “Koko made onegai shimasu” meaning “Please take me to this address” when handing the driver your arrival address. Another helpful line to use when wanting to get out of the taxi is “Koko de oroshite kudasai” meaning “I would like to get out here, please”.
It is recommended to always have cash on yourself when taking a taxi, as many of the taxis do not take card and will only take cash payments. Small cash bills would be preferred as giving change for a ¥10,000 note is a hassle.
If you only have access to large bills or a credit card at the time it would be best to notify the driver of your situation when entering the taxi. You can also ask for a receipt on your way out by asking “Ryoshuusho onegaishimasu” and do not forget to thank the driver with “Arigatou gozaimasu” for the safe journey.
Unlike in say London there is no uniform colour for taxis in Japan, each company uses its own design and colours, while the drivers will be dressed in the company’s livery including a hat and white gloves, and most likely a surgical mask as a considered courtesy.
While unlicensed taxis are rare finds within Japan, you can always recognize one by their green license plates as regular cars only have white and yellow plates. You can also recognize whether a taxi is vacant or not if the sign on the dashboard is red and shows, 空車, “kuusha” meaning “empty car”. If the taxi is occupied, the sign will be green and show, 賃走, “chinso” meaning occupied.
An easy way I’ve found to remember this is to think of the lights as if they are traffic lights. Red means the taxi has stopped (for you) and green means it is going (away from you).
Some taxi etiquette that must be remembered is to do with doors and the entering and exiting of the vehicle. The left rear door is most often already open when the taxi is waiting for a customer, except when it is cold outside. When you board or exit the taxi, the door is remotely opened and closed by the driver, do not open or touch the door yourself you will only break the door and annoy the driver.
While many of us are used to opening the door of cabs ourselves, the automatic opening and closing is part of the service here in Japan and part of the culture. Operating the doors yourself is seen as disrespectful by the drivers who are just trying to provide you with good hospitality.
Uber is a worldwide sensation and has taken many countries by storm globally wherever they have invested in. However, Japan is one of the few operational Uber countries where they have not managed to find a foothold and space for maneuverability. Due to Japan’s well-maintained fleet of taxis and the Governments restrictive laws on ride-sharing, Uber has had to close many of their fleets in Japan and are now only left with a small fleet in Tokyo.
However, this does mean that Uber in Japan is inferior to using Taxi’s, in fact they have multiple benefits over taxis. First is that the transaction is cashless, so you do not need to worry about carrying money around and having the right change, as all money is exchanged online when you book your Uber.
Another benefit is that Uber does not have the late-night surcharge that the Japanese taxi companies employ, meaning while Uber prices are often pricier than getting a taxi, this is not the case during the night.
In general, due to Uber’s concentration on the foreign market in Tokyo and its marketing push towards foreigners within the city, especially in the run up and during the 2020 Olympic games. It means that Uber’s cars are bigger and offer more legroom, plus you can book Uber Lux which are luxury brand Uber cars that offer further comfort and relaxation.
Furthermore, most drivers in Uber’s fleet can speak conversational English meaning it will be easier for you to communicate with your driver about where you want to go.
However, on average Uber is pricier than a regular taxi. A typical taxi costs ¥395 for 1km, and then ¥80 for every additional 237 metres. UberBlack starts with a base fare of ¥103 followed by ¥67 per minute and ¥308 per kilometre, with the minimum fare being ¥823. Furthermore, due to Uber’s small fleet it is not always guaranteed that you will find a ride compared to the city’s 35,000 taxis.
What’s better mileage?
While individual experiences may vary, and what service you would prefer to receive is up to individual preferences. Overall taking Uber is the more expensive option, night surcharge aside, and even then, depending on your distance and travel time it is possible that taking a taxi would turn out to be cheaper anyway.
There is little reason to take an Uber over a taxi in nearly every situation. If you prefer Ubers for their superior service and professionalism compared to taxis in other countries, then there is no need for that worry here in Japan as the service all taxi drivers provide is kept to a very good standard.
Tokyo and Japan have plenty of taxis, hailing one will not be an issue especially with the accompanying app on your phone.
My final verdict is that taking a taxi is the superior and simpler option when travelling through Japan by car.
If you wish to instead take public transport, such as trains, subways and buses please check out our other articles detailing how to use these services and their related items such as IC cards.