Taxis in Tokyo

By Kei. Hamilton

Often the easiest way to get around quickly in central Tokyo is by the ubiquitous taxi, if one avoids rush hours, which tend to turn the streets into parking lots. Step up to the curb, extend your arm at an oncoming cab with a red 空車 (Vacant) sign in the window. A uniformed driver in cap and white gloves will literally screech to a stop and fling open the rear door by remote control.
Taking a cab ride in Japan for the first time is always a fascinating experience. It can often be so for foreign residents, as well. One enters a world that will be either a pleasant few moments of the day or an expensive nightmare depending on the driver’s navigational, driving and communication skills, three things not seemingly necessary to join the profession.
But you can expect the driver to be polite and honest, and if you can’t talk to him (and increasingly, her) in either English or Japanese, and you have the address to where you are going written down in Japanese, you’re unlikely to encounter any frustrations or misunderstandings. What’s more, no haggling and tipping is required as the price on the meter is fully inclusive, so you simply pay the driver what you see and voila, the automatic door releases you into the city.
Satellite navigation systems are being installed in an increasing number of cabs, which makes it even more important to know the exact address of where you’re going. The driver simply types it into the system and off you go. Otherwise, he may spend a few minutes consulting a road map if unfamiliar with your desired destination.

Price Anxiety

There are many horror stories about the foreign businessman or traveler who arrives at Narita Airport, jumps into a cab and unwittingly racks up an astronomical taxi bill just getting to the hotel. They’re all true. Typical taxi fair from the airport to central Tokyo is about ¥30,000, or some ten times what a train or bus ride would cost. In town, however, if you’re going short distances, or hopping from bar to bar, the cost is worth the convenience, and can even be cheaper than trains or buses if you’re sharing the ride with any companions.
An initial fare of ¥710 covers you for the first two kilometers, then the meter tacks on another ¥80 for every 274 meters travelled. When stuck in traffic, add another ¥80 for every two minutes of being stationary. At night, between the hours of 11 p.m. and 5 a.m., when taxi companies hold mostly a happy monopoly on personal mobility as the trains and buses stop running at 12 and 1 a.m., a 30% surcharge is added to the above. When a taxi’s meter is set at the higher rate, a green light will be displayed in the window.

Taxi Fare Calculator

Taxi Travails

It’s not unusual for disputes to occur between taxi drivers and foreign residents familiar with the roads of Tokyo, who become convinced the driver is padding the payroll by unnecessarily taking the scenic route. Whether true or not, fueled by the stress of being late for a meeting, or alcohol if after hours, such situations can escalate and people even come to blows. The end result is usually the same—a night with the police and stiff penalty for the foreigner, and a taxi driver determined to never stop for a gaijin again.
If a taxi does not stop for you, it’s not always because of some bad experience, and don’t take it personally. Many drivers lack the confidence to deal with foreigners due to language and cultural differences. When one does stop, however, be patient with your driver and take misunderstandings with grace and humor. And always buckle up, as it’s not only the law, but highly advisable considering the manic driving habits of many Tokyo taxi drivers.

Taxi Window Signs

空車 Kusha - Vacant
賃走 Chinso - Occupied
支払い Shiharai - On payment
送迎 Sougei - Pickup
自家用 Jikayou - In private use
回走 Kaiso - Out-of-service

Bilingual Taxis for Hire

Anzen Taxi Bilingual Taxi Service

Tokyo MK Taxi Service From/To Narita

Tokyo Taxi Multilingual Taxi Service