When it comes to riding taxis in Japan, there are certain rules that you have to abide by. Remembering these will definitely make your journey or short trip more enjoyable but more importantly, keep the driver happy. That said, you’ll never have to worry about getting scammed in Japan! Taxi drivers in Japan are generally highly trustworthy and will not try to take advantage of their clients. Licensed taxis can be recognized by their green license plates, as opposed to the white and yellow license plates of regular cars. In some places frequented by foreign tourists, such as airports, cruise terminals and tourist areas, there are rare cases of unlicensed taxis showing up, which are better avoided. Fare calculation is almost always by the meter. The only exceptions are on a few popular tourist and airport routes where a predetermined, a flat rate may be offered.
Japan has an estimated 260,000 taxis operating nationwide, with Tokyo alone having around 35,000 taxis working from 333 different taxi companies. So you’ll probably find one easily enough from just about anywhere. Let’s take a look at some of the more common taxi etiquette rules.
It’s easy to get cabs in the city
In rural areas or outside of major cities you may have to call for a taxi ahead of time. In New York, London, Paris, Tokyo and other big cities – taxis are everywhere in the city centers. You won’t have to call for one ahead of time, simply hail one from the street or find a taxi stand. If, for any reason, you struggle to find one, walk to a hotel nearby or train station and get one from their taxi line. Some areas, have a rule against taxis picking up customers just anywhere on the street at night – it’s usually because it will cause some congestion. So you’ll need to keep an eye out for taxi stand signs along the road and wait your turn.
Do not open or close the door
When you board a taxi, note that the vehicle’s left rear door is opened and closed remotely by the driver. You are not supposed to open or close the door by yourself, except when using a different door. If you encounter one that doesn’t, or if it’s broken, the driver will come out and open it for you.
Have enough money
Many taxis accept payment by credit card, and an increasing number accept payment by IC card, such as Suica. Stickers on the door often indicate accepted payment methods. When paying in cash, try to avoid paying small amounts with large bills. Depending on the area and also the time of day, taxi fares can get very expensive, and you can’t always pay with a credit card. Check how much cash you have before you ride, or ask the driver if you can use a credit card. The taxi passenger is also responsible for paying any highway tolls. American Dollars are not accepted.
Know where to hail a cab
In some busy areas like Tokyo and Osaka you can normally raise your hand by the curb and a taxi will come, but you always have to wait at a taxi stand if you’re at a train station or a large hotel.
Red means vacant, Green or Blue means occupied
You might think it’s the opposite, but a red-lit sign on the taxi means it is available. A green or blue-lit sign means the taxi is taken. Or the light on top of the cab may simply be lit.
Know exactly where you are going
If you do not speak Japanese or if your destination is not a well known place, it is recommended to give your driver the address of your destination on a piece of paper or – even better – point it out on a map, since the Japanese address system can be confusing even to local taxi drivers.
Do not tip your driver. Tipping in Japan is not customary.
In some regions, especially popular tourist areas, taxis are available for charter as sightseeing taxis with the taxi driver doubling as the tour guide. Although the language barrier might be a problem, in some areas there are taxi drivers with foreign language skills or sightseeing taxi services targeted specifically at foreign tourists. Sightseeing taxis typically cost around 10,000 yen for two hours.
As with anywhere, public transportation is readily available and can enhance your time in port by allowing you the freedom to see places that you may not see on a tour. Observing the rules will make it less stressful.
Go and be Adventurous!