Whether it’s after hours or you’re in the sticks, Japanese taxis are here for you.
Everyone knows that Japan’s got the best public transportation system in the world. Every major metropolitan centre is criss-crossed with a thorough network of trains, subways, buses … and taxis? That’s right! But what’s so special about Japanese taxis when you can catch a cab in countries across the globe?
For one thing, Japanese taxis serve your transportation needs in two crucial ways that the bullet train won’t. First of all, even in Japan trains don’t run 24/7. The last trains in big cities like Tokyo and Osaka run between midnight and 1 am, so night owls might be hard-pressed to find their way home. Luckily, you can snag a late-night taxi pretty much anywhere, though you’ll have to pay an after-hours surcharge (割増), which is usually around 20% of the usual fare. This is a good option for travellers who want to enjoy the ample cosmopolitan nightlife—and who have some cash to throw around. The experience is made extra special because the taxis are spotlessly clean: the seats are lined with crisp white lace, and the drivers wear bright white gloves.
For tourists who prefer to go o the beaten path and explore the country’s beautiful rural regions, taxis are a more common way to get around outside the bustling cities. The best way to hail a cab is to head straight to the taxi stand once you’ve arrived at your local train station or regional airport. And while Japanese taxis are a bit more expensive than in other countries, they’re also metered and well regulated, which means there’s no haggling involved. Once you’ve secured a cab, the door will open automatically, and the driver will put any luggage you have into the ample trunk—and you’re on your way. However, if you happen to be out on the town, you can also hail any cab that hasn’t already been hired by another customer. You can tell if a cabbie is operating by a handy lighted sign in the front window, which will indicate if the car is available (空車) or occupied (賃走).
If you don’t speak Japanese, it’s a good idea to have the name and address of your destination written on a card to hand to your driver, as most won’t speak English—especially in smaller towns. If you’re used to catching ride-shares through companies like Uber and Lyft, your apps won’t work in Japan, as Uber recently lost a legal battle to operate in the country. However, there is a similar service available, Line Taxi, which was recently launched by Japan’s most popular messaging app, Line. That means it’s easier than ever to nd a smooth and pristine ride at any hour of the day.
All hail the cab
If you’re travelling in Japan, here are some tips to make sure you get safely from point A to point B.
DO check the sign
Go toward the light—the lighted characters that indicate an empty cab: 空車.
Do NOT open your own door
The driver will open it for you automatically with a special lever, so stand back!
DO keep it clean
Japanese taxis are meticulously clean, so don’t leave a mess or be a sloppy drunk.
Illustration by Chieko Watanabe