Taxis in Japan
Visitors to Japan are often shocked after a seemingly easy taxi ride suddenly becomes a large expense. Taxis in Japan, especially in Tokyo, can be hard on the budget so they should be used sparingly and wisely for most travelers. Of course taxis are also a lifesaver in the right situation, so it's best to know how they work to make the best use of them.
When to use a taxi
If you're making a short trip, especially between places where there isn't a direct line, taxis can be worth the fare. However, if you're going across town in the middle of the day don't be surprised if you pay out the nose. Since most train lines stop just after midnight and don't start again until around 5am, you may have to bite the bullet sometimes after a night out.
In some smaller cities, or cities like Kyoto without a strong train infrastructure, you'll find taking a taxi is easier.
Either way, the more people you're with (and the more tired you are) the more taking a taxi makes sense.
How to hail a taxi
If you're in certain main areas it's possible to use Uber or other similar services, but with so many taxis around it's often easier to just grab one from the street. Since making a u-turn is usually difficult, it's helpful (and cheaper) to get one going the direction you want to go already.
To find an available taxi you will notice a lighted sign on the dashboard indicating that it's available. If the light is off you won't be able to get in.
To board, just signal to the driver and he'll open the door for you. You will never need to touch the door at any time during your trip as the driver will open it with a lever and close it once you're inside. Same when you arrive. Opening it yourself can actually be dangerous given the number of bicycles and scooters on the road, so just let them handle it.
How to deal with taxi drivers
Taxis can be frustrating sometimes if you're going to a specific location, as drivers often won't be familiar with it unless it's a popular spot, and sometimes have difficulty using navigation systems. Many drivers are retirees making some extra cash, and often don't even live in Tokyo, so they're not going to know that cool little bar you read about.
If you're going somewhere specific (like a restaurant) it's best to have both the name of the location and the address available to show the driver, ideally in Japanese. This will make your life much easier.
The pricing system is straightforward. You don't need to worry about fake taxis or scammers either, and each taxi works on the same pricing schedule depending on the city you're in. Tokyo taxis cost the most at 410 yen for the first 1km and go up in 80 yen increments per kilometer or 40 seconds of wait time. It adds up! Plus, night-time rides after 10pm will cost an additional 20%.
How to Pay
These days credit cards can be used in many taxis, but not all of them. You will see a sticker on the window with accepted cards, but if aren't sure and don't have cash it's best to ask first. You can also use e-money cards in many of them as well. Once you arrive at your destination the driver will take payment and print a receipt if you need one. Then let him open the door for you and you're on your way!