Taxis and Driving in Japan
Thanks to Japan’s efficient, reliable, and affordable public transportation systems, most people who are visiting Japan for leisure, rather than business, will likely not need to use taxis during their stay.
There are a couple of notable exceptions to this - late at night, and in the countryside. Even in Tokyo and other big cities, buses and trains stop operating between around midnight and 5am, meaning that taxis are the only way of getting around during these hours, whether you are a late-night reveller heading home, or an early-morning traveller heading to the airport.
In areas with less dense or regular public transportation networks, such as the countryside, smaller cities and the outskirts of traditional cities such as Kyoto and Nara, catching a taxi from the nearest train station or bus stop may save you a short walk or climb uphill to the entrance of certain tourist spots such as Kiyomizudera Temple and Nara Park.
Finding a taxi
Either book a taxi by telephone in advance (for example from your hotel reception), go to a taxi stand at the station, or flag one down at a safe spot. A sign on the front of most taxis indicates if it is vacant or not - green for vacant, red for busy.
Be careful when getting into the taxi, as many taxis, especially those in cities, have automatic doors which are operated remotely by the driver, so it’s recommended to wait to see if the door opens before tugging on it yourself.
Recently, more and more taxi drivers are installing sat-nav systems in their cars. All drivers will of course know how to get to popular destinations such as train stations and tourist spots. However, if your destination is not well-known, such as a small hotel or restaurant, it is a good idea to have the full name and address ready to show the driver (preferably in Japanese) or else be able to point it out on the map.
Taxi drivers in Japan are nearly always extremely professional - as indicated by their smart uniforms and pristine white gloves, and often spotlessly clean car interiors - and will not try to take advantage of customers. Fares are nearly always calculated by the meter - the only exceptions are a few popular tourist and airport routes, where a flat rate may be offered.
Taxi fares typically start at around 400-700 Yen (£2.88-5) for the first 2 km, and increase by around 80-90 Yen (0.57-0.65p) every 300-400 metres travelled thereafter. There is a late-night surcharge of around 20% for journeys made between around 10pm-5am. Any highway toll fees incurred during the journey are also added to the fare.
Pay in cash (smaller notes) as much as possible - no tipping is required. If you want to pay by credit card, it is best to check that this is possible when getting in. Many taxis have stickers on display in the windows indicating which payment methods they accept, but it is always best to check with the driver.
Renting a Car in Japan
Car and camper-van hire is becoming an increasingly popular and attractive option for visitors hoping to get off the beaten path. Companies such as Japan Experience offer car rental services which are bookable in English all over Japan, as well as suggested driving itineraries.
Driving in Japan's major cities
is not recommended for nervous drivers as they can be very congested, however countryside driving can offer spectacular scenery and open up places you may not otherwise be able to reach via public transport. Visitors who intend to drive in Japan should note the following:
On main roads most major destinations are sign-posted in English. In rural areas this may not be the case. If you are planning to drive in more remote areas, it is advisable to use an English-language GPS or purchase a reliable English-Japanese road atlas before you depart. Companies such as Shobunsha and Kodansha publish these atlases.
People in Japan drive on the left.
Parking can be difficult to find in some urban areas.
An International Driving Permit is required.
Tolls are levied on expressways and other major routes. Toll charges will depend on how far you wish to travel and which roads you intend to take. These can be quite expensive, and sometimes the cost of driving can be similar to that of train fares.
The Japan Automobile Federation (JAF) publishes an English guide to driving in Japan called "Rules of the Road". These are available at JAF offices throughout Japan. For further information go to the JAF website.