Recently I was fortunate enough to take part in a trial taxi sightseeing tour as a part of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government's Tourism Promotion Project. As our group of five left the meeting point, we were greeted by a friendly, English-speaking driver who ushered us into a shiny black 'wagon taxi' - a large Japanese minivan equipped with five luxurious individual seats.
As we pulled away, our driver described our itinerary for the day. Currently, nine different taxi companies are participating in this Tokyo Sightseeing Taxi Service. Many of the companies offer a list of itineraries to choose from online, and, of course, it is possible to design your own. The companies are happy to help you create a course tailored to your individual needs.
On our tour, we first visited the Imperial Palace Garden. We were able to explore the garden freely while the driver dropped us off at one gate, and picked us up at another. Next, we visited the Edo-Tokyo Museum and the beautiful dining complex next door, Edo Noren. Although drivers are not licensed tour guides, they have passed a Tokyo City Guide Examination administered by the Tokyo Convention & Visitor's Bureau and will provide tourist information as you travel around together. It is also possible to have the driver join you for lunch; to assist you in deciding what to choose and explain what you are eating.
Our last stop of the tour was in Yanesen, where we tried our hand at Japanese calligraphy - explained in English by the facility's lovely staff. As we traveled from place to place, our driver told us about neighborhoods and sightseeing spots that we passed along the way. We were then driven back to our point of origin. All of the tours provide door-to-door service to the destinations of your choice.
The cost of the service was much less than a regular hired car with driver. The fare is set based on chartered hours, rather than running distance. Sightseeing taxis are a great service for people who want to travel around Tokyo without having to deal with the confusion of the city's elaborate train and bus system. They are also recommended for people who are visiting Tokyo for the first time and want to 'get a feeling' for the city and its layout, before trying to get around on their own.
The Tokyo Sightseeing Taxi Service is also a good choice for companies that need to entertain inbound business partners. Or, for people who want to 'shop till they drop', but don't want to lug their purchases around from place to place.
Sightseeing taxis are especially useful for the elderly and anyone else that has trouble walking up and down stairs, or walking for long periods of time. All drivers have participated in a Universal Driver Training Program run by the National Welfare Transportation Service Association. The training focuses on teaching how to understand, and accommodate, the special needs of the elderly and disabled.
The drivers participating in this Tokyo Sightseeing Taxi Service went above and beyond to make us feel welcome - in English! And, although the most prevalent second language spoken by the taxi drivers is English, some of the participating taxi companies have drivers who speak Spanish, French, Korean, Chinese, Thai, Italian, and Arabic.