Taxis are a good option for some journeys at least if like us you're trying to pack a lot of sights into a too-brief visit to Kyoto. We used them to get around on our first day in order to visit two temples in rather limited time.
You should find taxi ranks outside all the main sights and can easily grab a cab to take you to your next destination. Fares generally seemed very low to us, used to London prices - we typically paid between 650¥ (the minimum fare) and 1,000¥ per ride on our shorter journeys, which is very little when split between four and not bad even when there are just two of you. Trips to and from the more outlying temples will be more expensive though of course, but still not prohibitive. Chris and I treated ourselves to a ride back to our hotel from the Golden Pavilion at the end of a long day "temple hopping" and still only paid about 2,300¥ (about £7 each).
All the taxis are modern vehicles and clearly well looked-after and maintained. The drivers are friendly though speak only a very little English in our experience. If you want to go anywhere other than the main sights it would be a good idea to have your destination written in Japanese to show the driver. Oh, and remember, there is no tipping in Japan! Pay what is on the clock and no more - if you try to round it up your driver is more likely to be confused than grateful!
Our first taxi ride in Kyoto took us to the must-see Kiyomizu-dera Temple.
* Since May 17, 2002 the Shinpuhkan is also operating the new Velo Taxi - bicycle taxis imported from and based on those running in Berlin. No Velo taxis run during February and March otherwise they operate from 1-5pm and can be waved down anywhere in central Kyoto namely around the following streets: Karasuma, Ayanokouji, Teramachi and Oike. Cost is 300Yen per adult, 200Yen for children aged 2-6.
picture from: http://www.pluto.dti.ne.jp/~himeko/VELO_TAXI_in_Kyoto.html
To be honest, in this city I did not needed to use any taxi as all other measures of transportations were working perfectly so we didn't needed to use any taxi. But the good point is that in many locations taxi's are easily available just in case you need one.
During my experience in Kyoto, the simplest way to get around is by taxi, though busses are good as well. Obviously, being a city with many famous sights, you will want to see everything possible... and as long as you know the names of where you want to go, cab drivers can and will take you to your desired spot. Also, in some areas you can walk from site to site, which can save a good amount of yen. Busses are nice, but knowing which one(s) to take can be a hassle... Especially if you don't know Japanese. I recommend taxis.
If you're a party of 4, sometimes it's more economical to travel in a taxi/cab around Kyoto city rather than taking the bus. There are many taxis in Kyoto but they all charge differently. To find out how much the starting rate is, look for the price stickers located on the left back passenger window.
The cheapest ones start at Yen570 (US$4.73). Avoid the black ones which start at Yen640 (US$5.32).
We found that taxis were only an option when you're stuck with a load of luggage and you're not "backpacker budget" enough to lug your belonging half way across town. While it may be tempting to just hail a taxi and jump in you'll still have to pay at least 550 yen for the first few kilometers. If you must use a taxi you'll have to cue in line outside the JR stations. If you're not near a taxi stand then you may hail a passing taxi. The drivers are usually extremely courteous & are dressed in a suit with white gloves. Their taxis are immaculate, unlike anything you'll ride in here in the US. Don't ever open the rear door from the backseat because the driver controls when the door is opened...they are automated.
When You are cruising around Kyoto..if you have a few folks in your group as your taxi driver if you can hire them for the day/several hours. With 4 people in each cab, we were able to arrange to have a cab for about 8 hours at the rate of 8000 YEN. that comes out to about US$20 per person. WELL worth it as you get right to your temple, enjoy the experience, come out and can go on to your next. Very convenient and very wise, since taxis' won't usually be haning around the temple and calling them will take time. In addition, if you have some japanese or are with someone who does, you might get some nice tips and advice.
Taxis are expensive... but sometimes convenient. From Kyoto Station to the city center is a 5-10minute ride and costs about 600Yen. The big black ones are more comfortable and don't cost any more!
This is a view of Marutamachi street, due east.
If you are coming in from Kansai International Airport (KIX), and you know where you are going AND have a map and contact number, the best way to get to Kyoto is to take the MK taxi mini-bus service 'from Kansai International Airport to your door'. Cheaper and easier than the train or bus, especially when you are carrying luggage. You should book before, but you can walk to the far left-hand exit of the departure lounge and pay your fare there. If you haven't booked, you may have to wait.
If you are planning on travelling in Japan, get a Japan rail pass. Don't ask any questions. Get one now. You'll see why when you get here and it pays for itself in a single return trip somewhere.
Use the buses and trains. Kyoto Tourist Information Center (in front of Kyoto Station), International Community House (near Keage Station and the Miyako Hotel), and Kyoto Handicraft Center (on Marutamachi, near Heian Shrine) all have free maps. There are discount tickets, too. These places will be able to fill you in on the details.
In Kyoto there are many different taxi companies. And you will find a taxi very easy. A big taxistand is at the Kyoto station.
Fares start at 620 Yen for the first two kilometers.