Posted by: jrhorse | January 24, 2015

Last-minute fare from New York to Tokyo $922 round-trip

012415_EWRNRT

A last minute fare exists on United Airlines for travel from New York to Tokyo, costing just $922 round-trip. It’s a great deal if you want to spend a weekend in Tokyo.

You must depart from Newark Airport on the morning of Wednesday, January 28 and connect in San Francisco, arriving in Haneda Airport at 10:35 PM on Thursday, January 29. You are then free in Tokyo on Friday, Saturday and Sunday before departing early Monday morning, February 2, from Haneda on an All Nippon flight to Hong Kong, connecting after a 6 hour layover to the nonstop United Airlines flight from Hong Kong to Newark Airport. Arrival time back in Newark is 1:50 PM on February 2. You can check up to two bags at no charge for your itinerary.

The information in this post is accurate as of Saturday, January 24, 2015 at 1 PM Eastern Time and is subject to change.

Posted by: jrhorse | January 24, 2015

Double American Airlines Miles to/from Japan

Announced this week is a promotion for American Airlines AAdvantage frequent flier members to earn double the normal number of miles on select routes to/from Japan and a few other cities in Asia that are operated by either American Airlines or Japan Airlines. If you are big on frequent flier miles, this is a promotion you may wish to consider.

The offer is valid on all First class, all Business class, and “select” Economy fares on NONSTOP American and Japan Airlines flights between Tokyo Haneda airport and San Francisco, and between Tokyo Narita and the following cities: Chicago (ORD), Dallas (DFW), Los Angeles (LAX), San Diego (SAN), New York (JFK), Boston (BOS), and Vancouver (YVR). Click here to read the full terms and conditions, and to register. You must book and complete all travel by March 21, 2015.

In addition, double miles are being offered on nonstop flights on Japan Airlines from Tokyo to the following Asian cities: Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Dailan, Jakarta, Hanoi, Singapore and Delhi. Click here to read the full terms and conditions, and to register. You must book and complete all travel by March 20, 2015. Blackout dates are: From Tokyo, February 23-March 1, and returning to Tokyo, February 13-18.

Read the terms and conditions carefully, because the most discounted fares are ineligible for the double miles promotion.

For example, if you wanted to fly from New York to Japan in February (from the 4th to the 11th), I sampled a fare of $1,328 round trip, connecting in Los Angeles on the way to Tokyo and connecting in Chicago on the way back. You’d think you’d earn the double miles on the Los Angeles-Tokyo and Tokyo-Chicago legs, right? But upon closer inspection, the prospective flights would be booked in O and Q classes, which are all ineligible for the double miles offer.

To see what would be eligible, we can go to Google ITA Matrix and search for the fares. Pull up the advance routing codes and enter for both legs of the trip:

AA,JL+ /f bc=s

This forces the matrix to search for any direct flight on AA (American) or JL (Japan Airlines) with the booking code of S, which is the least expensive fare bucket permitted for the double miles.

When we search now, we get a result of $1,704 round-trip, which is for the nonstop from New York to Tokyo on JAL, booked through American Airlines codeshare. Quite a hike from the original $1,328 fare quoted!

If we add an X to the routing codes to look for connecting flights, so that it looks like this:

AA,JL+ X /f bc=s

We then get a $1,696 round-trip fare, connecting in Los Angeles. For that, you might as well pony up $10 for the nonstop!

If the matrix does not come up with any results, you can change the S (in bc=s) to the next letter that is permitted, such as V, L, etc.

It turns out that you CAN book this round-trip on the American Airlines website, and the S fare will show up. In case it does not, however, you might have to give American Airlines a call and ask them to make a reservation that is eligible for the double miles bonus, and hold the reservation. Then you can go online to your AAdvantage account to complete the ticketing. I have read some people that have done this to save on the $25 American Airlines telephone charge, but I’ve never tried this on my own.

In effect, you will be paying extra to secure the double miles. How many miles would you get?

Great Circle Distance of 6,745 miles between New York JFK and Tokyo Narita
x 2 (round-trip) =
13,490 miles
x 2 (Double miles bonus) =
26,980 miles

Congratulations, you just earned yourself a round-trip MilesAAver domestic ticket for one person on American Airlines within the contiguous US and Canada! Essentially, any nonstop AA or JAL flight over 6,250 miles booked accordingly will give you enough miles for the free domestic ticket. Boston, Chicago and Dallas flights are over this number, while flights from the West Coast will leave you a little short.

If you have an American Airlines credit card, you can earn bonus miles from the cost of the airfare… 3,408 miles in the New York-Tokyo example.

Is it worth it to pay the extra to secure the miles bonus? In an era where other airlines are switching miles-earning to a revenue model, which to many is making American Airlines the more frequent-flier airline (failed grammer of the day on that one), this is an offer to seriously consider. Then again, if you are more price-conscious, don’t worry about double miles. Besides, for February 4-11, the cheapest fare is still $1,328 on American. :)

As always, I disclaim any responsibility if you decide to do some fare-hunting. Corrections from any savvy travelers out there would be greatly appreciated! The fares in this post are correct as of January 24 2015,12 Noon Eastern Time, and are always subject to change.

Posted by: jrhorse | January 20, 2015

Down goes the ANA fuel surcharge

ANA, one of Japan’s two major international airlines, has announced decreased fuel surcharges on International fares, in line with what JAL announced last month. The fuel rates can be found at this link. Like JAL, the ANA fuel surcharge will drop to US $173 on flights between Japan and many long-distance destinations such as North America, Europe and Oceania. This fuel surcharge will not take effect, however, until February 1st. Fares on ANA ticketed/purchased BEFORE February 1st will still be subjected to the higher US $259 fuel surcharge on the routes listed above.

It pays to wait, especially if you are considering ANA’s new Houston-Tokyo route launching later this year.

Posted by: jrhorse | January 11, 2015

New Narita Express Ticket to be sold starting March 2015

Welcome to the first post of 2015. Before I begin, a quick thanks to those who are reading my blog entries and asking their questions. I will continue to help to the best of my ability and notify you of any interesting news regarding travel around Japan. For example, in this post.

East Japan Railway (aka JR East) has announced in a Japanese press release from last week that they are introducing a new ticket for foreigners traveling into and out of Narita Airport: The N’EX Tokyo Round-Trip Ticket. For a fare of 4,000 yen, the ticket includes an inbound trip from Narita Airport into Tokyo on the Narita Express, and then transportation by commuter service to any JR station in a designated area – the area of which includes most of Tokyo and the area around Yokohama, extending all the way towards Ofuna and Kamakura (home of the great daibutsu and gateway to Enoshima). Then, within 14 days of your initial trip you reverse the steps to board the Narita Express on the way back to Narita Airport.

The Narita Express is one of the premium trains that operates to and from Narita Airport. It has all-reserved seating and, with few exceptions, makes no stops between Tokyo station and the airport. It is clearly the most accessible train as well, as it stops at some of the major train stations in and near Tokyo – including Shinagawa, Shibuya, Shinjuku and Yokohama. A few trains also serve Ikebukuro, Omiya and Ofuna, and one service even reaches out all the way to Mount Takao on the western edge of Tokyo.

Regular fares on the Narita Express range anywhere from 3,020 yen one-way for a trip to Tokyo, up to 4,290 yen for a trip to Yokohama. With this discounted ticket for foreigners, on the other hand, it costs just 2,000 yen each way.

You will certainly see more details about this new round-trip ticket on the JR East English website soon.

There is a drawback to this, however…. the excellent 1,500 yen one-way ticket (Tokyo Direct Ticket), valid for a one-way trip out of Narita Airport, will be discontinued on March 14, 2015 – the same day that the new Round Trip ticket will be introduced.

The new deal is still good, and it’s still worth considering if you are planning to arrive and depart Narita Airport in Tokyo on your next Japan journey. There are a few conditions, though, where this new ticket would NOT be the best value, namely:

- If you are traveling “Open Jaw”, that is, landing at Narita Airport and departing Japan from another airport, or vice versa
OR
- If you are traveling on a rail pass such as the Japan Rail Pass, JR East Rail Pass or JR Kanto Area Pass

If you are on an open jaw, or if your rail pass will not cover the day you are traveling out of the airport (if, for example, you plan to start using your pass on another date), then the better values for train travel out of Narita is the Keisei Skyliner, which costs 2,200 yen for a trip if you buy an online voucher in advance. Once you are in the city, transfer to the subway or JR to reach your final destination. A trip to Tokyo station using this method costs a total of 2,360 yen, while a trip to Shinjuku costs 2,400 yen. A transfer at Nippori is recommended, as it directly connects to several JR lines including the Yamanote Line (which loops around the city).

Naturally, if you use a rail pass that covers both journeys to and from Narita Airport – such as the ones listed above – there is no need to buy the new Round Trip Ticket, and you can make seat reservations at a staffed JR ticket counter by showing your pass.

Take the time to research your trip, and see what sort of trip is the better deal for you!

Of course, remember there are other ways to travel from Narita Airport. Here is my primer on travel from an airport to your hotel.

Posted by: jrhorse | December 16, 2014

A few Christmas gifts from ANA and Japan Airlines

I have some interesting news to report from the two Japanese airlines, All Nippon (ANA) and Japan Airlines (JAL), which are sort of a little Christmas gift for those interested in using those airlines to fly to Japan… though you are going to have to wait one or two months if you want to take full advantage.

Star Alliance carrier ANA has announced wonderful news that they are going to increase their free checked baggage allowance from one piece of luggage to two pieces. This is a revision from a policy announced last year that reduced the free checked baggage allowance. But don’t itch to get your ANA tickets right away.. the policy applies only to economy tickets purchased on or after January 8, 2015. So if you purchase a ticket prior to that, you will still be allowed only one free checked bag. The new two bag policy is wonderful news for those who want to bring home more souvenirs from Japan, given the weakness of the yen and the new tax refund policy for foreigners. The new policy matches the current policy of JAL and a few other carriers, but keep in mind that ANA’s checked bags in Economy must weigh no more than 23 kg/50 lbs each, and size must not exceed 158 cm/62 inches for the total of length, width and height.

On another ANA-related story, they will be launching nonstop service from United’s hub in Houston to Tokyo in June 2015.

You may have heard in the news that while crude oil prices have reached a 5 year low, many airlines are still keeping their fuel surcharges high and are not dropping them … prompting some in the US congress to consider launching an investigation. But if you are a fan of Oneworld’s Japan Airlines, you will be happy to know that they are the first airline to reduce their fuel surcharges. JAL monitors fuel costs every two months and revises their fuel surcharge policies on that same frequency. They recently announced that they will be amending fuel surcharges for tickets issued between February 1 and March 31, 2015. This means of course, if you purchase your ticket BEFORE February 1, you will still be subject to the higher fuel surcharge. Examples: The current fuel surcharge of US$259.00 for flights from North America, Europe and Oceania to Japan will be reduced to US$173.00 in February and March. The surcharge from Hawaii would drop from US$166.00 to US$105.00, and the surcharge from the Philippines would drop from US$80.00 to US$49.00.

Whether it’s the new two bag allowance on ANA or the reduced JAL fuel surcharges (one would expect ANA to follow suit on that, too), good things come to those who wait…. to purchase their tickets.

Posted by: jrhorse | November 25, 2014

New Rail Passes for Japan in 2015

Last week, West Japan Railway – the JR company that runs trains on the western part of the Japanese mainland for the most part – announced a new set of rail passes for foreign tourists visiting the west part of the country, while announcing an expansion of rail passes that already exist. In order to qualify, you must be in Japan as a tourist – specifically, the “Temporary Visitor” stamp must be on your passport.

These are additions and changes that are being made by JR West – the national Japan Rail Pass right now remains unchanged as far as coverage.

Available from March 1, 2015:

San’yo-San’in Area Pass: 20,000 yen for 7 consecutive days (1,000 yen discount if purchased overseas)

San’yo-Hiroshima Area Pass: 14,000 yen for 5 consecutive days (1,000 yen discount if purchased overseas)

Hiroshima-Yamaguchi Area Pass: 12,000 yen for 5 consecutive days (1,000 yen discount if purchased overseas)

Kansai Area Passes from JR West will have coverage expanded, and prices will go up for tickets sold on or after March 1, 2015:

Kansai Area Pass: 1, 2, 3 and 4 consecutive day passes ranging from 2,300-6,500 yen (100-200 yen discount if purchased overseas)

Kansai Area Wide Pass: 9,000 yen for 5 consecutive days (500 yen discount if purchased overseas)

All passes are sold at a discount of 50% for children aged 6-11.

These will replace some other rail passes: The JR West San’yo Area Pass and the San’yo-Shikoku-Kyushu Area Passes will both be discontinued when the above passes take effect.

I will talk more about these passes soon, but in the meantime you can read the brochure on JR West’s website: https://www.westjr.co.jp/global/en/

Posted by: jrhorse | November 19, 2014

The To-Do List for my next Japan trip

I figure I would share with you some things that I have not done in Japan in my three trips there so far (2004, 2008, 2013) and what I would like to do on my next journey, whenever it happens. I hate to admit it but the way the yen is going, THIS year would probably have been better than LAST year for a trip :)

I don’t think that my wife Jordan and I will be returning to Japan in the very near future… maybe sometime next year we will re-evaluate. I am setting the year 2019 (when I turn 38) as the “due date” target, though of course I’d like to go much sooner than that. Why 2019? It is quite possible that we will get to watch some international rugby (Japan will be hosting the Rugby World Cup that year).

So in order of preference:

1) VISIT A RYOKAN

You will probably all be stunned at this, but this is the truth. I have NEVER been to a Ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) in my three trips. I’ve traveled at a pretty quick pace, which is one of the reasons why this never happened. I am assured by some friends, however, that an attempt WILL be made on our next visit to go to one.

2) GO TO TOKYO SKY TREE

Our plans to visit Tokyo Sky Tree in September 2013 were scuttled by long waits to purchase tickets and go up. As we had other plans for the day, we had to move forward. I would have to say that this is my “pet peeve” from the trip. They don’t make it easy for foreigners to purchase tickets to the Sky Tree (at least, that was the case for us). The Sky Tree is so popular, thus the large crowds and long waits. You can make advance reservations for a time slot on the Internet, but only in Japanese, and with a Japanese credit card. If I am unsuccessful next time, I might just head on over to the Sunshine Building in Ikebukuro, which a few of my friends recently visited with rave reviews.
Otherwise, until they offer English bookings the only real way for a foreigner to visit is to:
– Ask a friend living in Japan to purchase tickets for them and invite them along to go up,
– Purchase from a tour agency as a prepaid voucher or as part of a tour
– Book a hotel that has a plan including admission to Tokyo Sky Tree, or
– Just plan to spend a full day at Tokyo Sky Tree, budgeting time of arrival, getting a set time to return, purchasing tickets, returning again, and going up

3) VISIT HOKKAIDO OR KYUSHU (probably one or the other on a single trip)

These are the two prefectures that I have not visited yet, as I made a trip to Shikoku in 2008. While there I saw most of the shrine maiden’s dance at Kompira Shrine that started a three-day festival. Right now I think the lean is toward Hokkaido. It’ll become a little easier in 2016 when the bullet train opens into the southern part of Hokkaido, but many of the main cities in Kyushu are now served by the bullet train line that has been linked with the mainland since 2011.

4) CONSIDER A DETOUR TO KANAZAWA

The newest bullet train line to Kanazawa will open up next year (March 2015), which will make it easier to visit a city that has an impressive new train station and the garden known as Kenroku-en, considered one of the best in Japan.

5) TRANSITING THE TOKAIDO ROAD (or some other ‘golden route’)

One of the many “side projects” I have created is to trace the old Tokaido Road and determine the best way to travel it by train. If we had a few days to stop at a few cities along the way, it would be a great way to experience more of Japan. Actually, I might have written a post about it…. ah yes, five years ago (which means it might need updating soon… :P)

6) TAKE A BUS?

Another way we could possibly experience more of Japan is to take a long bus ride in between cities. Buses have to make a few rest stops, and I have recently read about how Japanese expressway rest stops (known as “Service Areas” or the smaller “Parking Areas”) are becoming a big hit for the variety of food and souvenir options offered. Then again, major train stations will all offer similar fare :)

What is on YOUR to-do list for your next trip to Japan?

Posted by: jrhorse | November 11, 2014

So You’ve Landed In Japan – Airport to Hotel

Last week I wrote about what you can expect during customs and immigration procedures when landing in Japan. Today I’ll write about the best ways to get to your hotel, or wherever you may be staying the first night. Consider this an update to what I wrote several years ago.

Many of Japan’s major airports are a good distance away from city centers. This is true for Narita Airport serving Tokyo, Kansai Airport serving Osaka, and Chubu (Centrair) Airport serving Nagoya – the latter two of which were built in the middle of the sea on man-made islands.

When traveling from the airport to the place of your first stay, you must carefully consider the options that are available, and determine what will be best for your budget.

Cash

First, naturally, you will want to make sure that you have some cash on hand, especially in a country where cash is still king (but contact-less cards are still trying to change that). As soon as you finish the arrival formalities, the first thing you will want to look for is a place to obtain cash – either an ATM machine or currency exchange.

Preferably, you will want to look for an ATM machine as they tend to offer better exchange and conversion rates than the staffed currency exchange counters. Many of the major banks in Japan will have ATMs in the arrivals area of the international airports. The ones that you will want to look for are: JP Bank (Japan Post), Seven Bank (7 Eleven) and Citibank. These ATMs will accept International banking cards, not just at the airport but at all of their locations. They also offer an option to conduct your transaction in English. When you continue around the country, you can access JP Bank ATMs at many Japan Post Office branches, and Seven Bank at a nearby 7 Eleven convenience store. Citibank can be found in major cities in Japan – though bear in mind that Citibank is looking to sell its personal banking services and therefore their ATMs will probably not be along for much longer.

If you need to go to a currency exchange counter, then my recommendation is to take only what you need for a short period of time (including transit out of the airport, meals for the first day or two, etc). Once you have arrived at where you are staying, locate an ATM so that you can get a better exchange rate.

Luggage Delivery Service

If you have any large pieces of luggage, it could be cumbersome to haul them around. That’s when the Luggage Delivery Service, sometimes called Takkyubin or Takuhaibin, can come in handy.

True story – I knew nothing about luggage delivery service when I visited Japan for the first time, and so proceeded from Narita Airport into Tokyo by train. Upon arrival, it was a mistake for me to go up the escalator with my two pieces of large luggage. When I got to the top, a wheel from one of my luggage pieces got caught and I tumbled over to the ground. Japanese people behind me were quick to hop over me as if they were in a hurdle race, with cries of “Daijoubu desu ka?” (Are you all right?)

I vowed never to make the mistake of hauling all of my luggage on my own again! So on successive journeys I would pack whatever I didn’t need for the short term in my large suitcase, and any items I absolutely need in a smaller suitcase. Then I pay to have the larger piece of luggage forwarded to my hotel, which typically occurs the very next day (in occasional instances, two days).

What I would also do is print out, in English and Japanese, the address of where I would like my luggage to be forwarded – in my case, the hotel. The address of your hotel should be on the confirmation e-mail that you receive for your stay. To find the address in Japanese, look up the hotel on the Internet. In some instances, a Google search will turn up the hotel address in Japanese. Otherwise you can go to the hotel’s Japanese web page. You’ll want to look for a mark that looks like this: 〒  This is the postal mark for addresses in Japan. It will be followed by a series of numbers (the postal code) and the address of the hotel.

Here’s an example: For the hotel I stayed at in Kyoto last time, Citadines Karasuma Hotel Kyoto… If you were to search this on Google: Well what do you know, they have the Japanese address right there:
下京区五条通烏丸東入松屋町432, 京都市, Kyoto 600-8105, Japan
You can easily copy and paste this into a printout that you can show to the person at the luggage delivery service desk, in case they cannot understand English.

The Luggage Delivery Service charges by piece, with different pricing brackets based on the size of your item and its weight. Whatever falls into the larger of these two is the price that is charged.

For a piece of luggage that falls into the bracket where the maximum weight is 20 kg (44 lbs), you can currently expect to pay around 1,600 yen to send your luggage short range, from the airport to the major city closest to the airport. This drops to as low as around 800 yen for light or small-sized luggage and/or parcels. You can also use luggage delivery service when traveling across Japan, and for return service to the airport – your hotel’s front desk will arrange the service and process payment for you, or you can bring your luggage to a convenience store and they will probably be able to offer the service as well. Note that if you use the service back to the airport, you will normally have to send your luggage two days in advance of your travel date, and a small surcharge will be added to the regular rate.

With your bulkier luggage safely on its own, take your smaller luggage with you as you proceed to your final destination.

There might be one time where you do NOT need to use a luggage delivery service…

Airport Limousine Bus

The Limousine Bus is the name given to many of the public bus services operating between the airports and cities, either stopping at major hotels or transit hubs. Not only are the buses comfortable and convenient to use, they will naturally take your luggage as well. Each passenger is allowed two free bags to be “checked” into the belly of the bus.

If you are going to a hotel that happens to be served by a limousine bus, then it’s not necessary to use luggage delivery. On the other hand, if you are going to a major transit hub, such as a train station, and you have to continue from there to your final destination, luggage delivery might still want to be considered.

Many bus operators are offering competitive discounts for travel out of the airport, from discounted coupons to the actual fares. For example, one airport bus service runs from Narita to Tokyo Station every hour for as little as 900-1000 yen. These buses, however, usually allow just one piece of checked baggage per person.

Trains

Another way to travel out of the airport – and my personal preference – is by train. Each of the major airports will have at least one, sometimes two, train companies that run services into the main city and beyond. Japan Railways offers services out of Narita and Kansai airports. Other private companies compete for passengers too: Keisei Railway from Narita and Nankai Railway from Kansai. Only one train company – Meitetsu – runs trains out of Nagoya.

Services offered range from cheaper, regular commuter trains to premium limited-stop services. From Narita it’s the JR Narita Express or the Keisei Skyliner. From Kansai it’s the JR Haruka or Nankai Rapi:t. From Meitetsu Airport it’s myu-sky trains (symbolized μ-SKY). Like the limousine buses, many of the train operators are competing for passengers – something that has become very aggressive in recent years.

Taxis

Taxis from the airport to your hotel are only good in one of two situations – you either have a lot of money, or you have enough passengers to reasonably split the cost. Taxis, while offering a personalized service, are very expensive to use from the airport to a major city, simply because of the large distance in between. As an example, a cab hailed directly by yourself from Narita Airport to a random Tokyo hotel – let’s say the Hotel Mystays Asakusabashi, the last hotel I stayed in – costs approximately 20,000 yen for the distance traveled, PLUS highway toll fees of another 2,000-2,500 yen depending on the road used. This can change based on traffic congestion. For that price you could comfortably stay in a Tokyo business hotel for several nights.

The best bet, if you have to use a taxi from the airport, is to use a flat rate or fixed fare taxi. Taxi cabs from these lines offer a set price for your journey, and will generally be a little cheaper than a direct taxi hail – though highway tolls are usually NOT included in the price.

You can also book taxis in advance – which are sometimes referred to as hired taxis. Most of the fares from hires DO include highway tolls. Some travel agencies also sell airport transfers by taxi.

Remember to not accept taxi rides from strangers. Licensed taxis in Japan will have a GREEN license plate, as opposed to the white and yellow license plates of regular vehicles.

Shared Shuttle Van

A small number of companies also offer shared shuttles, much like SuperShuttle in the US, where you ride from the airport to your place of accommodation with other passengers. Example: at last check, there is a service from Narita Airport into Tokyo which runs the shared shuttle for 4,800 yen per person each way, while a service between Kansai Airport and Kyoto runs for 3,600 yen per person each way.

My recommendations

Obviously, you’ll want to do your research to figure out the best way to get from the airport to Tokyo, with your budget as a primary factor. Here’s a checklist for you to consider, assuming you have not made any advance booking of transportation.

– After leaving customs and immigration, do you need cash? If so, you can go to an ATM at the airport (or less recommended, currency exchange) to withdraw Japanese yen.

Does a direct bus serve the hotel that you are staying at? If so, go to the bus counter and purchase tickets for the bus.

Do you have a lot of luggage? If you do, go to the luggage delivery counter and make arrangements to have some of your luggage sent to your place of lodging, paying the appropriate fee.

– My suggestion for your next step is to take public transportation – bus or train – from the airport into the city.

– After you are in the city, then take either local trains or a short-range taxi to your final destination.

Here’s how I would apply my checklist if I were traveling from Narita Airport to Hotel Mystays Asakusabashi:

– When I land, I could probably use some cash to cover any expenses during my first few days, so I will want to go to an ATM.

– Learning from my mistake on trip #1, I would go to the luggage delivery counter to forward my large piece(s) of luggage.

– After that, there are a few things that I can consider, noting that the hotel is near two train stations: a JR station that is one stop away from Tokyo’s Akihabara, the electronics district, as well as a subway line that offers direct and connecting service to Narita and Haneda Airports.

Note: Number 1 will change from March 2015 when the special one-way price is discontinued.

1) If I wanted to take something comfortable, I could take the Japan Railways Narita Express. Right now, they are offering a special one-way price of 1,500 yen per person for foreign tourists, traveling from Narita Airport to ANY JR station in Tokyo. You take the Narita Express into the city, then change to a regular commuter train to go to a station near your destination. So, I could take three trains – Narita Express to Tokyo Station, Yamanote Line to Akihabara, and Sobu Line to Asakusabashi  – and pay just 1,500 yen for the entire trip. If I feel like taking three trains is too much, I could get off at Tokyo Station and change to a taxi, which would cost an extra 1,600 yen (800 yen per passenger for 2 people).

2) I could take the Keisei Skyliner, which is on the other train line that runs out of Narita Airport. It’s the fastest, traveling between the airport and Tokyo’s Ueno in as little as 41 minutes. Keisei sells discounted vouchers for foreign tourists at a cost of 2,200 yen (a 270 yen discount) on their website, which are then turned in for tickets on the next available Skyliner. With this I could go to Keisei Ueno station and take a taxi from there to the hotel at a cost of around 1,100 yen (550 yen per passenger for 2 people). If I felt like continuing on by train, I could get off at Nippori, which is directly connected by the JR, and take two trains to Asakusabashi for only 160 yen.

3) If I arrived early enough in the day, I could just take a commuter train from Narita Airport directly to Asakusabashi station on the Toei Asakusa Subway Line – only a few blocks from the hotel – for 1,290 yen if I didn’t mind the other commuters. If arriving later in the day I’d have to change trains once but the fare would still be the same.

4) If I wanted to, I could still use the limousine bus…. Right now, the limousine bus service is offering an anniversary campaign fare of 1,900 yen (a discount of 1,100 yen) from Narita Airport to the company’s Tokyo City Air Terminal (TCAT) in Hakozaki, good until the end of 2014. From TCAT I could go to the connected subway station and take two subway trains to Asakusabashi (280 yen) or take a taxi to the hotel (1,600 yen for the ride).

5) I could also take the budget 1,000 yen bus into Tokyo. I could get off at Tokyo Station and take two JR trains to Asakusabashi (160 yen) or take a taxi to the hotel (1,600 yen).

Once I’ve finally decided how to get in to the city and I finally arrive, my luggage that was sent from the airport can be expected to arrive the next day.

So as you can see, there are so many things to consider. With a little bit of planning, you can find the best option for your needs at the price that you want to pay.

One more thing - if you plan to do a lot of travel in Japan then you might want to consider some form of rail pass. If you use the rail pass from the day that you arrive, and it’s valid for a journey that you want to use, then that journey should be your primary option. For example, if I was on a Japan Rail Pass going from Narita Airport to Asakusabashi, I would stick with the Narita Express and JR trains to my destination. My travel is included in the Japan Rail Pass completely. Or I could just pay for a taxi to go from Tokyo Station to the hotel, as described above.

Any questions? I’ll be happy to answer them. Thanks!

Posted by: jrhorse | November 4, 2014

So You’ve Landed in Japan – Customs and Immigration

Today I wanted to offer a brief overview of what you can expect when you land in Japan, mostly in the form of customs and immigration procedures. No matter what International airport you land at in Japan, the arrival procedures will be the same. This applies for all foreign visitors to Japan.

Of course, you will want to ensure that you do not need a visa to enter the country, and for many travelers this is the case. Those coming from 66 countries, including the US, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and the European Union countries can stay visa free in Japan for up to 15, 30 or 90 days. The law states that the visa period is the “shortest period long enough to cover the purpose of stay of the foreign national”… though in my three trips to Japan, each of which were two weeks in duration, I was given 90 days every time. Any stay over 90 days will require some sort of visa application beforehand.

Prior to landing, the flight attendants on your flight will hand out two (possibly three) forms to fill out. One is the Embarkation/Disembarkation Card, a rectangular document with a detachment in the middle. This form is for the immigration authorities. Another is the Declaration Form for Japanese customs authorities that has the words “Customs Declaration” at the top. Some travelers on certain flights, or arriving from certain countries, must also fill out a yellow Quarantine Form from the Ministry of Health and submit it upon arrival. In this article, I’ll just write about the first two in this article.

Once you step out of the airplane, you will walk down the designated corridor to begin the immigration procedures. Along the way, you will pass an international connection counter. If you are connecting through the airport to another international flight, you would check in here and then go to security to connect to your international flight. Most people arriving in Japan, though, will proceed to the immigration/customs procedures directly.

There have been a few instances in the past where those transferring to domestic flights at certain airports would go through the International connection counter to connect to the domestic flight – in those instances, their domestic flights would be considered “international”. For example, if memory serves me right Japan Airlines used to have connecting flights from Narita in Tokyo to Nagoya designated for international passengers…. in which case, customs procedures would be carried out in Nagoya, not Tokyo. These days, though, I don’t think they exist, so if you are connecting to any domestic flight you will have to go through immigration/customs at your first airport.

Now let’s look at the embarkation/disembarkation card. It’s a pretty straightforward form to fill out, but I’ll go over the key points.

japanimmigrationFirst, there is ONE FORM PER PASSENGER, so each person fills out their own card. You should NOT detach the form yourself. Immigration authorities will detach and keep the “disembarkation” part, and staple the “embarkation” part to your passport. The “embarkation” part is collected by immigration when you depart Japan.

Your NAME on the form is written in the form of Last Name, then any Given Names.

DATE OF BIRTH is written down on this form as DAY, MONTH, YEAR. So, March 1, 1980 would be written 01/03/80.

LAST FLIGHT NO./VESSEL should be the airline flight that you are flying into Japan on. So if you were, for example, flying in on United Airlines Flight 79 from Newark, NJ, you would write in United 79 or UA 79 (the two-letter designation for United).

INTENDED ADDRESS IN JAPAN should be the location of your first place of lodging. So it should be the name of your first hotel, or the address of where you are staying if it’s a residence.

On the back, you will have to answer some immigration questions – including the amount of cash in your possession upon landing – and sign the form.

You can fill out the “embarkation” part right away, if you wish, with the flight you plan to leave Japan on. It’s probably best to fill this out at the same time as “disembarkation” so as to not worry about it later. As stated before, the “embarkation” part will be collected by immigration when you depart.

Now let’s move on to the Customs Form. A direct link to the customs form can be found here, on the Japan Customs site. There is ONE CUSTOMS FORM PER FAMILY, so if you have a family of three on the trip you only have to fill out one form for everybody.

At the top of the form, you’re asked again for your Flight number/vessel, and also for your point of embarkation. This is the city from which your flight to Japan departed. So, if you were on United Flight 79, for example, you would write in Newark in this section.

Read both sides of the customs form and answer the questions. Pay close attention to the duty-free allowances. If you are carrying anything in excess of the duty-free allowance you have to declare it.

Now let’s review the procedures for arrival.

First up is QUARANTINE. Most passengers will just walk through Quarantine, but if you were given a yellow quarantine form to fill out you should surrender it here. Next to the Quarantine Area is a Health Consultation Room. You should check in here if you think you feel ill or sick upon arrival – you can be checked out by a doctor here. A few years back, passengers from North America had to fill out quarantine forms during the H1N1 epidemic.

Next up is IMMIGRATION, where you will go to the line for foreigners and turn in your passport and the filled out embarkation/disembarkation card. Only one person at a time should visit the immigration officer. The officer will take a photo of you, and scan your index fingers from both hands. This is part of recently-introduced anti-terrorism laws, and a growing number of countries – including the United States – are instituting these procedures for foreigners.

After that you will claim your baggage and go to CUSTOMS. As in many countries, there is a Green Channel and a Red Channel. If you have nothing to declare, go to the green channel. If you have items to declare or are not sure, go to the red channel. In any case, you will present your passport and the customs declaration form to the officer, who will conduct an interview with you on the spot with questions such as “Where are you from”, “How long are you visiting”, and “Do you have anything to declare.” One time, a female customs officer at Narita kept me for a few minutes asking about my precise itinerary… “So you will take the shinkansen on this date to go to Osaka?” , etc.

If you have any duties to pay, you have to pay them to the cashier next to customs before leaving. Also, Japanese airports have quarantine stations for plants and animals, including pets and meat products. You will have check in at one of these stations before proceeding through the main customs area. If bringing animals, you will have to make arrangements in advance with Japanese Customs – though many visitors, of course, should not bring their pets unless they are intending to stay for quite a while.

Congratulations, you have completed the arrival procedures! That means it’s time to either connect to your domestic flight or move on to your first destination in the Japanese city that you are arriving at. I will probably tackle some arrival tips in future posts. In the meantime, here are a few more sources of information to look at concerning Arrival and Departure procedures in Japan.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs Guide to Visas
Japan Customs for Passengers
Japan Airlines has a page with the videos shown to their arriving passengers at Tokyo Narita, Osaka Kansai and Nagoya airports.
Tokyo Narita Airport Arrival and Departure Procedures (click the correct terminal for more information)
Tokyo Haneda Airport Guide to Departures and Arrivals (International departures/arrivals, and terminal transfers)
Osaka Kansai Airport Arrivals and Departures
Nagoya Centrair Airport Arrival/Departure Procedures
Fukuoka Airport English Website – Click on the procedures appropriate for your flight
Mount Fuji Shizuoka Airport Boarding and Arrival Procedures
Ibaraki Airport Boarding and Arrival Procedures (International Flights)

Posted by: jrhorse | October 29, 2014

Hilton Japan 50% Off Sale – Ends October 31

THIS SALE IS OVER

A quick post to point out that the Hilton Hotels in Japan are offering a sale for 50% off of the regular rates of 11 properties in Japan. This includes three Hilton and Conrad properties in Tokyo as well as the Hilton near Narita Airport for those who need shuteye right away after their long flight.

The link to the sale is here: http://hiltonhoteldeals.com/jpsale/en/

You must act fast because the sale ends on Friday, October 31 at 1 AM Eastern Time (which is 2 PM Japan Standard Time).

These are high end hotels, which usually carry high end prices. There are probably better deals to be found for lodging, but if you don’t mind a little bit of high class then these deals are worth considering.

At the Conrad Tokyo in the Shimbashi district, for example, the rate is currently 30,000 yen per night for a king room double occupancy, compared to 60,000 yen a night. The Hilton Tokyo Bay – which is an official hotel of the Tokyo Disney Resort and offers connections to both Disneyland and Disney Sea – is 10,000 yen a night instead of 20,000.

The above quotes are samples for a one night, weekday stay in late November and may not include  taxes or additional fees. As with all promotions, everything is subject to availability.

Kudos to the Magic of Miles blog for the information! Their post is here: http://magicofmiles.boardingarea.com/2014/10/28/promo-hilton-50-japan-south-korea-flash-sale/

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