Updated information about arrival procedures in Japan (November 2014) can be found in this article.
So you’ve finally touched down in Tokyo. And that means, under most circumstances, that you have landed at Narita Airport. You know what that means… that means you’ve got a long way to travel from the airport to the Japanese capital.
Narita International Airport is located in the city of Narita, in Chiba prefecture… a good 45 miles or so to the east of Tokyo. It is the international hub for Japan’s two major airlines – All Nippon and Japan Airlines – and is also a hub airport for Delta Air Lines.
Built on farm land, it is also an airport with some controversy attached to it. The construction of the airport was met with demonstrations and protests from members of the Japanese population, especially those that were forced out by eminent domain from the fields where they lived and worked.
Nevertheless, Narita Airport was opened in 1978 to relieve the pressure of international traffic from Haneda Airport, which is much closer to the Tokyo metropolis. There are now plans to bring some of that international traffic back to Haneda, but for the most part, if you’re landing in Tokyo, you’ll be ending up at Narita. And thanks to the protests from the days of construction, you’ll be entering an airport with an unprecedented level of security.
As you leave your pressurized metal tube from which you’ve been agonizing for hours on end (also known as an airplane), you’ll be processed through Immigration and Customs. You’ll need your passport ready… oh, and please don’t ask me any more questions about passports.
While on the plane you will receive two forms – one form for immigration, and one form for customs. Both need to be filled out and presented to the respective authorities during your ground processing. Travelers from certain countries must also fill out a quarantine form as well. In early 2009 during the H1N1 flu pandemic, travelers from North America were mandated to fill out and submit quarantine forms – but this restriction has long been lifted.
First question to ask yourself when you exit the plane: How do you feel? Besides being jet-lagged, that is. If for some reason you don’t feel right, you can step into a Health Consultation room and speak to a doctor prior to passing through immigration.
Next comes the (usually) long line for immigration. During the immigration process, you will hand over your passport, your immigration form, and any other necessary paperwork. The immigration officials will then do a fingerprint scan on both of your index fingers, and take your picture. Once you have cleared immigration, it’s down the stairs to collect your luggage.
Near the luggage carousels are the animal quarantine and plant quarantine counters. If you are bringing – you guessed it – animals and/or plants, you’ll need to go to these counters before going through Customs.
There are two customs “channels”. The GREEN CHANNEL is for items that do not have to be declared, while the RED CHANNEL is to be used if you do have to declare an item in your possession, or if you are unsure. A customs agent will take your customs form and ask you some questions before sending you on your way.
Now I suggest that you do two things:
1) If you did not do a currency exchange of your cash on hand prior to your flight, now is the time to do it. There are Citibank ATM Machines located in the airport lobby from which you can withdraw some yen from your bank account. And since Japan is mostly cash-based, it’d be wise to take out a considerable amount.
2) If you are leaving the airport with heavy luggage, ask yourself if you really want to carry all of those bags with you. After all, under most circumstances the Japanese travel light. Fortunately there is one good way that will allow you to enter this Japanese mindset – head to the Luggage Delivery Service counters.
A luggage delivery service – called “takkyubin” in Japanese – will take any bags that you throw at them… well, you get the idea… and they in turn will deliver to nearly any location in Japan – house, business, hotel, etc – by the next business day. (Destinations that are very far away will take two days.) What’s more, it’s at an effective price that won’t burn much of a hole in your wallet, if any.
I brought three bags to Japan – a large suitcase, medium suitcase and my laptop bag. When traveling to/from the airport, or traveling long distances, I have used luggage delivery service on my largest bag and it has proven to be of great convenience to me.
Prices for luggage delivery are determined by both the weight and the total length, width and height of your bag. The largest size that is accepted is a total of 160 centimeters and a weight of 25 kilograms (63 inches and 55 pounds, if you’re not metrically-inclined).
I paid the “140 size” rate for my large bag – maximum dimensions of 140 centimeters around, with a weight of up to 20 kilograms – and my cost was just 1600 yen for every time that I used the service – whether it was for a short jaunt from the airport to Tokyo, or for a long-distance trip between Tokyo and Osaka.
Note two things: You’ll need to check ahead to each location that you’re staying at to see if they accept luggage delivery and if they can hold your luggage for you when it arrives. Second, you can use the luggage delivery service to send your bag back to the airport, but a surcharge is added and you have to send your bag two days prior to your flight.
But consider this: You can send a 160 size bag from Tokyo to Osaka overnight for 1600 yen. By comparison, if you were to use a major American shipping carrier to send something of the same size and weight overnight from New York, NY to Rochester, NY – about the same distance as it is from Tokyo to Osaka – the cost would be about $240. Isn’t it worth it?
Ok! You have yen. And you’ve used some of it to send your bags. And now it’s time to go to Tokyo… but how?
You basically have three transit options, if someone is not around to pick you up: TAXI, BUS, TRAIN.
TAXI: This only works if you’re willing to spend the amount of a few night’s stay in the average Tokyo hotel just on your taxi ride from the Airport. If traveling with a group, this will cut the per-person cost down… Flat-fare cabs at a reduced rate to certain Tokyo landmarks are available as well. Hey, you can’t beat door to door service, but if you’re not a rich person, it’s best to look at the other two options.
BUS: A bus is a great way to travel from the airport to Tokyo. The company that runs the bus service is called “Airport Limousine Bus“, and they can be distinguished by their buses in white and orange colors. They provide direct services to major hotels and transit hubs in Tokyo. Service is regular with many departures every hour to different destinations, although your particular destination may be served once an hour or so.
One destination that is served on a regular basis – every 10 minutes or so – is T-CAT, or Tokyo City Air Terminal. This is located in Hakozaki, in Tokyo’s Chuo Ward. At a price of 2900 yen per person (half fare for children), the bus promises a 55 minute bus ride. T-CAT is connected to the Tokyo Subway, which can be used to get to your destination.
Buses to major hotels cost 3000 yen (half fare for children), but are timed to take anywhere from 90-120 minutes to make the journey. While the door to door service is an advantage, the drawback that you may get snarled in traffic jams along the way.
TRAIN: The final way to travel from the airport to Tokyo, and the method that I’ve been using every time. Unfortunately it’s also something that I will have to discuss in another article.
But in brief: Two railroads offer competing services: Japan Railways and the private Keisei Railway.
The Japan Railways Narita Express offers direct service to Tokyo Station and other major stations in Tokyo, such as Shinagawa, Shinjuku and Ikebukuro. Service to nearby Yokohama is also provided. The Narita Express can be used with a Japan Rail Pass.
Keisei’s premium service is called the Skyliner. The Skyliner is cheaper, and runs into two stations in Tokyo: Nippori and Ueno.
Both the Narita Express and Skyliner require seat reservations. In additon, both railways operate cheaper commuter trains that are slower but at a greatly reduced cost.
In all instances, trains will allow you to bypass all of the traffic jams that you might run into when taking a bus. On the other hand, you may have to do some more navigating on other train lines to get to your destination in Tokyo.
I’ll spell out the train options from Narita Airport in my next posting.
Thanks for reading… I appreciate the comments that I’ve received from those reading. If you would like me to address something pertaining to Japanese travel in a future post, please let me know!