Posted by: jrhorse | December 13, 2016

Japan Rail Online Ticketing to Expand for Foreigners

Welcome to another Christmas season everyone! This year has been a real roller-coaster ride for me. Lots of things going on in my life, including a recent heart infection that hospitalized me for a few days. With bills to pay, I am not sure if I will be able to make a return trip to Japan next year like I want to, but I will try my very best!

If you plan on visiting Japan next year, there’s a little bit of good news… it’s a big step forward for tourists visiting Japan, though I think there is still much more to do.

In a Japanese-language press release issued last week by East Japan Railway Company, there is news that the online foreign-language JR East Reservation System will extend online booking of Japanese trains to include more bullet train services, as well as all conventional limited express trains in Hokkaido.

Currently, you are only limited to reserving trains that are within JR East’s territory. This includes a myriad of bullet trains and limited express trains to reach far-away destinations. Two of JR East’s primary bullet trains are the Tohoku Shinkansen, which now extends into Hakodate in Hokkaido (as the Hokkaido Shinkansen), and the Hokuriku Shinkansen which runs northwest from Tokyo to the northern coastal cities of Toyama and Kanazawa. The issue currently is that you cannot reserve train tickets using the foreign-language reservation website for lines that travel outside of JR East’s territory. So this means you cannot make an online reservation on the Tohoku Shinkansen north of Aomori into Hakodate, and you cannot reserve for the Hokuriku Shinkansen past Joetsu-Myoko, which is en route to Toyama and Kanazawa. These zones are part of the territories of JR Hokkaido and JR West respectively.

Now, under a new agreement with JR Hokkaido and JR West that starts on February 1, 2017, you will be able to reserve seats on the full length of these lines, which means you can reserve the Tohoku/Hokkaido Shinkansen trains between Tokyo and Hakodate, and the Hokuriku Shinkansen trains between Tokyo, Toyama and Kanazawa.

In addition, the agreement with JR Hokkaido will also allow users of the foreign language reservation website to make seat reservations on all of JR Hokkaido’s limited express services, including one of the primary ones that run from Hakodate to Sapporo and the ones running out of Sapporo to different parts of the island. You can also make seat reservations for the Airport Rapid services operating from Sapporo to the city’s airport, New Chitose.

This is big news for foreign tourists who will now able to reserve longer bullet train journeys more easily online, whether buying regular tickets or reserving seats for use with rail passes. The only caveat that remains is that you still won’t be able to book the most important bullet train lines on the JR East system, that being the Tokaido, San’yo and Kyushu Shinkansen that run from Tokyo to Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, and further west into the Chugoku and Kyushu areas. This might change sometime in 2017, as reported in an earlier blog post, though I haven’t heard much news on this topic since then.

Will you plan to use JR East’s newly expanded ticketing system for foreigners next year?

Thanks for reading!

Posted by: jrhorse | August 30, 2016

Thanks for visiting!

It’s been a while… again… since I posted anything here, so I just wanted to say hello again and thank everyone for their support of this page. I’ve also finished a backlog of questions to be answered from the last few weeks. A lot of foreigners are visiting a wonderful country these days – maybe because there are fewer worries there than the rest of the world.

I would like to share with everyone the possibility that I will make a return trip to Japan next year, either in the spring or in December, providing I have enough resources and my journey through life doesn’t take a detour.

This would be my fourth trip to Japan – having gone in 2004, 2008 and 2013, I think the time has come for another experience. This time I will want to try and travel from Tokyo to Kyoto by local trains, in order to experience a Japan that I’ve always whizzed through while looking out the window of a bullet train.

Of course this is all speculation and nothing is set in stone yet. I’ll be sure to keep you all informed as to what I will do! I also invite you to visit my Facebook page for more updates as well.

Please keep sending your questions… except about Immigration. I would like to reiterate my stance, as outlined in the disclaimer, that I do not wish to answer immigration questions. During these last few weeks I have received questions that are immigration-related. Please note that such questions will be ignored. Thanks for your understanding!

Posted by: jrhorse | April 28, 2016

Book more Japan buses in English!

During my random perusals of Japan travel on the Internet, I discovered for the first time that another of Japan’s highway bus companies has now opened its online reservations to the English language. This, in turn, might make bus bookings for foreign travelers much easier – and more competitive.

Two buses of the JR group JR Bus Kanto and JR Tokai Bus – have published English information about their bus services on their respective websites. Both companies link to their online bus reservation website,, where you can look up bus availability, see what seats are available, and make a reservation request. It doesn’t go into how exactly you acquire your bus tickets, though…

Aside from this question, the JR buses can give you several seating and fare options depending on what route is selected. Some of the fares are what are called “hayatoku” fares, which are discounted fares for an advance purchase. Securing these types of tickets in advance could yield good savings on potential bus tickets!

A few other bus companies in Japan already offer English reservations for their buses. The biggest of these is Willer Express, the company known for its distinctive pink buses, which also offers online reservations in Chinese and Korean. Another bus company, Keio Bus, offers English reservations for their buses between Shinjuku and Mount Fuji.

One of the biggest routes that JR Bus offers online reservations for is the most important: the Tokyo-Kyoto/Osaka route. Here are some of my search results for a random weekday in May comparing JR Bus with Willer Express for a trip between Tokyo and Kyoto:

Day bus:
Willer Express
* 4 seats to a row, 4,320 yen

JR Bus
* 4 seats to a row, 3,900-4,300 yen
* 3 seats to a row, 4,700-5,700 yen
* “Gran Seat” (2 x 1 per row), 5,300-6,300 yen

Night bus:
Willer Express
* 4 seats to a row, 4,800-5,400 yen
* “New Premium” (2 x 1 per row), 7,000-8,600 yen

JR Bus
* 4 seats to a row, 4,500-5,400 yen
* Super Seat (3 seats to a row), 7,100-8,500 yen
* “Gran Seat” (2 x 1 per row), 7,500-8,900 yen
* Premium Seat, 11,500 yen

Have you relied on bus travel in Japan? Will you book your next Japan bus trip online?

Posted by: jrhorse | April 19, 2016

2016 Kumamoto Earthquakes

My thoughts and prayers are with the victims and families of last week’s devastating earthquakes in Kumamoto, Kyushu.

For the last few days, I’ve been providing or sharing up-to-date details concerning transit in Kyushu on my Facebook page, Be sure to head there for the latest updates.

With the opening of the Hokkaido Shinkansen this week, it’s time to once again update my blog concerning overnight train travel in Japan and share ideas when it comes to using the Japan Rail Pass for such journeys.

Overnight trains were once a staple of the country. Many stories have been told – real and fiction – about traveling life on these trains. Regular services peaked in the 1970′s, but then came the bullet trains – then cheap overnight highway buses – then aging train equipment – that sapped most life out of these so-called “Blue Trains” (nicknamed for their color).

When I wrote my first overnight by train article six years ago, there were still several overnight train options available, including the Cassiopeia and Hokutosei (Tokyo-Sapporo), Twilight Express and Nihonkai (Osaka-Kyoto-Sapporo). Those trains are now all discontinued from regular service with the opening of the Hokkaido Shinkansen to Hokkaido over the tracks formerly used by the sleeper trains.

There is now just one set of sleeper trains in regular service: The Sunrise Seto and Sunrise Izumo. These trains run every night, coupled together between Tokyo and Okayama, stopping at Himeji early in the morning. At Okayama the trains split, with the Sunrise Seto heading across the Seto Inland Sea to Takamatsu on the island of Shikoku, and the Sunrise Izumo heading north to the resort city of Izumo – home of a famous shrine of the same name.

These two trains have a carpeted floor space called a “Nobinobi Seat” where you sleep on the floor. These are a popular travel option… and with a Japan Rail Pass, you can use these carpeted spaces for free. The reason for that is because the carpeted space is technically classified as a “Reserved Seat” for booking purposes.

There are private bunks and rooms as well, if you want your own space, but if you want to use these spaces with a Japan Rail Pass you will have to pay for the room. These can be expensive, approximately 10,000-20,000 yen per room/compartment once additional surcharges are calculated. Each will fit one or two passengers.

For more details about these trains, I highly recommend the YouTube video created by John Daub describing life on the Sunrise Izumo. More of his videos from Japan can be found on his website,

If you are worried about costs and just want to travel point-to-point overnight not worrying about sightseeing, you can use the Japan Rail Pass to your advantage by finding a stop along the route of travel where there are cheap accommodations, such as a business hotel, and then continue on to your destination in the morning. The advantage, besides the inexpensive cost, is that you have your own bed, shower and toilet. You can also enjoy just a little slice of what life is like in another part of Japan… Who knows, you might even get to try something – food for example – that’s unique to that particular region or city. And remember, as long as your rail pass covers the day of travel AND the following day, your rail fare will be fully covered.

We will now revisit all of the options for travel between major cities, as listed in the previous blog articles. We’ve used the reputable Toyoko Inn chain as an example to look at when it comes to inexpensive hotel accommodations, but now that web searches for hotels are pretty sophisticated, I’ll be using several resources including the booking site Agoda and look for accommodations for a random weekday evening in the spring.

TOKYO to KYOTO or OSAKA via Tokaido Shinkansen

Tokyo to Kansai is an essential trip for the tourist. The Tokaido Shinkansen easily connects these two areas in three hours or less… but if you want to cut back on lodging costs, you could stay at a lesser-known city along the way. Some stops along the route that you can consider include Hamamatsu, Toyohashi and Nagoya. In Hamamatsu, Agoda indicates solo accommodations starting at 3,500 yen, and double occupancy at 2,000 yen per person. Toyohashi has accommodations from 5,000 yen single and 3,750 yen p/p double, and the hotels at the bullet train station in Nagoya start from 4,000 yen single (there’s a guesthouse nearby at 2,500 yen) and 3,600 yen p/p double.

Hikari bullet trains, the fastest that can be used with the Japan Rail Pass, can easily get you to any of these cities with 1 or 2 departures every hour. The final trains leave from Tokyo station at 21:30 and 22:00, both terminating at Nagoya with stops at Hamamatsu and Toyohashi along the way.

In the morning, bullet trains from Hamamatsu and Toyohashi towards Kyoto and Osaka leave from 6:32 and 6:45 respectively. These are Kodama trains which stop at every single bullet train stop, and arrive in Kyoto and Osaka at 7:56 and 8:10 respectively. The Kodama trains do not have food or drink sales on board, so keep that in mind before boarding. You could also stop quickly at Nagoya for some food before continuing on the next Hikari or Kodama service.

From Nagoya, the first departure is a Hikari leaving at 6:35, followed by a Kodama leaving at 6:51. These trains reach Kyoto in around 45 minutes and one hour respectively.

TOKYO to KYOTO or OSAKA via Kanazawa

A second overnight option that has existed takes you through Kanazawa, home to one of Japan’s top Japanese gardens. Travel between Tokyo and Kanazawa has been easy since 2015, when the bullet train opened between these cities.

From Tokyo, Kagayaki and Hakutaka trains run the route to Kanazawa. The last Kagayaki trains from Tokyo leave at 19:56 and 21:04, arriving in Kanazawa at 22:30 and 23:35 respectively. Accommodations in Kanazawa sampled at 5,800 yen single and 3,900 yen p/p double.

Regular limited express trains called Thunderbird run from Kanazawa to Kyoto and Osaka via the northern side of Lake Biwa. In the morning, the first train leaves at 5:35 if you are eager enough. Kanazawa also has trains running to Maibara, from which you can transfer to the Tokaido Shinkansen. While you’re in Kanazawa, though, why not spend the early hours in Kenroku-en, the aforementioned Japanese garden? Visit early before the tourist crowds arrive, then continue on your way.

TOKYO to TAKAMATSU and the rest of Shikoku

The port city of Takamatsu is one of the major cities on the Japanese island of Shikoku. Previously only accessible by ferry, Shikoku was connected to the Japanese mainland in 1988 with a series of bridges known collectively as the Great Seto Bridge. Two more bridges connecting Honshu and Shikoku would open in the late 1990’s, but the Seto Ohashi bridge is the only one able to accomodate both vehicular and railroad traffic.

The previously-mentioned Sunrise Seto overnight train provides a one-seat ride between the cities. But if this is not an option for you, for one reason or another?

Let’s look at one of the major stops on the Shinkansen, Okayama. All of the major bullet trains that run this far stop in Okayama. It is also the connection point for trains to Shikoku.

There is one direct Hikari service every hour from Tokyo to Okayama, taking four hours. The last of these services departs at 17:03, arriving Okayama at 21:11. There are a few more options after that, but you’ll need to change trains in Osaka. The last departure is the Hikari leaving at 19:33 – when you reach Shin-Osaka, change to the Kodama which will get you to Okayama at 23:47.

Accommodations around Okayama were found for 6,000 yen single and 4,000 yen p/p double.

The next morning, take the “Marine Liner” rapid train service to reach Takamatsu, or if you are heading to another destination on Shikoku then take one of the Limited Express trains in that direction. The first two Marine Liner trains for Takamatsu at 5:27 and 6:01, arriving Takamatsu at 6:31 and 6:56 respectively. Marine Liner trains depart on a regular basis to Takamatsu so you can take your time in Okayama if you wish… perhaps visit another renowned Japanese garden, Koraku-en.


If you wanted to travel from Tokyo directly to Fukuoka by train, it’s a six hour trip with a change in bullet trains required along the way. If you want to travel by night, Okayama is an excellent transfer point, as described above.

Another stop you can consider is Himeji, known for its iconic castle. The options described above to go from Tokyo to Okayama are also valid to reach Himeji.

Himeji’s rates were checked from 5,000 yen single and 3,000 yen p/p double… In my particular search a rate of 7,000 yen single at a 4-star luxury hotel was discovered – what a steal!

The first train from Himeji is a Hikari service, which leaves at 6:38 for Fukuoka (called Hakata station)… but another service right behind it, a Sakura service, leaves at 6:55 and will actually beat the Hikari service to Fukuoka by around a half-hour. This Sakura service is what you should consider using for trips to Hiroshima, Fukuoka, and other destinations in Kyushu such as Kumamoto (Arrive 9:47) and the end of the line at Kagoshima (Arrive 10:44).

Since trains leave Himeji 1 or 2 times per hour, you could consider sneaking out for an early trip to Himeji Castle before continuing on your way.

TOKYO to HAKODATE and SAPPORO (and Hokkaido)

This is where things have changed dramatically with the recent opening of the Hokkaido Shinkansen from the northern Tohoku region into Hokkaido.

Trips from Tokyo to Hakodate in southern Hokkaido now take an average of 4 1/2 hours. If you want to make this short journey into an overnight excursion, you can stop in Aomori, where hotels are 5,500 yen single or 4,000 yen p/p double. To reach Aomori, you’ll need to get off the shinkansen at Shin-Aomori then continue to Aomori on a shuttle train. In the morning, return to Shin-Aomori to pick up the shinkansen towards Hokkaido. In the morning, the first train to Hokkaido leaves Shin-Aomori at 6:32, but the shuttle train from Aomori leaves at 5:45, so you have a lot of time sitting in Shin-Aomori prior to the departure. The Aomori departure at 7:35, connecting to the Shinkansen departure at 7:57, is a little more reasonable.

Remember, when you get to the terminal stop in Hakodate, called Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto, you have to take another shuttle train which will get you to Hakodate city.

Tokyo to Sapporo, end to end, takes as little as 7 hours 45 minutes on the fastest train services. Here, you could make the argument of spending the night in Hakodate before continuing on your way to Sapporo… why not make a day of it in Hakodate? In Hakodate city, prices were seen for around 4,500 yen single or 3,600 yen p/p double.

If you’re pinched for time, the last two services from Tokyo to Hakodate leave at 17:20 and 19:20. Arrival times in Hakodate are at 22:29 and 24:05 respectively. From Hakodate to Sapporo, the first trains depart at 6:10 and 7:28, arriving Sapporo at 9:48 and 11:27 respectively.


This route used to be covered by several popular overnight trains, including the Twilight Express. All of the overnight train options have been discontinued, leaving us to make use of the existing shinkansen and limited express services. I’d recommend a stopover for an overnight trip in Hakodate, with Aomori coming a close second.

You can easily take the Hikari shinkansen from Osaka and Kyoto to Tokyo and continue northbound on the Hayabusa towards Hakodate. Leaving on the 13:40 Hikari from Osaka (13:56 from Kyoto) will get you to Tokyo at 16:40, giving you 40 minutes before the Hayabusa departure to Hakodate as described above.

Via northern coast

Another option, if you want to consider it, is a longer journey that routes you along the northern Japanese coast, following the sea of Japan. This is the route formerly covered by the Twilight Express service. If you’re a true train lover like I am and really want to contribute to green commutes, this is the trip for you. Part of this journey is now operated by the Hokuriku Shinkansen.

Thunderbird 7 – Depart Osaka 8:10, Shin-Osaka 8:14, Kyoto 8:41, Arrive Kanazawa 11:02

In Kanazawa you have a layover of almost one hour, perfect for grabbing a quick bite to eat or two. The next several trains require quick connections.

Hakutaka 562 – Depart Kanazawa 11:56, Arrive Joetsu-Myoko 12:58
Shirayuki 5 – Depart Joetsu-Myoko 13:07, Arrive Nagaoka 14:14
Max Toki 321 – Depart Nagaoka 14:27, Arrive Niigata 14:50
Inaho 7 – Depart Niigata 15:01, Arrive Akita 18:41

There is a layover of 50 minutes in Akita.

Tsugaru 5 – Depart Akita 19:32, Arrive Aomori 22:16

Overnight in Aomori as described earlier, then depart on the 7:35 train from Aomori to catch the 7:57 Hayate train to Hakodate. You can reach Hakodate by 9:30, or connect to the train to Sapporo with an arrival time of 12:41. You can also elect to take the 5:45 departure and wait it out at Shin-Aomori until the 6:32 departure, which will get you to Hokkaido sooner.

An alternative route after Akita is to take the Komachi shinkansen service from Akita (Departing 19:11) to Morioka (Arriving 20:49) and spend the night in Morioka. In the morning, take the 6:54 Hayate service to Hakodate. As with the first option, you can reach Hakodate by 9:30, or connect to the train to Sapporo with an arrival time of 12:41.


There are many other routes that you can choose from… including a scenic trip through the central Japanese alps! Many of the routes can be sorted out using English planning sites like HyperDia ( I also like using the Japanese site to look up the timetables, though some understanding of Japanese is needed.

Whatever you decide – however you decide to do it – enjoy traveling around Japan and enjoy the new slice of life experience that comes with a stay in a non-touristy city.

As always, all advice on my blog is offered pursuant to my Disclaimer.


Posted by: jrhorse | March 27, 2016

The Shinkansen is now in Hokkaido!

H5 shinkansen

H5 series Shinkansen on a test run. By Sukhoi37, CC BY-SA 4.0

It’s now official – Japan’s iconic Shinkansen network is now linked to the country’s northernmost island of Hokkaido! Services through the Seikan Tunnel linking Hokkaido and Honshu began operating on March 26. The direct services now link Tokyo to Hokkaido in as little as four hours.

One of the great online tools to look up train timetables in Japan is the English website HyperDia (, and the new train services to Hokkaido are now included in search results…. first, though, you’ll want to go into the search parameters and untick that one box next to the word “Airplane”. Yes, the HyperDia site will also give you results for scheduled domestic air flights, so in order to search only rail results you’ll need to make sure that the Airplane search is de-selected.

shin hakodate hokuto

Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto station. Photo by DF200, CC BY-SA 4.0

The new shinkansen terminal in Hokkaido is located a few kilometers north of Hakodate city, at a station called Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto. From this terminal station, a shuttle service called the Hakodate Liner whisks passengers to the center of Hakodate in approximately 10 to 15 minutes. This is why search results from south of Hokkaido will take you to take two trains when the destination is Hakodate.

Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto is also the connecting point for passengers who want to go straight on to Sapporo using Limited Express trains… which won’t be replaced by bullet trains for another 15 years or so. Be sure not to skip Hakodate, however, as the vibrant city has many things to offer tourists… from the morning markets, to the historical district of Motomachi, to the stunning views of the area from the top of Mount Hakodate.

Whether it’s for a few days or just for the night to sleep somewhere, Hakodate is an excellent stopover if you are utilizing the Japan Rail Pass to journey towards Sapporo. Keep in mind that there are no more overnight trains to Sapporo because the tunnel has now been upgraded to bullet time operations… so Hakodate city becomes the ideal place to either visit or rest.

If you plan to use the new Hokkaido Shinkansen extension to Hakodate, give me a shout and let me know what you think of the ride, and of the city!

Posted by: jrhorse | February 23, 2016

New Mobile Ticketing for Shinkansen arriving next year

This afternoon I came across a press release from the Shinkansen timetable site Tabi-O-Ji, and I thought it might be nice to share here on the blog.

If you want to travel by bullet train in Japan, under most circumstances you cannot book your ticket until you arrive in Japan. There are a few exceptions, most notably the online reservation system of JR East, allowing travelers to reserve – in English – trips on bullet trains that they operate. While many routes to the north are covered, the most important routes – the Tokaido and San’yo Shinkansen connecting Tokyo to Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima, Fukuoka and points in between – does not offer advance ticketing in English.

This MIGHT change in the Summer of 2017, when JR Central and JR West are set to unveil a new mobile ticketing system for Tokaido and San’yo Shinkansen trains. According to the press release, you will be able to use the new ticketing system by linking your credit card and an IC card, such as a SUICA, TOICA, ICOCA, etc. You’d have to pick up an IC card in Japan if you don’t have one already, but once you have one you can add it to the account.

Purchases in the new system would be charged to your credit card, then when you are ready to travel you simply tap in and out of the ticket barriers using your IC card.

I bring this up because apparently there is some language in the JR press release saying that “Even foreign travelers can use the system”. This might suggest that in the future, there could be an English option to purchase shinkansen tickets on the Tokaido and San’yo Shinkansen using a mobile device.

There are a few points to note:
– As the release says, you must be in possession of an IC card BEFORE you make a purchase. If you have acquired an IC card from a previous trip to Japan, it is valid for five years after purchase.
– There is no option mentioned regarding purchases for Japan Rail Pass holders. I honestly do not expect such an option to be made available – instead, rail pass holders would have to continue making ticket reservations in person, and pass through manned ticket barriers to access trains.

Further details are yet to be announced (including whether or not there will be an English option) but if you plan to go around on the Tokaido and San’yo Shinkansen using regular tickets, the new mobile ticketing system that will be in place next year might just make purchases easier.

Posted by: jrhorse | February 23, 2016

Hokkaido Travel Notice – March 22-25

H5 shinkansen

H5 series Shinkansen on a test run. By Sukhoi37, CC BY-SA 4.0

With roughly one month to go until Japan’s iconic bullet train enters the northern island of Hokkaido for the fist time, here’s an important travel advisory for potential visitors to Hokkaido.

Between March 22 and 25, train services from the Japanese mainland to Hokkaido will be shut down in order to make final preparations for bullet train services. This means that during this four-day period, the only way to travel into and out of Hokkaido is by airplane, or by ferry to one of the northernmost ports in Honshu (i.e. Aomori).

The Seikan Tunnel is the long, 33 1/2 mile tunnel connecting Hokkaido with the Japanese mainland under the Tsugaru Strait. Since 1988, passenger trains have made the journey through this tunnel on journeys to and from the southern Hokkaido city of Hakodate. Considering the amount of freight traffic that also uses the tunnel, the Seikan Tunnel is one of the country’s most vital transportation links.

During the four day period that the tunnel is closed, construction crews will make final preparations for the introduction of the new shinkansen services. One of these steps is to raise the overhead voltage into the tunnel from 20 kV to the shinkansen standard of 25 kV.

When the Seikan Tunnel opens to Shinkansen traffic on 26 March, the vital freight services will resume operation. Naturally, JR is on top of things – two years ago, it introduced a new electric locomotive, the EH800, capable of operating at both 20 kV and 25 kV. It will be the sole locomotive hauling freight through the tunnel moving forward.

The opening of the Shinkansen stands to revitalize Hakodate – and in turn, Hokkaido – with new visitors. In the meantime, if you are planning a trip to Japan in the next month, please take note of these dates when the Seikan Tunnel will be closed.

Posted by: jrhorse | February 21, 2016

Airfares to Japan on Sale


Normally I reserve airfare updates to Japan for my Facebook page, but I thought I would let everyone know here that there is a major price war for flights between the United States and Japan, now involving all three of the major U.S. Carriers: American, Delta and United. Many cities now offer discounted flights to Japan from between $550 and $650 round-trip. Some markets are excluded at the moment (i.e. Atlanta, New York) but do be sure to check out the websites of these airlines to snag your tickets NOW. (That’s my opinion anyway!)

Fares are good for travel for most dates in March and April.

This week, the governments of Japan and the United States reached an agreement with regards to U.S.-based airlines  flying into Haneda, the closest airport to Tokyo.

A few years back, U.S. airlines were permitted four daily round-trips from U.S. cities to Haneda, but these flights were restricted to evening hours, when the airport is not busy… and close to the times that public transportation options become limited. This could have proved to be a headache, as I suggested back in 2011, though the opening of a hotel within Haneda’s International terminal in 2014 eased the travel worries somewhat.

Under the new agreement, however, U.S. airlines will be permitted to land at Haneda during regular daytime hours. The slots will change from four round-trips during the night hours to five round-trips during the day, and one round-trip during the evening. The changes will be implemented as early as this coming autumn.

This is tremendous news for travelers between the United States and Japan, as you can now enjoy all of the amenities that Haneda has to offer, while being able to travel into Tokyo quickly and cheaply by train or monorail.

Two of the three major U.S. airlines – American and United – support this agreement. Delta Air Lines, on the other hand, opposes it. Delta feels that the slot change at Haneda to permit more U.S. arrivals during the daytime could compromise its hub operations at Narita Airport and put its U.S.-Japan flights into jeopardy, since travelers would prefer to land at Haneda.

One other aspect that tilts against Delta is the fact that American and United have partners in Japan: American partners with Japan Airlines in the Oneworld alliance, and United partners with All Nippon in the Star Alliance. With Haneda Airport offering plenty of domestic flights from its two domestic terminals, there is an opportunity for US travelers to easily connect between international and domestic flights. In fact, Japan Airlines already offers easy International-to-Domestic connections from the International Terminal building – once you clear customs and immigration and drop off your baggage, you clear security in the International terminal and then board a bus to the secure area of the JAL domestic terminal.

In my opinion, this is a win for travelers who now have better ways to see Japan through the new daytime arrivals and departures at Haneda. What are your thoughts?

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