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!

Advertisements

How to find out Japanese taxi fares

A typical Japanese taxi cab. Public domain photograph from Wikimedia Commons.
A typical Japanese taxi cab. Public domain photograph from Wikimedia Commons.

Today’s post is about the impeccable system of Japanese taxi cabs. I’ve been fortunate to take a few taxi rides in Japan, and I’ll probably have to rely on the taxis a little more when I visit next month.

Japanese taxi cabs are impeccable, and there are many types to choose from… from the standard, bright colored taxi cabs, to the black cabs, to the high-octane or hybrid variety… if you happen to visit Sapporo, you might stumble upon a taxi decked out with your favorite Anime character.

When you plan on using taxis in Japan, it might help you to figure out the cost beforehand. Public transit is the way to go in most cities in the country, as the fares for taxicabs are expensive (the usual “flag fare” is around 700 yen or so, racking up as you go). However, in rural areas a taxi might be the best way to your destination. Otherwise, traveling in groups of 3 or 4 in a taxi may prove to be as economic as regular public transit. And of course, in the late night when no public transit is to be had, it’s either the taxi way or no way.

Today I would like to introduce two websites that I would recommend for finding out taxi fares. One is easy to understand and gives a fairly rough estimate, while the second is a little more precise but in Japanese.

First, I recommend the Taxi Fare Finder website, which not only shows taxi fares for major Japanese cities but also for other cities around the world. Simply type in your starting and ending points (i.e. train stations, major attractions, etc) and it will plot the most direct route and show you an estimate of how much you can expect to pay.

The other one, which I like especially, is the Japanese “Taxi Fare Simulator” offered by Nihon Kotsu (日本交通), which I believe is the largest consortium of taxi cabs in the Tokyo area. Note that I said: JAPANESE, which means you need to do this in Japanese…. Right? Well… there are a few tricks that you can use to get by.

First of course, you’ll want to make sure that your web browser is set up to display Japanese characters.

You will see this on the home page:

Input from Nihon Kotsu Taxi Fare Simulator.
Input from Nihon Kotsu Taxi Fare Simulator.

Going over the form:

出発地 is your starting point
目的地 is your destination
経由地 is the “via” point, or the area that you would like to pass through on the way to your destination.

Below those, there are two check-boxes:
深夜割増 applies the Nighttime surcharge, which taxicabs in Japan apply during late night and early morning hours (in Tokyo, it is a 20% surcharge added to the fare for travel between 22:00 and 5:00 the next morning)
高速道路を使う asks the simulator to route you via the highway instead of regular roads, which may be faster but will probably cost more. Highway fares are not included in the fare estimate that it gives you, and will be added on to the fare at the end of the trip.

So now we need to plug in the information, which requires some Japanese… or does it?

The Nihon Kotsu simulator uses Google Maps… which means that your search may work if you type things out in English! Let’s take a look.

Say we are arriving into Tokyo on the Shinkansen and we want to take a taxi to the hotel that we are staying at. In this case my random selection is a hotel I’ve stayed at before: The Sutton Place Hotel Ueno, which is not too far from Ueno station.

Let’s try typing this in to the system:
出発地 : Tokyo Station
目的地 : Sutton Place Hotel Ueno

Now press the orange button. If you did not enter a “via” point in the field labeled 経由地 then the simulator will try to find the most direct route to your destination….

Sample result from Nihon Kotsu fare simulator
Sample result from Nihon Kotsu fare simulator

Well what do you know, it DOES work in English!

Let’s review what we see here:

The fare is estimated to cost  2,240 yen from Tokyo Station to the Sutton Place Hotel Ueno.

The figure below the fare marked 遠距離割引 indicates if your route is eligible for a long-distance discount (in this case, it’s too short to qualify)

Below the fare you will see the breakdown per passenger for groups of 2, 3, or 4 (the maximum number of passengers the regular taxis will carry). Wow, 560 yen per passenger for a party of 4 is not too bad!

Moving to the right side of the page:

移動距離 is the route distance, in this case 5.8 km
移動時間 is the estimated travel time, in this case 16 minutes

GPSコード
GPS Code? Now this is interesting. Nihon Kotsu’s taxis are monitored by a Global Positioning System. This is used so that Nihon Kotsu can keep track of their taxis, and to dispatch them to calls. Apparently, specific locations are given a unique GPS code number. So the GPS Code for Tokyo Station is 404-1846-076A and the code for the destination hotel is 423-8446-567A.

When taking a taxi, it helps to hand the driver a piece of paper with your destination printed or written in Japanese, as certain destinations in Japan can sometimes be difficult to find (especially in Tokyo where there are main roads and side roads all over the place!). But if you are traveling in Tokyo city on a Nihon Kotsu taxi, and you have this GPS Code written down, then it might be the easiest thing to show the driver the GPS code! Welcome to the wonders of modern Japanese technology.

By scrolling down on the page, you can see the direct route that the simulator has plotted.

You can try other destinations for yourself… Or if you are not satisfied with the route that you see, simply dragging points A and B on the map to desired start/end point will redraw the most direct route and re-calculate the fare.

One more thing to add about Nihon Kotsu… while you can hail a cab by yourself along the road side, join an official taxi queue at a train station, or have your hotel call ahead for a taxi on your behalf, you can also call for a taxi yourself. If you are in Tokyo and have access to a telephone, Nihon Kotsu offers a 24 hour reservation hotline… in ENGLISH! They are currently the only company in Tokyo to offer a taxi booking in the English language. The telephone number is: 03-5755-2336. Tell them where you are and they will dispatch a taxi to you. Note though that this booking service costs 400 yen, which is added on to the taxi bill at the end of your trip.

A few closing comments about taxi cabs, which apply to most trips:

– If you are hailing a taxi cab, look for one with a display on the front with the following Japanese characters:

空車 – this means that the taxi is available.

Other displays that essentially say “you can’t use this taxi” may include:

賃走 – the taxi is occupied
予約 or 迎車 – the taxi is already reserved for someone else
回送 – the taxi is not in service

– At night, a lit light on the top of the cab is also an indication that it is available.
– In most Japanese cabs, the driver will remotely open and close the left rear door, so don’t try to do this yourself. There are a small number of exceptions (i.e. MK Taxi cabs in Kyoto) where the taxi driver will come out and personally open the door for you.
– There is luggage space in the rear of the taxi cab that can fit a couple of regular suitcases.
– There is no tipping in Japanese taxi cabs… the fare that you see is the fare that you pay. Remember, any extra charges (such as highway tolls and reservation fees) are added in and paid at the end of your journey.
– Don’t be alarmed if the taxi driver wears a neat uniform… this is the norm in Japan. All taxi cabs are kept meticulously clean inside and out, and drivers typically wear white gloves.

In addition to the usual disclaimer, keep in mind that the fares shown in the above websites are estimates and may not factor in changes such as different routes, or driving in traffic conditions. Also, taxis may charge flat fares for certain trips (for example, from a major airport to the city, like Narita-Tokyo or Haneda-Tokyo).

One final suggestion… be nice and courteous to your driver! They are typically courteous and it’s nice to offer the same in return, especially since they typically work long hours during the day. My research of a couple of promotional YouTube videos for Japanese taxi companies, particularly in Tokyo, infer that cab drivers work in shifts of 20-22 hours at a time! No wonder there are so many Japanese taxi cabs and drivers to go around.