So You’ve Landed In Japan – Arrival Procedures

Back in… 2014 (?!) I did a blog series called “So You’ve Landed in Japan.” One of the posts ended up turning into my most popular post on this entire blog. The post is with regards to Customs and Immigration and discussed the procedures a traveler faces when entering Japan from another international destination.

Looking back on that post, I feel as if the title of the post was a little misleading. Most of the comments on the post were specific questions about immigration status, visa inquiries, and that sort of thing. This blog is meant to offer advice on travel to Japan, but in no way am I qualified to handle specific immigration questions.

Based on this, and because arrival procedures and forms have changed in recent years, I’ve decided to renew this post and title it, more appropriately, Arrival Procedures.

At the outset, I wish to reiterate that if you have any specific questions about Japanese immigration or visas, please contact your local Japanese embassy or consulate. I will discuss this information in a very broad scope (as I did in the previous post) but, again, I am not equipped to answer specific questions on this. A great resource is on the web site of Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The link to all of their consulates and embassies can be found here. Please contact them for all of your specific inquiries. I’ve updated the site-wide disclaimer with this information as well.

Prerequisites

Of course, before visiting Japan, you will need a Passport and, in certain circumstances, you will also need a visa. People visiting Japan from 68 countries and regions do not require a visa if visiting as a tourist, or if visiting relatives, attending conferences, etc. All but four of these are eligible for visa exemptions of 90 days. If you are engaging in paid work in Japan, or if you will be staying in the country longer than the amount of time granted for a visa exemption, you will have to apply for a visa.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs maintains a list of countries and regions eligible for visa exemptions.

Forms to fill out

Many international travelers are used to filling out immigration and/or customs forms to be submitted upon arrival to wherever they are going. Many countries are starting to phase out physical paperwork in favor of automatic kiosks. Japan, with some exceptions, still uses paperwork.

Visitors to Japan typically fill out two or three different forms prior to their arrival.

  • All visitors fill out a disembarkation form for immigration (one per person) and a customs form (one per family).
  • If you are bringing pets or plant/animal products into Japan, you will have to fill out a quarantine form. Visitors from certain parts of the world with health concerns may also have to fill out a quarantine form or questionnaire.

Unlike countries where one entity handles all entry procedures (such as Customs and Border Protection in the United States), Japan has separate ones:

  • Pet, Animal and Plant Quarantine is under the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries
  • Health Quarantine is under the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare
  • Immigration had been its own ministry until 2019, and is now under the Ministry of Justice
  • Customs is under the Ministry of Finance (which includes the Customs and Tariff Bureau).

Disembarkation Form (Immigration)

japanimmigrationform (2)Shown here is a photo of the new disembarkation card that Japan has been using since 2016. Each passenger should fill out their own disembarkation card.

Let’s go through each of the steps to fill out.

Fill out your family name and given names as they are listed on your passport, your date of birth (in the form of day, month and year) and the country and city where you currently reside. You do not need to enter a passport number, gender or nationality, which was the case with previous versions of the form.

Check the box next to the purpose of your visit. Most visitors will select the box for tourists.

Next to this, you’ll see Last Flight No./Vessel. Write down the flight number (or vessel if you arrive by boat) that you used to enter Japan. For example, if you were flying into Japan on United Airlines Flight 79 from Newark, New Jersey, you’d write down either United 79 or UA 79 in this box.

Below this, write down the number of days you plan to stay in Japan.

The next field asks for your intended address in Japan. The rule of thumb I’ve always used is to enter the first location that you plan to stay in when visiting the country. If you will go from the airport to a friend’s residence, enter their residence here and their telephone number. Otherwise, if you are going to a hotel, enter the hotel name, address and telephone number as best as you can. Even if you are staying in multiple locations, just write down the first one you will be using.

The last few questions must be asked to comply with the laws of Japan, so you have to answer them:

  • Have you ever been deported or refused entry into Japan?
  • Have you ever been convicted of a crime in Japan or another country?
  • Are you in possession of controlled substances, guns, bladed weapons or gunpowder?

Sign your disembarkation form, and that’s it!

Customs Form

japancustomsformHere is a photo of form C5360-B, otherwise known as the Declaration of Personal Effects and Unaccompanied Articles, or the Customs Declaration. Note that this is a double-sided form; both sides are shown here.

Here you will fill out some of the same details you entered on the immigration form, plus a few other particulars.

In addition to your flight or vessel number, you will need to write down the point of embarkation, or in other words, the location you departed from to enter Japan. For our example of United Flight 79, you’d write down Newark.

Here you must also enter your nationality, occupation, passport, and number of family members traveling with you. Remember that one customs declaration can be submitted per family.

Next, answer the questions about articles you are bringing into Japan. Follow the instructions to declare this information on the back of the form if necessary.

The back of the form will include the duty-free allowance per person for items being brought into Japan, along with a list of prohibited and restricted articles.

Once you have completed the form, all that’s left to do is to sign it.

Quarantine Form

If you are entering Japan with pets, or with plant/animal products, you will have to fill out specific quarantine forms. Please visit the website of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries for more information on this type of quarantine.

Depending on health circumstances, some visitors may also be asked to fill out a health quarantine form or questionnaire. This varies depending on the situation. For example, as of this post (25 February 2020) there are concerns about the coronavirus outbreak, and some information published by the Japanese Embassy in New York suggests that quarantine forms are being circulated asking passengers if they have visited, or plan to visit, certain regions of China within 14 days of their arrival into Japan.

Entry Procedures

Now that all of the paperwork is done, let’s look into the steps of arriving into Japan.

When you step off of a plane or boat, your entry procedures will follow these basic steps:

  • Health Quarantine
  • Immigration
  • Baggage Claim
  • Pet / Animal / Plant Quarantine
  • Customs

The first step is health quarantine. Most passengers entering Japan will walk by an infrared scanner which checks your body temperature. If a quarantine officer notices anything amiss, you will be asked to enter the health consultation room and speak to a doctor. You can also voluntarily check in to this room if you feel sick or unwell for any reason. If you were handed a health quarantine form/questionnaire, you will probably be asked to submit it here.

Immigration is the next step. Step up when you are called, one person at a time, to the immigration officer. Submit your passport, your disembarkation form, and your visa if required. The immigration officer will check your documents, take your photo and collect your fingerprints. You might also be asked a few questions to determine your entry status. The officer will then stamp your passport and you can then proceed to baggage claim to collect your checked belongings. Note that in a few locations, you might be checked by a clerk before you arrive at the immigration desk to take your photograph and fingerprints… this happened to me at Narita during my last trip in 2017.

If you have pets, or plant/animal products, this is the point where you will check in to the respective quarantine desk to handle those procedures.

The last step is to go to customs. As with most countries, there will be a green channel if you have nothing to declare or within duty-free exemptions, and a red channel if you have items to declare or if you are not sure. Whatever the case, you will speak to another manned officer at customs. Here the officer will check your passport and review your customs declaration. Remember, customs has the right to search your belongings to ensure there are no prohibited or restricted articles. The officer may ask you some questions, such as where you are from, and if you have any items to declare. One time, I was asked about my precise itinerary when I was in the country. There is a cashier nearby if you need to pay any duty.

If you are in doubt about anything that you are bringing into Japan, visit the red channel.

acs-drugs-medications-infographic-1

On a side note, do remember that Japan has strict laws with regard to certain drugs and medications, as the above graphic from the U.S. Department of State indicates. For example, stimulants cannot be brought into Japan under any circumstances. Visitors to Japan may not be aware that certain over-the-counter or behind-the-counter medications use to treat pain, decongestion, cold/flu, ADHD and depression cannot be brought in to Japan. So leave your Sudafed, Actifed, NyQuil and Vicks inhalers at home, and don’t bring medicine containing things such as codeine, pseudoephedrine, phenylephrine, dexamphetamine or anything with HCl (hydrochloride) in the name. Also, even though marijuana and CBD/THC oils are gaining popularity in a lot of places, these are also illegal in Japan. You could be detained by Customs (or worse) if you are caught with these drugs and medications.

Certain prescription medications may also have to be declared in advance… please consult your local Japanese embassy or consulate for more information. Alternatively, you can e-mail your inquiries directly to the Japanese government at this e-mail: yakkan@mhlw.go.jp.

You’ve arrived!

Congratulations, and welcome to Japan!

There are just a few more things you may want to be aware about when it comes to arrival procedures:

International Transit

If you are landing in an airport in Japan for the purpose of changing to another international flight, and you do not plan to leave the airport, you do not need to go through immigration and customs procedures in Japan. All that is required is another security check. Remember the restrictions on liquids… if you have any duty-free liquids on your person that are not in tamper evident bags, they will be confiscated at the transit security checkpoint.

If you are a connecting to a domestic flight, or if you are changing from one airport to another (i.e changing from a flight landing at Narita to a flight departing from Haneda), you’ll need to undergo customs and immigration.

Automated Immigration Kiosk

Japan’s major ports of entry (i.e. the major airports) have automated kiosks for entry into Japan. However, while major countries have some kind of automatic kiosks in place, Japan’s kiosks are not available for all foreigners. You must enroll in a special trusted traveler program and meet specific requirements, one of which states that you must have visited Japan at least twice in the last twelve months. Aside from this, only Japanese nationals and foreigners residing in Japan currently qualify to use the automated kiosks.

Videos on Arrival Procedures

Japan Airlines has some links on their website to videos about arrival procedures for JAL flights into Japan’s four major international airports of Haneda, Narita, Chubu Centrair and Kansai. Visit JAL’s excellent Guide to Japan, and from that page, click on “More Fun”, select “Travel Information” and scroll down to the Immigration Guidance section. Just don’t mind the (rather catchy) elevator music.

UPDATE April 3, 2020: Japan Airlines has recently updated their website, so the above link to the immigration guidance videos MIGHT be going away soon.

I hope this post answers your questions about arrival procedures in Japan.

Once again, if you have any detailed questions about immigration, customs, visas, etc., please contact your local Japanese embassy or consulate. Such questions will NOT be answered on this blog.

This article was written in February 2020 and is accurate at the time of publication, subject to the site-wide disclaimer.

Images of Japanese immigration and customs documentation are public domain pursuant to Article 13(ii) of the Copyright Law of Japan.

The graphic about prohibited drugs in Japan is from the United States Department of State and is public domain pursuant to Title 17, Section 105 of the United States Code.

Welcome to Japan: Chubu Centrair Airport (Nagoya)

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Centrair control tower. Photo by Flickr user redlegsfan21 (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Welcome to the third in a series of blog posts called Welcome to Japan. In the first project since updating the layout of my blog, I am introducing a series that will explain the available transit options after arriving at some of Japan’s major airports.

My previous posts, scattered over the last few months, have focused on the two airports of Tokyo: Narita and Haneda. Heading off to the west, the next major airport, and one of the newer airports on Japan’s travel scene, is the international airport in Nagoya. Opened in 2005 in advance of that year’s world expo, I’ve been a big fan of this airport. I landed there to kick off my third trip in 2013, and spent a night in a hotel near the airport during my most recent vacation in 2017. Officially, the airport is known as Chubu Centrair International Airport, though the terms Centrair Airport and Nagoya Airport can also be used.

Centrair replaced an older airport located further inland in the city of Komaki, which used to be a hub for many domestic and international flights in and out of central Japan. There was a demand for more planes to serve the area, not only because of the Expo but because of requests from airlines and nearby businesses (including Toyota) to offer late flights without the restrictions imposed at Komaki where there was a nighttime curfew. Flights at Komaki eventually began to shift away, first to Kansai International Airport, and then to the new Centrair Airport. Now known as Nagoya Airfield, the airport is now the home for low cost airline Fuji Dream Airlines.

While I’ll give you all of the transit options out of Centrair (as I’ve done with the previous articles) I will also be a little partisan and tell you that you should make it a point to visit this airport when you are in Japan, either as an arriving/departing passenger or just for a visit.

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Aerial view of Centrair Airport. Copyright © National Land Image Information (Color Aerial Photographs), Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism

Centrair Airport is built on a man-made island just off of the mainland in the city of Tokoname, meaning that flights can freely take off and land around the clock without worrying the neighbors. Tokoname is a great off-the-beaten-path destination if you have a layover, as it is known in Japan for its production of fine ceramics.

The airport has just one terminal building, split into two sections. The northern section of the terminal handles domestic flights, and the southern part of the terminal handles international flights. Since everything is contained in one building, changing between flights is extremely hassle-free. There’s no need to take a shuttle bus or anything else of the sort… all you need to do is follow the signs and walk. Later in 2019, a second terminal will open geared toward low-cost airlines, which will be connected by moving walkway to the Access Plaza (more details below).

If Nagoya is your destination, you will exit onto the Arrivals Lobby on the second floor. If you have some time, you might want to head upstairs and take a look at Sky Town on the fourth floor. In the wide concourse, you’ll see two distinct flavors: One side has a completely old Japanese feel to it, while the other contains a European flair with western restaurants and stores. These correspond to the two sections of the airport I just described (one for domestic flights and one for international flights).

If you’re like many travelers on the other hand, you’ll just want to head out towards your hotel or first destination. From the Arrivals Lobby, follow the signs and head up the ramp towards the Access Plaza. The Access Plaza is a large and functional space from which you’ll choose your method of transportation. You will also find a Family Mart convenience store there as well.

Meitetsu Railway

It’s important to note that Japan Railway (JR) does not operate trains to and from Centrair Airport. There is only one railway operator, the Meitetsu Railway. They offer very convenient and comfortable train services to Nagoya and surrounding areas, which I will get to in a moment.

Are you picking up a Japan Rail Pass? The Central Japan Travel Center, located in the Arrivals Lobby, offers voucher exchanges for the Japan Rail Pass daily between the hours of 9:00 and 20:30. You also have the option of making the exchange when you get to Nagoya Station, at several staffed JR locations.

These points are brought up since the Japan Rail Pass will not cover the Meitetsu Railway, or any other transit option for that matter, to and from Centrair Airport. Not to worry though… Meitetsu’s trains are super convenient, and the recommended trains to use for travelers are the all-reserved trains called μ-SKY, or myu-SKY.

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μ-SKY train. Photo by Cassiopeia Sweet (Public Domain)

The μ-SKY services generally leave twice every hour from Centrair, reaching Nagoya Station in as little as 28 minutes. The one-way fare for adults is 1,230 yen (870 yen regular fare + 360 yen μ-ticket). You can easily purchase both of these fares using the vending machines. There are also some trains with only a small number of reserved seats, and other trains that are regular commuter services. These trains are generally slower and take longer to reach Nagoya compared to the μ-SKY.

μ-SKY services generally continue on to Inuyama (home to one of Japan’s original surviving castles) and the city of Kani, home to many automotive part manufacturers.
Some trains continue on to Gifu. An easy transfer at one of Meitetsu’s major interchanges such as Nagoya or Jingu-mae (named for its location near Atsuta Shrine) will get you to the rest of Meitetsu’s network. Nagoya Station, though, is where you’ll get off to transfer to most of the other rail lines including the Tokaido Shinkansen, local JR trains, and the private Kintetsu railway.

Buses

Highway Buses are also available from Centrair Airport. Meitetsu Bus operates hourly buses from the airport to downtown Nagoya. The ride takes about one hour to reach Nagoya’s Sakae district, and stops at some major hotels including the Nagoya Tokyu Hotel and the Hilton Nagoya before arriving at the Meitetsu Bus Center near Nagoya Station. The one-way fare is 1,200 yen.

If you are arriving late at night or departing early in the morning, Nagoya Bus offers a limited service between the West exit of Nagoya Station and the airport for 1,500 yen. As of this writing, two buses depart from the airport daily at 0:40 and 7:00, and one bus leaves Nagoya Station at 4:10. The travel time is 55 minutes.

If you can time it right, the Meihan Kintetsu highway bus can be a very convenient method of reaching Japan’s ancient capital of Kyoto without having to take the μ-SKY and the bullet train. There are two daily round-trip services, costing 4,000 yen. Online reservations for the direct Kyoto buses can be made in English. There’s also the option of taking a bus to the city of Yokkaichi in Mie prefecture and transferring there to a bus bound for Kyoto, costing 3,000 yen. These options take 2 hours 40 minutes and 3 hours 15 minutes, respectively. By comparison, the μ-SKY and bullet train to Kyoto take around 80 minutes with transfer for 6,830 yen.

Taxis

As mentioned in previous articles, taxis can be a good point-to-point option, especially if you are in a group. However, it is not recommended to take a taxi to and from Centrair Airport unless absolutely necessary, especially because there are no flat rate fares from the airport; all rides are by the meter. An approximate fare from Centrair Airport to Nagoya Station, including tolls, is 16,000-17,000 yen.

There is a charted van service that can take you to your destination in central Nagoya for approximately 14,000 yen. The van can seat up to seven passengers, so if you have seven in your party the cost is only 2,000 yen each.

If these fares sound high (and they are), you’re probably better off taking public transit to central Nagoya, then taking a taxi to your destination.

One exception: If you are heading into the mountains of Nagano Prefecture, there is a ride-share van service that operates several times per day. The one-way fare to Matsumoto, for example, is 8,900 yen, and door-to-door service is offered in some locations. It takes around 4 hours to travel between the airport and the areas served.

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High Speed Boats travel across Ise Bay to Tsu and the Nanki region. CC BY-SA 3.0, attributed to Outside147~commonswiki.

High Speed Boat

If you happen to be heading to the Nanki region, a large peninsula to the west that contains attractions such as Ise Shrine and Toba, and where Wakayama prefecture is located, a shortcut to avoid connecting through Nagoya city is to take a high speed boat across the bay. The Tsu Airport Line boat operates to the port of Tsu city, taking just 45 minutes at a cost of 2,470 yen each way. Boats operate once an hour, but during off-peak travel periods (i.e. winter) the boats depart every two hours. Once arriving at the port, you can reach the main train station in Tsu using a city bus (220 yen) or by taxi (approx. 1,700 yen) from which you can access the Kintetsu Railway network towards Osaka, Ise, Toba and Kashikojima.

There is also a twice-daily express bus service between the Tsu port and the cities of Ise and Toba. A set ticket including a one-way trip on the ferry and express bus costs 3,200-3,500 yen depending on the destination.

It is a bit of a walk to reach the boat pier in Centrair; take the elevated walkaway from the Access Plaza. The walkway goes over the highway and past the hotels that are stationed nearby.

Hotels

There are a few hotels stationed around the airport property that are perfect for a rest before catching an early morning departure, or after landing from a late flight. The Centrair Hotel is directly connected to the Access Plaza, while the Comfort Hotel, Toyoko Inn and the new Sheraton Four Points Hotel (now part of the Marriott portfolio) can be accessed on the bridge that heads toward the boat pier. A capsule hotel, TUBE Sq, is located on the first floor of the Airport property near the Welcome Garden.

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Enjoying a soft-serve ice cream made from Hokkaido milk at Centrair Airport’s Hokkaido Fair in 2017

Other things to do at Centrair Airport

With a plethora of dining and shopping options, it’s easy to enjoy a few hours just for fun, or before/after a flight. While you’re out and about, don’t forget to see the Sky Deck, the outdoor observation area that stretches across most of the apron. You can enjoy watching planes arriving and departing from the Centrair airport runway.

If you need any travel necessities at the last minute, head on over to places such as the Amano drugstore (third floor), or Muji (fourth floor). At Amano I bought an inexpensive, reusable 1000ml plastic bag that is perfect for when I need to take small liquids through the security checkpoint.

If you want to try out a traditional Japanese bathhouse that overlooks the airport tarmac (but a little pricey compared to other bath houses), check out Fu no Yu on the fourth floor.

If you’re lucky, there might be a fair going on as well. When I visited Centrair in 2017, the airport had a Hello Kitty fair AND a Hokkaido Food Fair going on at the same time. I was lucky to try out some soft serve ice cream made out of Hokkaido milk, which was so delicious!

Conclusion

I love Nagoya’s Centrair Airport. A modern airport, no matter if it’s your first trip or you’re a seasoned veteran. As someone who can personally vouch for its conveniences, you will not be disappointed. It’s a great place to start a trip to Japan, near a city that many might not think about.

Here are a few more brief notes in closing:

The Centrair Airport website goes into much more detail about the things I have written about in this post. On the website you can see a list of airlines and destinations that Centrair Airport serves. While many of Centrair’s international destinations are focused on Asia, there are a few long-haul passenger services to take note as of this writing:

  • Delta Air Lines flies to Nagoya from Detroit and Honolulu in the United States.
  • Lufthansa has flights to Nagoya from Frankfurt, Germany.
  • Finnair flies from Helsinki, Finland.
  • Ethiad Airways flies from Abu Dhabi, UAE to Nagoya via Beijing.

A few of my Japan Travel Videos on YouTube from 2017 include scenes in and around Centrair Airport. Visit the page for my videos and check out videos #7 and #8.

Finally, all information and links were accurate as of February 2019, and subject to the disclaimer. Photos used in the article are either public domain or courtesy of creative commons licenses.

 

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!

Japan Diary – September 11, 2013 Morning

Over the next few days I am hoping to re-post my diary from my September 2013 trip to Japan. Here’s the first post, written the morning after my arrival in Kyoto.

My travel companion is my girlfriend (now fiancé), Jordan, along with the unofficial ‘trip mascots’, a plush lobster and cat.  We are joined by our friend Daniel from Canada later in the trip.

Ok everyone! Here’s a summary of our Japan trip so far….

Check-in at LaGuardia went well and we got to Detroit with no issues.

When we got onto the plane in Detroit, it was discovered that in the business class cabin a few rows ahead of us, one of the overhead baggage bins was missing a federally-mandated weight limit sticker.

That’s right, we were delayed a little more than an hour just because there was a small sticker missing on the plane.

Soon after I saw an airport worker use packing tape to put the new label on the plane, we were on our way.

The flight was a little rough… we tried to sleep but it was difficult. Especially because there was a (insert bad word here) directly across from us on the opposite side of the plane that would open his window fully every 20 or 30 minutes. Didn’t seem like he needed to sleep at all, cause this happened from start to finish. NO consideration whatsoever!

We landed in Nagoya in the evening (only 20 minutes late), and were bowed to by the airport workers as we stepped off of the plane, which was a nice treat.

Immigration and customs went smoothly, we got our big bag sent through to the luggage delivery service, and only 70 minutes or so after we landed we were on our way to Nagoya station by way of the Meitetsu “Myu-sky”.

We connected to the shinkansen in Nagoya city (Nozomi 253)… we were at Kyoto station by 9 PM and in our hotel by 9:30.

The good thing is that we both slept well, though I had to check on the air conditioning every few hours or so. Turns out the AC was in “HEAT” mode instead of “COOL” mode!

Off to breakfast, then to our plans for the day which will hopefully include Kinkakuji (Golden temple) and a monkey park.

We did not take photos or videos last night as it was pretty dark anyway, and we were both worn out. But we’ll be on the task today.

Say a prayer for us as we start the first full day in Kyoto!

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS (Feb. 2014)

Nagoya Airport – technically Chubu Centrair International Airport – was a real pleasure to fly into. The arrival formalities were very straightforward for an airport that is now Japan’s third major gateway for International flights behind Tokyo and Osaka… the airport had only opened in 2005.

Seeing the bowing airport workers was a surprise to be sure… What I liked especially about the airport was that all of the arrival procedures were on a single level – a very short walk from the airport to Quarantine, then Immigration, then Baggage Claims, then Customs, then the exit.

Luggage delivery service is a tremendous benefit for passengers with large suitcases. You can have your luggage delivered to any destination in Japan for a reasonable cost. This allows you to carry light luggage onto whatever mode of public transport being used – many of which don’t have spaces for large suitcases. If I remember correctly, it only cost us about 2,000 yen to transport our large suitcase from Nagoya to our hotel in Kyoto.

Our starting city was Kyoto. There is an airport much closer to Kyoto – Kansai Airport. But for some reason it would cost both of us several hundred dollars extra to fly there. Working out the expenses, it turned out to be a cheaper journey if we flew into Nagoya Airport, took the airport train to the center of the city, and then took the Shinkansen for the quick trip into Kyoto.

Our itinerary for the trip was ‘open-jaw’. By starting in Nagoya and ending in Tokyo, instead of doing a round-trip in and out of Tokyo, we were able to maximize our sightseeing time, not to mention the difference in airfare was only a few dollars.

In the airport’s access plaza is the entrance to Meitetsu and their airport train, as well as a Family Mart, one of the top convenience store chains in Japan with over 10,000 outlets. That’s where Jordan fell in love with the Family Mart-brand soy sauce crackers. None could be found in Kyoto, but there’d be plenty of these to snack on once we got to Tokyo later in the trip.

I’m going back to Japan!

Welcome to the occasional update of my Japan Tips blog, this one starting with wonderful news!

My girlfriend and I have booked our air tickets to Japan for this September! It is the third trip for me, and the first trip for her. We are both excited about the opportunity, and I hope to perhaps provide regular updates here as best I can during the trip.

We’ve decided – since the airfare would be a difference of only $10 – to do an OPEN JAW itinerary. We will land in Nagoya, Japan (one of Japan’s newest International airports) and then fly out of Tokyo Narita about two weeks later. We’ll spend the first few days around Kansai, mostly Kyoto, and then move on to Tokyo from there. We’ve got a lot to plan out… how to go about, what to do, and most importantly, who to see (we have a lot of friends living in Japan!)

There’s still 4+ months to decide, of course…

So there is good news, and unfortunately some sad news, which I will point out in another post shortly… and here it is.