Welcome to Japan: Kansai International Airport

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Kansai Airport International Departures. Photo by 663highland (CC BY 2.5)

Welcome to the last 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.

In the free time that I’ve had to post articles here, I have written about Narita Airport, Haneda Airport and Centrair Airport. Now comes the last of Japan’s major airports, Osaka’s Kansai International Airport, which is a fairly recent addition; it only opened in 1994. It became so popular that a second runway was put into operation 13 years later. Kansai Airport, like Centrair Airport and a few others, sits on a man-made island in the southern part of Osaka Prefecture.

In September 2018, a strong typhoon halted operations for some time, with the runways flooded and the major bridge linking the airport to the mainland severely damaged by a drifting tanker. Repairs on the bridge have since been completed, and Kansai Airport once again welcomes visitors eager to explore the Kansai region, while at the same time serving as a springboard to western and southern Japan.

When Kansai Airport opened in the 1990s, it took most of the international operations away from Osaka’s much closer Itami Airport. Itami is still in use today; while restricted to domestic flights only, Itami is actually busier than its more modern counterpart in Osaka Bay.

Technically speaking, the airport property sits within three municipalities: Izumisano City, Tajiri City, and Sennan City. The main bridge from the airport leads you to Izumisano, home to the Rinku Town outlets and commercial zone. Japan’s third tallest building, the Rinku Gate Tower Building, is located here as well. It is also a junction for train services heading south on the Kii Peninsula.

Kansai Airport has two terminals. By far the main attraction is the main terminal building, or Terminal 1, which was designed by the famous Italian architect Renzo Piano. The terminal building is the longest in the world, stretching around 1.7 kilometers (1.06 miles) from end to end. A people mover system stretches the entire length of the facility. It is also built for easy interchanges and connections. International passengers complete arrival formalities on the first floor, while departures are handled on the fourth floor. The second floor is dedicated to domestic arrivals and departures. Shops and restaurants are located on the third floor. Directly connected to the airport is a retail complex known as the Aeroplaza.

Pale in comparison is the much more simpler Terminal 2, which is a facility built specifically for Low Cost Carrier (LCC) airlines. Facilities are much more limited compared to Terminal 1. Free shuttle buses make the approximately 10-minute trip between terminals regularly.

Now let’s go into depth about what transit options are available to and from the airport. We begin with the trains… like Narita and Haneda airports, there are two main train operators competing for your business: Japan Railways (JR) and the private Nankai Railway. Each of the two offer a premium service heading to and from Kansai Airport, as well as standard commuter service.

It’s important to point out that much like Tokyo (but on a smaller scale) there is a circular loop that goes around Osaka, called the Osaka Loop Line. A big difference compared to Tokyo, on the other hand, is that a plethora of both subway lines and private rail lines cross around and through the loop.

Japan Railways (JR)

The JR offers useful connections to the Osaka Loop Line, the bullet train, and Kyoto. You can also pick up the national Japan Rail Pass and a variety of regional JR passes at the airport.

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JR West Haruka train. Photo by Chabata K (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Their flagship limited express service is called the Haruka. It operates twice per hour throughout most of the day. With the exception of certain rush-hour trains, Haruka services leaving Kansai Airport operate nonstop to Tennoji, at the bottom of the Osaka Loop near the Namba district. The train then runs clockwise around the loop and split off, arriving at Shin-Osaka where you can easily connect to the bullet train to head off towards western Japan and cities such as Okayama, Hiroshima and Fukuoka, or even go east towards Nagoya and Tokyo. From Shin-Osaka, the Haruka proceeds directly to the ancient capital of Kyoto. Most services terminate there, while a few rush-hour trains operate as far as Maibara in Shiga Prefecture.

Haruka trains offer a combination of reserved and non-reserved seats. As it is a limited express train, you will have to pay a surcharge on top of the basic fare. Here are the Haruka fares to three major destinations:

Tennoji: 1710 yen unreserved, 2230 yen reserved (about 35 minutes)
Shin-Osaka: 2330 yen unreserved, 2850 yen reserved (about 50 minutes)
Kyoto: 2850 yen unreserved, 3370 yen reserved (about 1 hour, 20 minutes)

The Haruka also offers the first class Green Car seats, which are bigger but more expensive.

The fares seem outrageously expensive at first, but remember that you are paying for the convenience of reaching Kansai’s major stations and connection points in a hassle-free and efficient manner.

The cheaper commuter train version of JR trains is the Kanku-Kaisoku, or Kansai Airport Rapid train service. These make more stops; moreover, a major difference from the Haruka is that the commuter trains stay on the Osaka Loop Line, in most instances making a complete circuit. Rapid trains stop at Nishi-Kujo, which is a transfer point to reach Universal Studios Japan, and at plain Osaka station, which is the gateway to the Umeda area and features a newly renovated train station that I saw firsthand in 2017. Since the Kanku-Kaisoku stays on the Osaka Loop Line, you’ll have to generally change trains to reach other destinations in Kansai such as Kyoto. To reach Shin-Osaka or Kyoto, you’ll have to change trains at Osaka station and change to an eastbound train on the JR Kyoto Line (aka Tokaido Line). Sample fares:

Tennoji: 1060 yen (55 minutes)
Nishi-Kujo: 1190 yen (65 minutes)
Osaka: 1190 yen (70 minutes)
Shin-Osaka: 1360 yen (about 80 minutes; change at Osaka Station)
Kyoto: 1880 yen (about 2 hours; change at Osaka Station)

The above trains are all covered by the Japan Rail Pass and a variety of regional rail passes offered by West Japan Railway (JR West). Foreign tourists traveling out of Kansai Airport may wish to consider the short-range Kansai Area Pass, sold online starting at 2,250 yen for one day. It includes unlimited usage of trains in the Kansai region for one day, and also includes travel on the Haruka limited express in unreserved cars. Multiple day versions of the Kansai Area Pass are sold, but what’s interesting to note is that if your destination on the JR is either Shin-Osaka or Kyoto, purchasing a one-day Kansai Area Pass just for your trip on the Haruka is cheaper than buying regular unreserved tickets.

The ICOCA and Haruka ticket is also available for foreign tourists, and includes a one-way or round-trip on the Haruka in unreserved seats and a 2000 yen IC card (includes 500 yen deposit) that can be used for train travel, shopping, restaurants and vending machines.

Also note that Tennoji station connects to two of Osaka’s subway lines: the Midosuji Line and the Tanimachi Line. The Midosuji Line is among Osaka city’s most useful subway routes, as it runs north and south stopping at some major transportation hubs.

Nankai Railway

The competitor to Japan Railways is the Nankai Railway. Like JR, Nankai has a premium train as well as a regular commuter service.

Nankai trains run into southern Osaka, terminating at Namba Station, so if you are heading to this area then taking the Nankai can be a convenient option. Namba station is very large, so it may take a bit of time to navigate, but there are connections to the Midosuji, Sennichimae and Yotsubashi subway lines, as well as a connection to the Kintetsu and Hanshin railways. The Hanshin railway will take you west towards Amagasaki and Kobe (with connections available as far as Himeji) and the Kintetsu will take you east towards Nara (with connections all the way to Ise Bay and Nagoya if you feel so inclined). Nankai trains also stop at two other important hubs: Shin-Imamiya will connect you on to the JR Osaka Loop Line, and Tengachaya connects you to the Sakaisuji subway line, which provides an alternate means of traveling to Kyoto via the Hankyu Railway.

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Nankai Rapi:t train. Photo by 日根野 (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Nankai’s premier airport service is called the rap:t (pronounced ra-PEET). The trains have a very unique, streamlined/steampunk-ish look. Inside you have a choice of standard seats and slightly wider super seats. Unlike JR’s Haruka, all seats on the rap:t require a reservation. Trains leave every 30 minutes or so, and the fastest trains reach the Namba terminal in around 39 minutes. The fare between Kansai Airport and Namba, Shin-Imamiya and Tengachaya stations is the same: 1430 yen for regular seats and 1640 yen for super seats. It’s possible to purchase rap:t tickets in advance on the Nankai Railway website for a discount of 300 yen; you would then bring the voucher to one of the rap:t train stations and exchange it for an actual ticket.

Running more frequently (around 4 trains per hour) is Nankai’s commuter service, the Airport Express. The fare between Kansai Airport and Namba, Shin-Imamiya and Tengachaya stations is only 920 yen for the commuter trains.

As mentioned, the Nankai Railway offers connections to major train lines, so even though it stops short at Namba you can easily travel to other areas. Nankai sells a plethora of discount tickets that can be used to reach other parts of the Kansai and Hyogo regions:

Yokoso! Osaka Ticket: 1500 yen (online purchase). Sold only to foreigners, this includes a one-way trip on the rap:t from Kansai Airport, plus a one-day unlimited Osaka Subway/Bus pass.

Kyoto Access Ticket: 1230 yen. This ticket includes a one-way trip on regular Nankai trains from Kansai Airport to Tengachaya, and then a one-way trip from Tengachaya to Kyoto using the Sakaisuji subway line and Hankyu Railway. You can ride the Nankai rap:t train for an additional charge.

Nara Access Ticket: 1230 yen. This ticket includes a one-way trip on regular Nankai trains from Kansai Airport to Namba, and then a one-way trip from Namba to Nara using the Kintetsu Railway. You can ride the Nankai rap:t train and the Kintetsu limited express for an additional charge.

Kobe Access Ticket: 1130 yen. This ticket includes a one-way trip on regular Nankai trains from Kansai Airport to Namba, and then a one-way trip from Namba any station on the Hanshin Railway; you can travel as far as Kobe-Sannomiya and Motomachi, and apparently, you can also head towards Umeda (near JR Osaka Station) by changing trains at Amagasaki, which would still save you about 150 yen. You can ride the Nankai rap:t train for an additional charge.

Other useful passes are described on the Nankai website. One of the more useful tickets to get around the entire region is the Kansai Thru Pass, which gives you unlimited travel on private railways and many local buses in an vast area. Tickets are 4300 yen for 2 days or 5300 yen for 3 days, and you do not need to use the pass on consecutive days.

Buses

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Kansai’s Airport Limousine Buses are blue and white in color. Photo by KishujiRapid (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Highway Buses in and out of Kansai Airport are managed by Kansai Airport Transportation Enterprise. As mentioned in previous articles, they are convenient if you have lots of luggage and you don’t want to use baggage forwarding, or if you want to go to specific hotels. The only drawback is the potential for traffic.

Many buses go to Osaka’s dedicated terminal for airport buses, the Osaka City Air Terminal or OCAT in Namba, which offers access to Namba station. Buses leave every 20 minutes and are timetabled at 50 minutes between Terminal 1 and OCAT. The fare is 1100 yen one way, or 1900 yen round-trip.

Buses run every 20 minutes or so to the Sheraton Miyako Hotel Osaka, located next to Kintetsu Uehommachi station. Buses between Terminal 1 and the Sheraton take 55 minutes and cost 1550 yen one way or 2800 yen round-trip.

There are also buses that operate every 15-20 minutes to the Hotel New Hankyu and Herbis Osaka, adjacent to JR Osaka station. Buses between Terminal 1 and Hotel New Hankyu are timetabled at one hour, at a cost of 1550 yen one way or 2760 yen round-trip. Evening buses from the airport stop at more hotels in that area.

There are 1-2 direct buses every hour to Universal Studios Japan (70 minutes, 1550 yen one way or 2700 yen round-trip).

If you are connecting to a domestic flight at Itami Airport, there are regular buses that go there as well (75 minutes, 1950 yen one way or 3500 yen round-trip).

You’ll also find direct buses that go to Kyoto every 20-30 minutes (90 minutes, 2550 yen one way), Kobe every 20 minutes (65 minutes, 1950 yen one way), Nara every hour (90 minutes, 2050 yen one way) and Wakayama 1-2 times per hour (40 minutes, 1150 yen one way). Limited long distance buses also run to Okayama, Himeji, Takamatsu and Tokushima.

One other nice thing about these limousine buses is that some of the routes offer what is known as a transfer ticket, intended for passengers who are transiting at Kansai Airport. The transfer tickets offer a discount for round trips if you leave Kansai Airport and return on the same day. As an example, a transfer ticket to the JR Osaka station area and back on the same day costs 2200 yen (versus 2760 yen for a regular round-trip).

Taxis

Of course the taxi is another option that is available for you to consider, but due to their high costs I do not recommend a taxi unless you are traveling in a group, or unless absolutely necessary. Flat fare taxis are available if you are traveling to Osaka city, costing 13000 yen for regular taxis and 14000-14500 yen for medium sized taxis. These flat rates do not include tolls, and late night trips will be higher in price. If you are heading elsewhere, fares are by the meter.

If heading to Kyoto or Kobe, ride-share van service is available. MK Taxi offers a ride-share service to Kyoto (starting at 4200 yen one way) and Kobe (starting at 2500 yen one way). There are additional charges if you have more than one large suitcase. Yasaka Taxi also offers a similar service to Kyoto for the same price as MK.

High Speed Boat

If you are going to Kobe Airport or heading in that general direction, you can avail yourself of the Kobe-Kansai Airport Bay Shuttle, a high speed boat service which offers a fast shortcut. The boat is presently offering a lucrative deal to foreign tourists until March 2020, with the regular one way fare discounted from 1850 yen to just 500 yen. Boats leave every 1-2 hours and make the run in just 30 minutes. Tickets can be purchased at Kansai Airport terminal 1; once you have the tickets, a shuttle bus will take you to the boat pier. On arrival in Kobe, you can either walk or take a shuttle bus to Kobe Airport and the Port Liner automated train line which goes into central Kobe. All considered, tourists can travel from Kansai Airport to central Kobe for the low price of just 830 yen (500 yen boat discount ticket + 330 yen for the Port Liner train) and do it in around 75 minutes or so with good connections.

In theory, once you have completed the trip to Sannomiya you could then take a short hop on the Kobe Subway to Shin-Kobe station (210 yen) which provides an alternate connection to the Shinkansen for points west. Continuing past Shin-Kobe will take you in the direction of Arima Onsen.

Hotels

Two hotels are located on the island with Kansai Airport: the Hotel Nikko Kansai Airport of the respected Hotel Nikko chain, accessible from the first floor of the airport, and a hybrid capsule hotel on the third floor called First Cabin which offers a variety of sizes to suit different budgets. Note that the First Cabin has an early check out and a late check in time: 10:00 and 19:00 respectively.

A plethora of other hotels are available across the bridge by train, within close proximity of the Rinku Town and Izumisano stations. A train to Rinku Town by either JR or Nankai costs 370 yen, and a train to Izumisano by Nankai costs 490 yen.

Long-haul International Flights

Aside from domestic flights and regional flights around Asia, here is a select list of long-haul airlines that serve Kansai Airport with regular service as of this writing, in no particular order:

  • United Airlines flies to Kansai from San Francisco, United States.
  • Japan Airlines flies to Kansai from Los Angeles, United States.
  • British Airways flies to Kansai from London Heathrow, United Kingdom.
  • Air France flies to Kansai from Paris, France.
  • KLM flies to Kansai from Amsterdam, Netherlands.
  • Qantas flies to Kansai from Sydney, Australia.

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

 

 

Delta plans to resume Tokyo-Osaka flights for International Passengers

With Japanese tourism booming thanks to the weak yen and tax breaks on purchases for foreigners, Delta appears to be resuming inter-Japan service from Tokyo Narita to Osaka Kansai.

You wouldn’t know about this unless you looked at Delta’s official press release in Japanese. Starting in late march 2016, Delta will offer one daily trip from Narita to Kansai, and one flight from Kansai to Narita, using a Boeing 757. The flights to/from Osaka will only be available for international Delta passengers connecting at Narita to/from an international Delta flight. Currently, Delta operates nonstop flights between Tokyo Narita and sixteen destinations in the United States and Asia.

It is interesting to see how these connections in Tokyo will be arranged. It’s possible (but not certain, at least from my current understanding) that the connections will be treated as International Transfers – that is, there would be no immigration or customs formalities handled at Narita Airport. This sort of arrangement has been used in the past…. as an example, if you flew into Japan on Delta and you are booked onto this new flight with Osaka as your destination, you would go through international transfers, fly to Osaka, and go through customs/immigration at Kansai Airport. On the return from Osaka, you would go through Osaka’s immigration to receive your departure stamp. When landing at Narita, again, you would go through international transfers to board your flight back home.

This is a very convenient arrangement if it will be implemented in this fashion. In addition to the above, your checked luggage can be checked through to your final destination. One important thing to note, though: When you go through international transfers in Narita, you will have to go through a security check. This means that if you purchase and bring DUTY FREE LIQUIDS beforehand, you must ensure that they are in tamper-evident bags. If they are not in tamper-evident bags, they will be confiscated as the 3 oz / 100 ml liquid rule will apply.

Osaka has several cool places to visit, including the Umeda Sky Building, Kaiyukan Aquarium, and the Dotonbori Canal. It is also the gateway to the ancient capital of Kyoto, which can be accessed by direct train or bus from Kansai Airport. If your trip’s focus is on western Japan, including areas such as Hiroshima, Fukuoka, Shikoku and Kyushu, Kansai is a convenient starting point – you can take westbound bullet trains from Shin-Osaka station.

If you have a voucher for the Japan Rail Pass it can be exchanged at the JR ticket office in Kansai Airport, open daily until 11 PM.

The airport itself is a site to behold, built on a man-made island and featuring one of the world’s longest airport concourses.

Airfare Alert – Las Vegas to Japan for $700 round-trip

Posted last night on my Facebook page:

I’m here in Las Vegas where the Rugby Sevens tournament has just wrapped up. While looking for Japan airfares for a friend out here, I found some interesting information worth sharing.

There’s a last-minute airfare deal from Las Vegas to Japan for travel in late February or early March. The deal is on Hawaiian Airlines to Osaka’s Kansai Airport. The itinerary requires you to take Hawaiian’s early morning (1:45 AM) departure from Las Vegas to Honolulu. There is an eight-hour layover, which means you might be able to sneak away for a nice Hawaiian breakfast! Arrival in Osaka is the following day at 7:05 PM. The return leaves Osaka at 9:05 PM, arriving Honolulu the same morning once the time changes take effect. After a 5 1/2 hour layover for customs (and a potential Hawaiian lunch), you are back in Las Vegas at 11:40 PM.

All in all, it’s a total 25 hour journey going from Las Vegas to Osaka if the stopover in Honolulu is included, and about 18-19 hours on the way back.

While Google’s airfare search spit out a round-trip fare of $851 round-trip, a direct search on the Hawaiian Airlines website brings the fare down to as low as $700 round-trip. While the dates departing to Japan are limited to late February and early March, the time frame for the return seems to be slightly loose. If I remember correctly, Hawaiian Airlines will allow you to check up to two bags at no charge for the journey (per person).

If long layovers or trips are not your forte, for another $300 more or so you can fly from Las Vegas to Tokyo on American/JAL connecting in Los Angeles.

This airfare was re-checked on Monday afternoon February 16 (Pacific Time) and is subject to change! 🙂

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!

So You’ve Landed in Japan – Customs and Immigration

6/30/2018 Update: This post has turned into the most popular post on my blog thus far. I would like to clarify that the post provides basic guidance on the flow of arrival procedures when arriving in Japan. Please note that this blog does not offer advice or answers on detailed questions concerning immigration status, visas, etc. It is my policy NOT to address these questions, which are best answered by your local Japanese embassy or consulate.

Also please note that the arrival procedures have changed a little since this post was written. When you arrive in Japan, you will now receive a DISEMBARKATION FORM ONLY. An embarkation form is no longer required when leaving the country.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now let’s review the procedures for arrival.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Disclaimer: Please note that this blog does not offer advice or answers on detailed questions concerning immigration status, visas, etc. It is my policy NOT to address these questions, which are best answered by your local Japanese embassy or consulate. Thank you.

Autumn Fare Sale for flights from New York, Houston and Washington to Japan

One of the most difficult aspects – and one of the biggest expenses – of a trip to Japan is the airfare. Right now (April 14, 2014) the round-trip airfares from New York, for example, are a staggering $1,500 per person. So it helps to occasionally do some research to see if there are any good airfare deals.

I stumbled upon a few cheap airfares that are worth mentioning if you are interested in making plans to visit Japan in the fall.

First is a fare sale that Air China (Star Alliance carrier) is having on its flights to Beijing from Houston-Intercontinental and Washington-Dulles, which then extends to connecting flights operating out of Beijing to Tokyo and Osaka. I am guessing these fares are on sale because they are relatively new air routes. If you don’t mind a longer trip (18-19 hours or so each way) and an evening arrival in Japan then you may want to look at what they are offering.

The second cheap airfare is something I’ve mentioned before – it’s the service from China Airlines (Skyteam carrier) that operates from New York-JFK nonstop to Osaka-Kansai three times a week, as part of its route that continues to Taiwan. While Air China also offers a similar fare sale from New York to Tokyo and Osaka via Beijing, China Airlines’ nonstop to Osaka is, in my opinion, the better and less time consuming deal.

Before continuing, a reminder that these airfares were researched independently by myself on April 14, 2014 and the expiration date for sales is not known. Information provided is for use at your own risk and subject to the Jose’s Japan Tips Disclaimer.

NEW YORK TO OSAKA KANSAI (Nonstop on China Airlines)
$1,111 round/trip including taxes and fees.
The fare is valid for outbound travel from September 15 through November 22 and requires a minimum stay of 6 nights in Japan. Maximum stay is 30 days or returning on November 29, 2014, whichever is sooner. Travel between New York and Osaka operates on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays in both directions. There is a free checked baggage allowance of two bags per person.

HOUSTON TO TOKYO HANEDA/NARITA (via Beijing on Air China)
$909 round/trip including taxes and fees.
As the Houston to Beijing flight is a redeye (leaving 1 AM and arriving 4:50 AM), you can choose a flight to either Haneda or Narita airport. The flight to Haneda is recommended since it arrives one hour sooner than the flight to Narita (12:50 PM vs 1:55 PM), and because Haneda is closer to Tokyo than Narita.

HOUSTON TO OSAKA KANSAI (via Beijing on Air China)
$913 round/trip including taxes and fees.

WASHINGTON, DC TO TOKYO HANEDA/NARITA (via Beijing on Air China)
$1,051 round/trip including taxes and fees.
The flight from Washington requires an overnight layover in Beijing, yielding an arrival in Japan two days later. You can choose a connecting flight to either Haneda or Narita airport. The flight to Haneda is recommended since it arrives one hour sooner than the flight to Narita (12:50 PM vs 1:55 PM), and because Haneda is closer to Tokyo than Narita. On the return trip the layover in Beijing is only 1 1/2 hours.

WASHINGTON, DC TO OSAKA KANSAI (via Beijing on Air China)
$1,054 round/trip including taxes and fees.

All of the AIR CHINA FLIGHTS are valid for outbound travel from September 5 through December 8, with a few blackout dates (more from Washington than Houston). The maximum stay is 30 days or returning on December 31, 2014, whichever is sooner. With Air China there is a free checked baggage allowance of two bags per person.

No matter how long your layover, Beijing has a transit visa waiver for passengers staying in the airport and connecting to another flight within 24 hours. When transiting in Beijing you will have to go through border inspection for your transfer, followed by a security checkpoint.

There is also a 72-hour transit visa waiver for citizens of over 50 countries, including the US and Canada, who stop and sightsee in Beijing en route to a destination outside of China.

Of course, if you live on the West Coast of the US, the flights are pretty competitive, with nonstop flights in the fall – particularly on ANA, as well as Singapore from Los Angeles – going for about $1,000 round/trip. 🙂

I hope this information helps you if you decide to go and experience the wonderful country of Japan in a few months!