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.

 

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Welcome to Japan: Haneda Airport

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Haneda Airport International Terminal Interior. Photo by Suikotei (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Welcome to the second 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 my first post I talked about Narita Airport. I will now talk about Narita’s “neighbor” Haneda Airport, the closest major airport to Tokyo.

Haneda Airport began operations well before World War II. It was not until the 1950’s that Haneda really began to expand with growing services around the globe. As it became a strong airport for both domestic and international flights, the government decided that a new airport was needed to address capacity requirements. In 1978 almost all international traffic shifted to Narita Airport. Haneda became a mainly domestic airport for the next several decades… a bit troublesome for anyone flying into the country at Narita wishing to transfer to a domestic flight at Haneda.

In 2010, a state-of-the-art International Terminal opened, heralding the return of mainline international flights. Slots were initially limited to inconvenient nighttime arrivals and departures as domestic flights still took up most of the daily schedule. This would slowly change, with more slots being opened thanks to new runways and taxiways and redevelopment of airspace routes.

Today, Haneda Airport stands as a proud symbol of Tokyo and Japan, whether you are arriving in the country or just transiting through.

Haneda Airport has three terminals. In addition to the International Terminal, Haneda has two Domestic terminals, each serving one of the two major Japanese airline carriers.

Terminal 1: Japan Airlines (JAL) domestic flights, Skymark Airlines
Terminal 2: All Nippon (ANA) domestic flights, Solaseed, Air Do
International Terminal: All international flights including JAL and ANA
*Domestic airline StarFlyer operates from both Terminal 1 and Terminal 2.

If you need to transfer between terminals, you have a few options.

If you are moving between the two domestic terminals, you can take a shuttle bus outside security, departing every 4 minutes. Alternatively, you can go downstairs to take a moving walkway, which is approximately 400 meters (1/4 mile) in length from one terminal to the other.

Moving between one of the domestic terminals and the international terminal is another story as they are much further apart. There are several options available:

  • You can use the Keikyu Railway or the Tokyo Monorail to travel between the terminals. Keikyu Railway has one station serving both domestic terminals, and one station at the international terminal. Tokyo Monorail has two stations serving each domestic terminal, and one station at the international terminal. The trip is only a few minutes and costs 200 yen. However, if you are transferring between an International and Domestic flight (and vice-versa) you can ride either of these trains for free by presenting your passport and onward boarding pass.
  • You can take the free shuttle bus outside of security that runs to/from the International terminals. Buses run every 4 minutes and make the trip in 7-12 minutes.
  • If you are arriving on an International flight and are changing to a Domestic flight, you may be offered an option by your airline to use the Domestic Transfer Counter at the International Terminal. This means that after you collect your luggage from your International flight and clear immigration/customs, you proceed to the Domestic Transfer Counter to check your bags and receive a boarding pass for your domestic flight. You then clear security immediately and take a bus that will drive you to the secure area of Terminal 1 or 2. This allows you to effectively “bypass” check-in and security queues in the domestic terminals, not to mention you don’t have to lug all of your belongings along the way.

Let’s talk more about the Keikyu Railway and Tokyo Monorail, the two rail operators with services to and from Haneda Airport.

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Tokyo Monorail Series 10000 train. Photo by nyohoho (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Tokyo Monorail

The Tokyo Monorail is an engineering feat, having been completed in time for the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics to easily connect global visitors to the heart of Tokyo along the coast of Tokyo Bay. It has undergone a few changes since the early 2000’s, the most important of which was a re-build and re-route to serve the new International Terminal. Trains leave every few minutes and head towards Hamamatsucho station, which interchanges with the JR Yamanote Line that loops around central Tokyo.

The fastest trains, the Haneda Express, run from the International Terminal station to Hamamatsucho in as little as 13 minutes nonstop. Stopping patterns of trains will vary depending on the time of day; for example you’ll find that all of the services during weekday rush hours are local trains.

A one-way ticket to Hamamatsucho from any of the Airport stations will cost 490 yen, easily payable with an IC card like Suica or Pasmo.

An advantage of the Tokyo Monorail is its partnership with Japan Railways… or to be technical, its majority ownership (70% of the Tokyo Monorail stock is owned by East Japan Railway). As a result, trips on the Tokyo Monorail are free of charge for holders of any sort of national Japan Rail Pass or regional JR East Pass that includes the greater Tokyo area. What’s more, there’s even a JR East Service Center open seven days a week from 6:45-18:30 that can answer your travel questions or process rail pass exchanges.

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Keikyu Railway Airport Express service. Photo by Inatewi (CC BY-SA 4.0)

 Keikyu Railway

The Keikyu is one of the most important private railways in Japan. Its primary purpose is to serve commuter passengers from Tokyo to Yokohama, Yokosuka and the Miura peninsula. One of their branch lines is an important one that runs from the city of Kamata directly towards Haneda Airport. Kamata is an important station to bring up because it may or may not affect your trip on Keikyu, depending on which train you use.

The fastest service on the Keikyu out of Haneda Airport is the Airport Rapid Express, or Airport Kaitoku, which operates nonstop between the Haneda Airport stations and Shinagawa station, which is on the JR Yamanote Line loop. These make the nonstop run in as little as 11 minutes at a cost of 410 yen; some others make one or more stops, including at Kamata, along the way. From Shinagawa, trains run north into the Toei Asakusa Subway Line, which provides easy one-seat train rides to Shimbashi, Nihombashi, Asakusa and Oshiage – a few go directly to Narita Airport as well.

The Airport Express is a common service that not only serves Shinagawa, but also serves Kawasaki and Yokohama. If you board an Airport Express to Yokohama, your train will travel to Kamata station and then reverse direction. These one-seat trips to Yokohama take around 23 minutes and cost 450 yen. You also have the option of changing at Kamata to the next fast train towards Shinagawa or Yokohama depending on your destination.

Transfers to the Shinkansen

Are you planning to take the Shinkansen right away when you land? Unlike Narita, which offers a direct Japan Railway connection to the bullet trains (the Narita Express), Haneda is a little different.

You can easily take the Tokyo Monorail to Hamamatsucho, and then take the Yamanote or Keihin Tohoku lines to either Tokyo or Shinagawa stations. If you are heading to northern Japan, go to Tokyo station. If you are heading towards Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka and points further west, go to Shinagawa station. All of these methods are free when you use any sort of national or JR East Rail Pass. Bear in mind that the Keikyu Railway offers a one-seat ride to Shinagawa, so even if you have a JR pass it may be worth paying the 410 yen to ride the Keikyu just for the convenience.

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Many highway buses from Haneda go to the Shinjuku Expressway Bus Terminal in Tokyo. Photo by nesnad (CC BY-SA 4.0)

 Buses

Just like Narita Airport, Haneda has a large number of highway buses that will take you out of the airport and into most parts of Tokyo. While they can get held up depending on road conditions, they also provide direct access to major hotels and train stations.

The Airport Limousine Bus does offer a service from Haneda Airport to Tokyo City Air Terminal, or T-CAT, but at an irregular frequency compared to the several buses per hour that ply to and from Narita. Buses take 35-60 minutes depending on the route and stops, but trips cost only 820 yen. There are a few buses per day that operate nonstop between T-CAT and the International Terminal only, while others serve some or all of the airport terminals.

On the other hand, the real route where the Airport Limousine shines in this instance is the run from Haneda Airport to Shinjuku and adjacent hotels. This is because Shinjuku is not as easily accessible by train from Haneda. You’ll find several buses per hour departing from all of Haneda’s terminals, with most stopping outside of Shinjuku Station, some continuing to Shinjuku Expressway Bus Terminal (which has become a major hub for highway buses heading out to other distant cities), and a few heading to some of the top hotels in the area. A trip from Haneda to Shinjuku costs 1,230 yen and takes about an hour.

The Airport Limousine web site has a complete list of stops made on its vast network, from train stations to hotels. It also offers direct connections to Narita. Each passenger is allowed to check up to two pieces of luggage in the hold of the bus.

Note that late night departures of the limousine bus (generally any bus leaving after midnight) will incur a night surcharge on top of the normal fare.

Taxis

Expensive Tokyo taxis are another option. Once again, if you are travelling in a group and everyone is willing to pay a share of the taxi fare, it can be a good point-to-point option.

Flat-fare taxis are available from the flat-fare taxi ranks to bring you to most areas of Tokyo. Some examples of flat fare prices include 5,900 yen to Chiyoda ward (home of Tokyo Station) and 7,100 yen to Shinjuku. It’s important to note that flat fare services are not offered to the immediate areas and wards near Haneda Airport. If you go to these short-range destinations then you will pay by the meter.

If you are considering a taxi, my recommendation is to use public transit (in this case, train, monorail or bus) to a major station near where you want to go, and then take a taxi to your final destination.

International Terminal

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A double room inside the Royal Park Hotel The Haneda in the International Terminal. Some of these hotel rooms are inside the transit area, making it a convenient resting place for international flight connections. Photo by Flickr user brownpau (CC BY 2.0)
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Step back in time when visiting the shops in the International Terminal. Photo by edomuranotokuzou (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Whether you are flying in or out of Haneda, transiting, or just paying a visit, the new International Terminal has a lot of wonderful features to please the curious traveler.
You’ll find stores and restaurants reminiscent of the old Edo era on the upper floors of the terminal, along with an observation deck and even a Muslim prayer room. If you forget any items, toiletries or bags, chances are one of the pre-security stores will fix you up.

The International Terminal also has a unique hotel, Royal Park Hotel The Haneda, located within the International Building. Rooms can be pricey at times, but the location can’t be beat. The hotel actually has two sections: In addition to the main hotel, there is also a Transit Hotel located within the secure part of the airport designed for outbound and transiting International passengers. If you have a long layover and don’t feel like venturing out of the airport, then sleep in your very own bed at this transit hotel complete with a shower. The hotel also offers refresh rooms with a sofa, TV and shower that cost 2,000 yen for an hour and 1,000 yen for every 30 minutes thereafter.

Conclusion

While Narita remains the major International airport of both Tokyo and Japan as a whole, Haneda is making a strong comeback with increasing flights and modern amenities for a pleasant trip. Out of the four major International airports in Japan, Haneda is the only one I haven’t visited (as far as the new International building is concerned). Please enjoy all that Haneda has to offer, whether it be for travel, transit or sightseeing.

All information and links were accurate as of December 2018, and subject to the disclaimer. Photos used in the article are either public domain or courtesy of creative commons licenses.

Welcome to Japan: Narita Airport

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Narita Airport T1 Observation Deck. Photo by Kentaro Iemoto (Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0)

Welcome to the first 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. This post focuses on Narita Airport, one of Tokyo’s major gateways located some 60 kilometers to the east in Chiba Prefecture.

Narita Airport has an interesting history, as it was built on expropriated farmland. Protests lingered on for many years, with activists constantly delaying or sabotaging construction of the airport, upset that those who lived and worked on the land were not notified in advance of the project. Some say that the battle is a major reason why some of Japan’s newer airports, including Osaka Kansai, Chubu Centrair (Nagoya) and Kobe, are built out to sea on man-made islands.

Despite its past, Narita Airport is one of the major gateways into Tokyo, and indeed to the entire country. It is lately facing increased competition from the closer Haneda Airport, nevertheless most international airlines opt to serve Narita.

Narita has three terminals:
Terminal 1 mainly serves airlines in the Star Alliance (including ANA, United, Air Canada) and SkyTeam (including Delta, Korean Air, Air France).
Terminal 2 mainly serves airlines in OneWorld (including Japan Airlines, American, British Airways, Qantas).
Terminal 3 recently opened and primarily serves low-cost-carriers (LCCs) including Jetstar Japan.

A complimentary shuttle bus system connects all three terminals outside of security. Terminal 3 can also be accessed via a walkway from Terminal 2.

Leaving Narita can be a little bit of a task, especially if heading into Tokyo itself. There are many transit options available, including some new players attracting frugal and LCC travelers.

Let’s go ahead and spell out the main travel options available from Narita Airport.

Train

Narita Airport is served by two train stations: Narita Airport Terminal 1 Station and Narita Airport Terminals 2/3. The latter is connected directly to Terminal 2, from which Terminal 3 can be reached by walking or by shuttle bus.

Two railways run services from Narita Airport on three lines… so I’ll try to make this as less confusing as possible.

Let’s start with the premium trains that run out of Narita: the Skyliner and the Narita Express. These are fast, all-reserved trains that run towards Tokyo several times per hour.

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Keisei Skyliner. Photo by E176 (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The Skyliner is the fastest train – with speeds reaching 160 km/h on a short stretch of track near the airport, it is currently Japan’s fastest conventional passenger train. Operating on the Narita Sky Access Line, which is the straightest path towards Tokyo, trains operate between Narita Airport and Tokyo in as little as 36 minutes. The two main stations served are Nippori station and Keisei Ueno station. Nippori station is an ideal place to transfer to the JR Yamanote Line, which is the loop that goes around central Tokyo (the green circle line on the maps). It’s also possible to transfer to the Keihin-Tohoku line, which can bring you north to Saitama prefecture or south towards Yokohama. Keisei Ueno is the terminal station, which is separate from the Ueno station served by JR. A few minutes walk above or below ground will bring you towards several JR lines, including the Shinkansen heading northbound towards Tohoku, Niigata and Kanazawa, as well as several subway lines.

A one-way ticket on the Skyliner for adults is 2,470 yen, which includes the reserved seat fare. If you change to the JR or another line in Tokyo, you’ll have to pay the respective fares for those lines.

Here are some discount and package ticket plans that are available:
– Foreign visitors have the opportunity to purchase discounted vouchers for the Skyliner online at a cost of 2,200 yen one way or 4,300 yen round trip. Bring the printed vouchers to Japan where you will exchange them for your tickets.
– A discount package is available that combines either a one-way or round-trip ticket for the Skyliner with a 24, 48 or 72-hour free pass to use all subways in Tokyo. The open ticket for both Tokyo Metro and Toei Subway can be used for one of these specified periods, with the clock starting when you first use the ticket to enter the subway. Fares start at 2,800 yen for a one-way Skyliner ticket and a 24-hour subway pass.
– If you want to combine the Skyliner with a taxi, a package deal is available that includes a one-way ticket on the Skyliner from Narita Airport to Ueno, followed by a reserved taxi that will take you to any destination within 11 of Tokyo’s wards. On the way to your destination, the taxi will take a sightseeing route past two or three of Tokyo’s main attractions. The ticket costs 5,000-6,500 yen for one person, with the per-person cost reduced for two or three passengers in the same party. Up to two large suitcases per party are permitted (presumably because of the trunk/boot space in the taxi). Note that regular taxi ranks at the metered rates are available at Nippori and Ueno.

The Skyliner’s advantage is speed, with trains running in as little as 36 minutes between Narita Terminals 2/3 and Nippori station.

The Japan Railways answer to the Skyliner is the Narita Express, which generally operates out of Narita Airport twice per hour. Whereas the Skyliner has speed on its side, the Narita Express offers the best direct connections in Tokyo to the rest of the JR network. You can comfortably travel from Narita Airport to Tokyo station, Shinagawa, Shibuya and Shinjuku. Some services continue on towards Ikebukuro and Yokohama. With the Narita Express, you can relax comfortably on the same train to all of these destinations.

Onward connections by JR are easy. You can change to the Yamanote line at any of the major JR stations within Tokyo. Tokyo station offers a connection to all bullet trains – if you’re connecting to the bullet train towards Nagoya and Kyoto, an easier connection can be done from the Narita Express stop at Shinagawa. At Shinjuku you can connect to Chuo Line trains bound for Hachioji, Mount Takao, Mount Fuji and Matsumoto.

The other significant advantage is that the ride on the Narita Express is included in the cost of a national Japan Rail Pass, or one of the regional rail passes marketed by JR East. Simply exchange your Rail Pass voucher for the pass itself at Narita Airport, make your Narita Express reservation, and be on your way.

Without a rail pass of any sort, a one-way ticket from Narita Airport starts at 3,020 yen to Tokyo Station in standard class or 4,560 yen in Green (first) class.

A better deal for foreign tourists is the Narita Express round-trip ticket costing 4,000 yen in standard class, which includes a round-trip on the Narita Express and free travel to/from any JR station within a designated area. For example, you could take the Narita Express to Shibuya and then take the Yamanote Line to Harajuku. On the return trip you could travel from Nakano to Shinjuku and then take the Narita Express. Even a one-way trip to Yokohama on the discount ticket is much cheaper compared to its regular one-way cost of 4,290 yen.

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Keisei commuter train on a Sky Access Line service.

The Skyliner and Narita Express are not the only options – cheaper commuter trains also serve Narita Airport, with a large reach at a low price. Keisei operates commuter trains from Narita on two lines: The Keisei Main Line and the Narita Sky Access Line. Services to Nippori and Ueno are offered like the Skyliner, but commuter trains also have a direct or one-transfer option to reach the Toei Asakusa Subway Line, which passes through some of Tokyo’s major districts including Nihombashi, Shimbashi and Shinagawa – some even go to Haneda Airport or Yokohama.

The Sky Access line offers a more direct and faster trip compared to the Keisei Main Line, at a slightly higher cost. In fact, to make sure that you pay the correct fare, there are multiple fare gates and split platforms for the Keisei trains at Narita Airport.

Sky Access trains run 1-2 times per hour and are known as Access Tokkyu (or Access Express) services. You can reach Nippori in 65 minutes at a cost of only 1,240 yen; Ueno is an extra 5 minutes from there. Going down the subway line, Oshiage, home to Tokyo SkyTree, is 55 minutes away (1,170 yen), Asakusa one hour (1,290 yen), and Shinagawa is 80 minutes (1,520 yen). If you need to change trains, the best place to do so is at Aoto, which is a cross-platform transfer.

The cheapest trains are the Keisei Line tokkyu, or Limited Express trains. They leave 3 times per hour during the day, with most trains terminating at Ueno. Nippori is 75 minutes away at a cost of 1,030 yen, with Ueno 5 minutes away. Changing in Aoto, you can reach Oshiage in around 70 minutes (980 yen), Asakusa 75 minutes (1,100 yen) and Shinagawa 95 minutes (1,330 yen).

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JR East commuter train service. Photo by Sakamoto hiei (CC BY-SA 3.0)

JR’s commuter service runs 1 or 2 times per hour and operates through Tokyo and Shinagawa towards Yokohama and the Miura Peninsula. There are regular commuter seats, as well as unreserved Green Car (first class) seats that should be easy to get when leaving Narita Airport. Tokyo Station can be reached in 90 minutes (1,320 yen), Shinagawa in around 1 hour 45 minutes (1,490 yen), and Yokohama in a little over 2 hours (1,940 yen). A Green Car seat costs an additional 980 yen and can be purchased as a separate ticket or charged to an IC card.

The downside of using commuter trains is that they could get crowded as you enter Tokyo, especially during the morning rush hour. On the other hand, there are many interchanges to other train and subway lines that make navigating to where you want to go a little bit easier.

Buses

Buses are the primary competition for trains. While Buses can get delayed in traffic, buses can be the most direct method to reach Tokyo’s major hotels. If you choose the right bus, you can get a great price as well. Another advantage is that many buses serve Narita Terminal 3, the LCC terminal.

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Airport Limousine bus. Photo by Comyu (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The flagship bus service is the Airport Limousine bus from Narita to the Tokyo City Air Terminal, or T-CAT. T-CAT is located in Hakozaki with easy access to the Tokyo Metro Hanzomon Subway Line and a taxi rank. With a choice of highways and a dedicated expressway exit, travel times to T-CAT are advertised at 65 minutes (minimum) at a cost of 2,800 yen each way.

The Airport Limousine web site has a complete list of stops made on its vast network, from train stations to hotels. It also offers direct connections to Tokyo’s other airport, Haneda. Each passenger is allowed to check up to two pieces of luggage in the hold of the bus.

Some travel deals for the Limousine Bus include:
Return voucher: 4,500 yen for two tickets (one-way) to any destination within the 23 wards of Tokyo.
Multi voucher: 8,000 yen for four tickets (one-way) to any destination within the 23 wards of Tokyo.
T-CAT special: For foreign tourists only – trips to and from T-CAT are just 1,900 yen each way.

There are cheaper buses available which cost just 1,000 yen to reach Tokyo from Narita Airport, but note that these buses only allow ONE piece of checked luggage in the hold. Due to their popularity, the buses are also regularly full.
These buses include:

Keisei Bus Tokyo Shuttle: Runs several times per hour, stopping a short walk from the Yaesu North exit of Tokyo Station. Buses take 65-85 minutes. If you buy a voucher online at least 2 days in advance, the fare is only 900 yen.
The Access Narita (JR Bus/Be-Transse): Runs several times per hour, and stops directly at the Yaesu exit of Tokyo Station. No ticket purchase necessary – just line up and board the bus. These buses also go to Ginza Station, near Sukiyabashi Intersection.

Taxi

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Japanese taxi. Photo by Kure (CC BY-SA 2.5)

A third way to reach Tokyo is by taxi, which is not recommended for most travelers. The reasons are simple: first, taxis can be expensive, especially in Japan. Second, remember that Narita Airport is some 60 km away from Tokyo, so taking a taxi will rack up a very large bill – equivalent to a few nights in the typical business hotel. One of the situations where you would consider a taxi from the airport is if you have multiple people in your party, in which case the cost of a taxi can be split between everyone. Of course, the other advantage of the taxi is the ability to drop you off at the destination of your choice.

A taxi hailed directly by yourself, according to an online fare calculator provided by a major Japanese taxi operator, costs in excess of 22,000 yen to Tokyo Station or 25,000 to the Expressway Bus Terminal in Shinjuku, not including expressway tolls. Remember that when fares are by the meter, the meter will be affected by slow or stopped traffic.

Flat-fare taxis are available to Tokyo from the flat-fare taxi ranks. These are a better option if you use a taxi, since the fare will be the same no matter if there’s good or bad traffic. As examples, flat fares to Tokyo Station cost 20,000-21,500 yen… as little as 6,700 yen per person for a party of three. To Shinjuku, flat fare taxis cost 22,000-22,500 yen.

The best option if you are considering a taxi, in my opinion, is to travel into Tokyo by public transit – Skyliner, Narita Express, or bus. When you reach a stop that is close to where you are ultimately going, you can change to a taxi. The Skyliner and Taxi ticket is also an option.

Conclusion

Narita Airport is, without question, the major gateway into Japan, although Haneda Airport is growing and trying to catch up. I hope this article helps you in making decisions about how to leave Narita and begin exploring a wonderful country.

All information and links were accurate as of August 2018, and subject to the disclaimer. Photos used in the article are either public domain or courtesy of creative commons licenses.

Airfare Alert: Los Angeles to Tokyo on Singapore Airlines for $550 round-trip

It’s not too often that I pass along some nice airfare deals that I find while roaming the wonderful Internet, but this offer appears too good to pass up on.

As reported by the travel blog God Save the Points, Singapore Airlines has launched a sale on economy and premium economy seats on their daily flights from Los Angeles to Tokyo Narita airport. Economy tickets are are as low as $550 round-trip, while Premium Economy tickets are a good price as well – the blog reports fares starting at $1100 round-trip, though my recent Google Flights search comes up with flights in the range of $1300.

These are for round-trip flights in the beginning of 2019: January 10 through the end of May to be exact. Your return flight to Los Angeles must be no more than 30 days after your flight to Tokyo. Fares are available through July 9, or, as the sales lingo goes, “while supplies last.” So you might not want to wait too long to book a flight.

LA to Tokyo flights are usually priced competitively, but what makes this sale unique is that you are flying on one of the “fifth-freedom” routes of Singapore Airlines, widely heralded as one of the best airlines in the world. Indeed, it is one of ten airlines in the world to receive a 5-Star Airline ranking from SKYTRAX. (One of the others is Japan-based ANA). In fact, Singapore’s economy class cabin itself also received a 5-Star rating.

I’ve yet to see if other airlines have tried to match Singapore’s fare sale, but if you do a search on Google Flights the sale prices should be bookable on Singapore’s website and most of the major online travel sites.

Tax-Free Shopping in Japan Just Got Better

Greetings everyone! It’s been a while since I last posted here… so before I go into the topic at hand, I just wanted to quickly say thanks to everyone for their continued support. I have been sharing my Japan travel videos on my Facebook page primarily, and I am finally down to the last one! Yes, it’s only been… just about nine months since I went? The last video will be a very long one, documenting my trip on Japan Airlines in International First Class. I expect that video to be released sometime in July.

Now that I’ve almost finished my travel video series, I can go back to the task at hand: giving you tips and suggestions on how to make the most of your next trip to Japan, based on my experience of four visits as a tourist, and based on my research.

Here’s some exciting news in case you want to visit Japan and do some tax-free shopping! You can now get a refund of the 8% consumption tax (like a sales tax) if purchasing a combination of general and consumable items totaling at least 5,000 yen at a tax-free shop.

Within the last few years Japan added a number of eligible products that can be purchased tax-free in the country by foreign tourists. Products were classified in two categories: General products like clothes, jewelry, shoes and appliances, and Consumable products like food, cosmetics, alcohol and tobacco. The previous rule was that if you spent at least 5,000 yen in one of these categories, you would receive the tax rebate. Until now, you could not combine the total for both general products and consumable products…. for example, if you spent 3,000 yen in each category, you would not be eligible for the tax rebate. Under the new rules, you CAN get the rebate.

When you combine general and consumable items in a single transaction, then you cannot use the items while in Japan and must take them out of the country within 30 days.

Hopefully this makes it easier to purchase great items in Japan without the tax. As a general rule, when you make these purchases you will be required to show your passport, and a receipt will be stapled into your passport for each shop. You will then be required to turn all of the receipts in to Japanese customs when you leave the country. At an airport, the customs desks are usually located between security and outbound immigration.

For more information, please see this handy guide from the JNTO.

Watch me on NHK WORLD J-Trip Plan!

I’ve been keeping a secret about my recent trip to Japan, and now I can officially share the news: This Monday I am scheduled to appear on Japanese television, on the international English-language channel of Japan public broadcaster NHK.

The NHK WORLD channel has many public interest shows aside from news updates, and one such program is called J-Trip Plan. I’ve been a follower of this program since its inception. The show offers tourists handy info and regional advice on where to go, what to see, and how to experience Japan like an expert. 

Two of the days on my recent trip were spent with producers and writers from the show who interviewed me and recorded me with television cameras.

My short segment will discuss how to navigate Japan’s often-confusing train system. The show is scheduled to air on NHK WORLD on Monday, January 22 at 9:30 AM, 3:30 PM and 9:30 PM Eastern Time (UTC -5). NHK WORLD can be viewed on some cable/satellite outlets in major US cities, and it can also be streamed online through the NHK WORLD Website and the NHK WORLD mobile app.

On January 23, the show moves to the NHK WORLD Video-On-Demand service, where it will be available for one year. 

I’m really excited and thankful to the NHK and Genki Project for this opportunity, and for the chance to meet new friends!

NHK WORLD J-Trip Plan
Official Website
Official Facebook Page