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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Kintetsu Railway now accepts online reservations in English

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The Shimakaze, one of Kintetsu Railway’s flagship trains. Photo by KishujiRapid/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

One of the major… and if I’m not mistaken, the largest… private railway operator in Japan is now accepting online reservations for their premium trains in English.

Kintetsu Railway offers a reliable service connecting three major cities, as well as important cultural and seaside destinations, across FIVE prefectures. Trains primarily run from Kyoto and Nagoya (close to their JR counterparts) as well as from Namba in the southern part of Osaka city, out towards Nara (housing a Buddhist temple in the world’s largest wooden building), Ise (home to one of Japan’s most revered Shinto shrines), and the coastal towns of Toba and Shima. In addition to the seaside cities, you will find frequent premium trains from Kyoto to Nara, and from Osaka to Nagoya (a cheaper alternative compared to the Shinkansen).

All of this information is spelled out in English on Kintetsu’s website. I stumbled across this website after watching a feature on NHK World’s television program Japan Railway Journal, during a segment explaining how Kintetsu Railway aims to help foreign tourists who are visiting the areas that they serve. This episode will still be available on VOD, but only for a few more days.

The new Kintetsu site offers useful information on how to use their trains… and now also includes a new section for E-Tickets, which I believe has been offered for just a few months. That’s right, if you know what premium train you want to use on Kintetsu and when you want to go, you can now make reservations online in advance.

All of the premium Kintetsu trains require a seat reservation. You’ll need to pay for the reservation using a credit card. Then you print out the confirmation or save it on your smartphone, and when you come to Japan you will need to purchase your BASIC ticket that covers the same distance… If you need a refresher, remember that premium train services require a basic ticket (to cover the regular fare from point A to point B if you used a local train) and an express/limited express ticket surcharge (to cover a specific train and seat on the same route). You can use standard tickets, valid day passes or a stored fare (IC) card to cover your basic fare.

While I don’t think you need to make a reservation far ahead of time for Kintetsu, there are a few exceptions to consider in my opinion. First, you may wish to consider a reservation if you are traveling during times of high demand, such as Japan’s big travel holidays in late April-early May, August, and late December-early January. I would imagine that the autumn season also sees high demand because many travelers like to visit these regions to see nature’s fall colors. Also in high demand are Kintetsu’s flagship trains such as the Shimakaze, which generally runs a small number of services… one round trip in either direction between Ise/Shima/Toba and the major cities of Nagoya, Kyoto and Osaka. These trains offer all-deluxe seating, rooms for groups, and even an on-board cafe. Under these circumstances you may wish to consider reserving your ticket ahead of time. If your plans change, Kintetsu will allow you to change your reservation up to three times.

I can highly vouch for Kintetsu’s Limited Express services, which are very efficient. I used the premium train on services between Kyoto and Nara, and also used it for a slightly more expensive yet comfortable trip between Osaka and Kyoto, changing trains just outside of Nara. It was more pleasant to take this little detour – especially during the evening rush hour – so that I did not have to deal with the commuter trains on the more direct route. (And just for kicks, yes, this route CAN be reserved through Kintetsu’s online system!)

Keep in mind that the online reservation system for Kintetsu is not available during overnight hours (Japan Time), and that train reservations open up at 10:30 (Japan Time) one month before departure.

I’m happy to see more and more Japanese companies offer online reservations for foreigners visiting the country. Kintetsu is among the latest additions, and joins other companies like JR East, Odakyu, Tobu, Willer Express and JR Bus.

Have I left any other companies out? Please comment and let me know!

Overnight by Train in Japan: The Options – March 2016 Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TOKYO to KYOTO or OSAKA via Tokaido Shinkansen

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

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

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

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

TOKYO to KYOTO or OSAKA via Kanazawa

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

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

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

TOKYO to TAKAMATSU and the rest of Shikoku

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

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

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

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

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

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

TOKYO to HIROSHIMA and FUKUOKA (and Kyushu)

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

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

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

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

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

TOKYO to HAKODATE and SAPPORO (and Hokkaido)

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

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

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

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

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

OSAKA and KYOTO to HAKODATE and SAPPORO

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

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

Via northern coast

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

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

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

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

There is a layover of 50 minutes in Akita.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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!

Tokyo to Kyoto for $21… and other cheap ways to transit Japan

Thanks to everyone for reading this hobby blog of mine for the last few years. For some reason or another, everyone keeps reading and commenting on my post about traveling from Tokyo to Kyoto for 2,300 yen (under September 2014 exchange rates, about $21)… So because so many people are interested, here is a list of some ways that you can travel around Japan on the cheap!

– Bring a few friends to Japan and travel with the Seishun 18 Ticket 

If you bring a few friends, or know a few friends willing to travel around with you, the Seishun 18 Ticket – a travel ticket offered at certain times of the year – could be your best friend. Literally translated “Youth 18” and initially targeted to those traveling on school breaks, the Seishun 18 is actually offered to everyone. The ticket has gone up in price slightly this year because of the national tax rate hike, but it’s still a value at 11,850 yen per ticket. The ticket is valid for unlimited travel on LOCAL trains all around the Japan Railways network – this means, you cannot use the bullet trains, you cannot use premium “limited express” services that run on conventional railways (with one exception), and you cannot use most overnight trains. You can also use the ticket for the JR Ferry that runs to the island of Miyajima (typically a 180 yen trip).

It’s important to note that the ticket can only be purchased and used during school holidays. There are three periods of the year when the ticket is offered:

Spring: Purchase between February 20 and March 31 for use between March 1 and April 10
Summer: Purchase between July 1 and August 31 for use between July 20 and September 10
Winter: Purchase between December 1 and December 31 for use between December 10 and January 10

There are five “spaces” that are stamped by manned station staff every time the pass is used, with one space representing one person traveling in a single day (midnight to midnight). By maximizing the spaces used, you can save a considerable amount of money. If you are a solo traveler and chose to make five long trips in five days (which don’t have to be consecutive), each trip would cost only 2,370 yen! If you have four friends and make a long trip over the course of a day – such as Tokyo to Kyoto – each person pays only 2,370 yen! There are many combinations possible as far as usage – a group of four, for example, can travel a long distance in one day on the pass for 2,960 yen.

It’s important to do some research to see if the Seishun 18 is best for you. Long-distance journeys such as Tokyo to Kyoto or Osaka will pay off, but if you’re only doing a short trip from, say, Tokyo to Yokohama, it’s not worth it.

A few other notes: You are permitted unlimited stopovers on each day, and the price of the Seishun 18 is the same for children and adults – there are no discounts for kids.

– Buy a local ticket that allows stopovers

On any day of the year, buying a long-distance local ticket can save on per-day travel costs because under Japan Railways rules, the longer you travel from point-to-point, the longer you have to make the journey.

The rules are: Within a major Japanese city or for all journeys 100km or less, you have one day to make the trip, and in many cases stopovers are not allowed. From 101 to 200km, you have two days. From 201 to 400km, you have 3 days. For each additional 200km traveled you get one additional day.

To find out the distance of your trip, look it up on timetable search engines such as Hyperdia, being sure to clear the checkmarks on everything except “local train” and “Japan Railways” otherwise you will see a few bullet trains and airplanes!

A few examples:

Tokyo to Nagoya is 366km over the Tokaido Line at a cost of 6,260 yen. You can take the trip over a course of 3 days, so if you decide to stop and spend a night at two cities along the way you will be paying about 2,086 yen per day, and if you spend one night along the way it’s 3,130 yen per day.

Tokyo to Kyoto is 513km over the Tokaido Line at a cost of 8,210 yen. You can take the trip over 4 days! So, traveling over the course of 2 days splits the cost to 4,105 yen…. 3 days is 2,736 yen…. 4 days is 2,052 yen per day!

With this plan, you can direct the money saved on travel into reasonably-priced hotel accommodations along the way – many of which will be considerably cheaper compared to staying in larger cities. This will also allow you to enjoy more of Japan, including some areas that many foreign tourists will pass over.

You are allowed unlimited stopovers along the route that you are taking – it’s important not to stray from the route that you paid and are ticketed for, otherwise there may be a difference in fare. You’ll also want to know that since these are regular fares, there are discounts for children!

Also, major cities in Japan are designated into certain “zones”, and travel in between two major cities is sometimes designated as traveling from one zone to the other. For example, a trip from Tokyo to Osaka would be defined as the Tokyo ZONE to the Osaka ZONE. Stopovers are NOT allowed in zones of your origin or destination, but are permitted anywhere in between. Kyoto is close to Osaka, but since Kyoto has it’s own ZONE you could technically stop over in Kyoto on the trip from Tokyo to Osaka without any extra charge, as long as it’s within the days permitted to travel and, as mentioned earlier, you don’t stray away from the path ticketed. Once you stop anywhere in Osaka and get out of the system, the ticket is considered USED.

Please visit Takeshi’s JP Rail page which gives a lot of great information about this.

– Use the Japan Bus Pass for cheap trips on highway buses

The Willer Express Japan Bus Pass was introduced for foreign tourists in Japan a few years ago. At a cost of 10,000 yen for 3 days of bus travel and 15,000 yen for 5 days, you can make considerable savings over regular bus costs. There are many other bus operators in Japan, including those operated by branches of Japan railways, but the Willer web site allows reservations and bookings in English. Rather than go through a lot of the details, simply read my recent post about the Japan Bus Pass.

– Fly to Japan on a Star Alliance or oneworld airline and take advantage of domestic air passes for tourists

If you travel to Japan on a certain airline, you may qualify for an air pass for tourists. The Star Alliance Japan Airpass is valid for travel on All Nippon Airways (ANA) and can be used if you travel on Star Alliance airlines (including ANA, United, Air Canada, Air New Zealand, Lufthansa). The Oneworld Yokoso Japan pass is valid for travel on Japan Airlines (JAL) and can be used if you travel on oneworld airlines (including JAL, American, British Airways, Qantas).

For each pass, you can take between one and five trips by plane, with each trip costing just 10,000 yen plus tax. It’s a great and quick way to travel around several regions of Japan. You will always find flights from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport to Osaka’s Itami Airport as they continue to compete with the bullet train – but longer distance flights can pay off if you don’t have much time to spare – Tokyo to Fukuoka or Tokyo to Sapporo are great examples. Note though, that there ARE a number of blackout dates where these passes cannot be used.

If you do not qualify for these fares, i.e. by traveling on a different airline, both ANA and JAL offer regular tourist passes – up to 5 trips at a cost of 13-14,000 yen per trip. A minimum of two trips is required.

– Fly domestically on low cost airlines

Over the last few years, the low cost airline concept has boomed in Japan. A number of carriers are springing up offering tremendous fare discounts. Some of the top airlines that you can make reservations with in English include Skymark, Peach Aviation, Jetstar and Vanilla Air.

As these are low cost carriers, services and amenities are reduced compared to carriers JAL and ANA, and the airlines sometimes serve airports that are not close to the center of the city… but the airfares are sometimes hard to beat.

A random fare search for a weekday in November yielded these one-day fares:

Skymark: Tokyo Haneda to Sapporo for 8,500 yen
Peach Aviation: Tokyo Narita to Osaka Kansai for 3,390 yen … ?!?!
Jetstar Japan: Nagoya Centrair to Sapporo for 6,590 yen
Vanilla Air: Tokyo Narita to Okinawa for 8,200 yen

– Use a Japan Rail Pass

If you’ve got a limited amount of time and intend to visit a lot of places around the country, a Japan Rail Pass is still a great way to go around. You get unlimited travel on Japan Railways, and unlimited seat reservations on nearly ALL bullet trains and limited express services for 7, 14 or 21 consecutive days. Prices start at 29,110 yen for seven consecutive days of travel, or about 4,160 yen per day. The 14-day pass starts at around 3,300 yen per day, and if you do the 21-day pass it’s about 2,800 yen per day. Green class (first class) passes are higher.

– Use a Japan Rail Pass and stay on the cheap

Utilizing a Japan Rail Pass when traveling between major cities, you can make an intermediate stop at a small city along the way and potentially save with hotel rates that are cheaper than in major cities. For example, if you travel from Tokyo to Osaka by bullet train, you could opt to begin your travel in the evening and stop at one of the intermediate bullet train stations such as Hamamatsu. In Hamamatsu there are hotels where you could spend as little as 4,800 single occupancy or 6,800 yen double occupancy, complete with your own bed, bathroom and shower – then just move on the following morning to Kyoto and Osaka. (The quote is from the Toyoko Inn, a national chain of business hotels)

– RESEARCH!

The best way to save on your trip is with research. I’ve presented you with a few options, but these just scratch the surface. There are so many deals out there that one can take advantage of in Japan. The key is to price what you want to do (transit, food, lodging), and do price comparisons to see what is best for you.

Of course, if you ever need advice about your next trip to Japan, leave a message and I’ll be happy to reply when I can.

Japan Diary – September 11, 2013 Morning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS (Feb. 2014)

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m going back to Japan!

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

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

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

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

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