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.

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Japan Trip 2017 Video #1

Thanks for waiting… here is the first Japan travel video! In this video I focus on my travel experience flying to Tokyo Narita airport.

As this video focuses ONLY on flying, those who want to see what happens after I actually set foot in Japan should wait for the next video…

OTHERWISE, please enjoy this first video, which runs over 20 minutes. You’ll see how I traveled in a premium class of service, thanks to redeeming my American Airlines frequent flyer miles. This cost 60,000 miles to travel in international business class. My connecting flight, from Dallas to Tokyo, was in Japan Airlines’ 787 Dreamliner.

 

Double American Airlines Miles to/from Japan

Announced this week is a promotion for American Airlines AAdvantage frequent flier members to earn double the normal number of miles on select routes to/from Japan and a few other cities in Asia that are operated by either American Airlines or Japan Airlines. If you are big on frequent flier miles, this is a promotion you may wish to consider.

The offer is valid on all First class, all Business class, and “select” Economy fares on NONSTOP American and Japan Airlines flights between Tokyo Haneda airport and San Francisco, and between Tokyo Narita and the following cities: Chicago (ORD), Dallas (DFW), Los Angeles (LAX), San Diego (SAN), New York (JFK), Boston (BOS), and Vancouver (YVR). Click here to read the full terms and conditions, and to register. You must book and complete all travel by March 21, 2015.

In addition, double miles are being offered on nonstop flights on Japan Airlines from Tokyo to the following Asian cities: Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Dailan, Jakarta, Hanoi, Singapore and Delhi. Click here to read the full terms and conditions, and to register. You must book and complete all travel by March 20, 2015. Blackout dates are: From Tokyo, February 23-March 1, and returning to Tokyo, February 13-18.

Read the terms and conditions carefully, because the most discounted fares are ineligible for the double miles promotion.

For example, if you wanted to fly from New York to Japan in February (from the 4th to the 11th), I sampled a fare of $1,328 round trip, connecting in Los Angeles on the way to Tokyo and connecting in Chicago on the way back. You’d think you’d earn the double miles on the Los Angeles-Tokyo and Tokyo-Chicago legs, right? But upon closer inspection, the prospective flights would be booked in O and Q classes, which are all ineligible for the double miles offer.

To see what would be eligible, we can go to Google ITA Matrix and search for the fares. Pull up the advance routing codes and enter for both legs of the trip:

AA,JL+ /f bc=s

This forces the matrix to search for any direct flight on AA (American) or JL (Japan Airlines) with the booking code of S, which is the least expensive fare bucket permitted for the double miles.

When we search now, we get a result of $1,704 round-trip, which is for the nonstop from New York to Tokyo on JAL, booked through American Airlines codeshare. Quite a hike from the original $1,328 fare quoted!

If we add an X to the routing codes to look for connecting flights, so that it looks like this:

AA,JL+ X /f bc=s

We then get a $1,696 round-trip fare, connecting in Los Angeles. For that, you might as well pony up $10 for the nonstop!

If the matrix does not come up with any results, you can change the S (in bc=s) to the next letter that is permitted, such as V, L, etc.

It turns out that you CAN book this round-trip on the American Airlines website, and the S fare will show up. In case it does not, however, you might have to give American Airlines a call and ask them to make a reservation that is eligible for the double miles bonus, and hold the reservation. Then you can go online to your AAdvantage account to complete the ticketing. I have read some people that have done this to save on the $25 American Airlines telephone charge, but I’ve never tried this on my own.

In effect, you will be paying extra to secure the double miles. How many miles would you get?

Great Circle Distance of 6,745 miles between New York JFK and Tokyo Narita
x 2 (round-trip) =
13,490 miles
x 2 (Double miles bonus) =
26,980 miles

Congratulations, you just earned yourself a round-trip MilesAAver domestic ticket for one person on American Airlines within the contiguous US and Canada! Essentially, any nonstop AA or JAL flight over 6,250 miles booked accordingly will give you enough miles for the free domestic ticket. Boston, Chicago and Dallas flights are over this number, while flights from the West Coast will leave you a little short.

If you have an American Airlines credit card, you can earn bonus miles from the cost of the airfare… 3,408 miles in the New York-Tokyo example.

Is it worth it to pay the extra to secure the miles bonus? In an era where other airlines are switching miles-earning to a revenue model, which to many is making American Airlines the more frequent-flier airline (failed grammer of the day on that one), this is an offer to seriously consider. Then again, if you are more price-conscious, don’t worry about double miles. Besides, for February 4-11, the cheapest fare is still $1,328 on American. 🙂

As always, I disclaim any responsibility if you decide to do some fare-hunting. Corrections from any savvy travelers out there would be greatly appreciated! The fares in this post are correct as of January 24 2015,12 Noon Eastern Time, and are always subject to change.

What expired fares? Sale from US to Japan continues!

9/16/14 Update: As of today, sub- $1,000 fares to Japan are no longer available. Most fares have risen to the $1,100-1,200 range for the same time period.

Well it looks like I was duped – apparently the fare sale I had mentioned before on this blog lives on – and the fares may be available for a few more weeks! If you want to visit Japan, these fares are some of the best I’ve seen this year. Seats are limited so snatch up the fares that you want!

Once again it appears that the prices are for travel from certain “hub” or focus cities of a major airline. A competing airline will offer fares from the other airline’s city – which means, unless you’re on the west coast, you will be connecting en route to Japan.

The main airlines that are part of the sale are United and American/US Airways. This means that if you are flying out of Chicago – you are out of luck I’m afraid, since both airlines have a hub at O’Hare!

United continues to offer fare sales to Tokyo from American/US Air hubs in Philadelphia (Starting at $979 round/trip), Charlotte ($977 r/t), Miami ($979 r/t), Dallas ($979 r/t), Phoenix ($982 r/t). United also offers $967 r/t fares on their Dreamliner flights from Los Angeles.

American continues to offer fares to Tokyo from United hubs. These, however, are now a little more expensive than before but still reasonably priced: Newark, NJ ($1,082 r/t), Denver ($1,082 r/t), Houston ($1,080 r/t), Washington Dulles ($1,082 r/t).

These fares are for most dates between now and early December – heck, you could book tickets today and be flying tomorrow, as just about all fares have no advance purchase restrictions like so many others.

While searching these fares today I came across a few others – among them, for my friends north of the border in Canada! Air Canada has sale fares from Toronto nonstop to either Tokyo Narita on their 777 or to the closer Tokyo Haneda on the Dreamliner starting at $1,161 CAD r/t. From Vancouver in British Columbia, fares from as low as $1,135 CAD r/t can be found on Air Canada’s nonstop to Narita. There are also excellent fares from all over Air Canada’s network in Canada, connecting in Toronto or Vancouver.

Airline Sale Fares from Newark, Washington and Los Angeles to Tokyo for Fall 2014

9/3/14 – These fares have expired.

Sale Fares from US to Japan for Fall Travel

I’m writing this post today to make readers aware of great discounts for travel to Japan during Fall 2014. It’s possible that these airlines need to fill some seats, so if you would like to visit the land of the rising sun, even 2 weeks from when I write this, the time to act is now!

NEW YORK TO TOKYO (from Newark) and WASHINGTON TO TOKYO (from Dulles)

American Airlines has sale fares from both Newark Airport near New York, and Dulles Airport near Washington DC, to Tokyo Narita via connections in their US hubs for travel through early December starting as low as $943 round-trip. Travel must take place Monday through Thursday and you must return within 90 days or by December 24.

LOS ANGELES TO TOKYO

United Airlines has put their nonstop service from Los Angeles to Tokyo Narita – on a new Boeing 787 Dreamliner – on sale recently, and now it looks like Delta has joined the price war. For most departures through early December flights on either airline – both nonstop – can be had for as low as $929 round-trip.

Good luck on booking these, and enjoy your trip to Japan!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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