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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Narita Airport to Tokyo – How would you start YOUR Amazing Race?

I was all excited to see that the first leg of my favorite reality TV show, the Amazing Race on CBS, was set in Japan! The theme of this season’s competition is that all of the pairs that are racing are either dating or blind-dating.

The first 90 minute episode, which just concluded, saw teams fly from Los Angeles to Tokyo’s Narita Airport. Interestingly they used Taiwan as a connecting city. I have my reasons for why they planned this to be the case, but this article is not about that!

If you landed in Tokyo’s Narita airport, how would YOU start your Amazing Race in the land of the rising sun?

I have written an article on my blog that explains options for traveling from airports in Japan, which I hope you will look at. But in the meantime, here’s a brief summary of what was featured on The Amazing Race:

Teams pretty much went in one of three ways: Taxi, Skyliner (train), or Narita Express (train). At first I thought to myself, TAXI?! If you are starting your Amazing Race on a budget, the Taxi is the LAST thing that you want to take from Narita. Considering Narita’s large distance away from Tokyo, you would be better off saving money by taking public transport into Tokyo, using the train or bus, then if needed take a Taxi to your final destination. Taxis in Japan are pricey already, but they will be far less expensive to use when you get into the city compared to picking one up at the airport. In addition, Taxis MAY be subject to delays when traveling on the highway… I forgot how each team fared on the way from the airport, so if you want to check, just go to CBS and look at Season 26, Episode 1 of the Amazing Race on demand 🙂

In a nutshell, here is a speed and price comparison for the main travel methods going into Tokyo Station, one of the main transit hubs in the city. By the way… you can get more of Japan by tuning in to the Amazing Race on Friday (February 27) when the teams will visit Nagano!

TRAIN
JR Narita Express, One Hour, 3,020 yen each way

Keisei Skyliner, One Hour (Change at Nippori Station), 2,470 yen for Skyliner + 160 yen JR Yamanote Line = 2,630 yen

Local JR Commuter Train, 90 minutes, 1,320 yen each way

Local Keisei Commuter Train, 90-120 minutes depending on route, ~1,200-1,500 yen depending on route

BUS
Airport Limousine Bus, 1 hour 45 minutes depending on traffic, 3,100 yen each way

Discount Bus to Tokyo Station (Keisei/Be-Transse/JR Bus), 70 minutes depending on traffic, 1,000 yen each way

TAXI
Flat-fare taxi from Narita Airport to Tokyo Station 19,000 yen

Hailed taxi from Narita Airport to Tokyo Station ~20,000-30,000 yen and up depending on the meter and traffic conditions

How to find out Japanese taxi fares

A typical Japanese taxi cab. Public domain photograph from Wikimedia Commons.
A typical Japanese taxi cab. Public domain photograph from Wikimedia Commons.

Today’s post is about the impeccable system of Japanese taxi cabs. I’ve been fortunate to take a few taxi rides in Japan, and I’ll probably have to rely on the taxis a little more when I visit next month.

Japanese taxi cabs are impeccable, and there are many types to choose from… from the standard, bright colored taxi cabs, to the black cabs, to the high-octane or hybrid variety… if you happen to visit Sapporo, you might stumble upon a taxi decked out with your favorite Anime character.

When you plan on using taxis in Japan, it might help you to figure out the cost beforehand. Public transit is the way to go in most cities in the country, as the fares for taxicabs are expensive (the usual “flag fare” is around 700 yen or so, racking up as you go). However, in rural areas a taxi might be the best way to your destination. Otherwise, traveling in groups of 3 or 4 in a taxi may prove to be as economic as regular public transit. And of course, in the late night when no public transit is to be had, it’s either the taxi way or no way.

Today I would like to introduce two websites that I would recommend for finding out taxi fares. One is easy to understand and gives a fairly rough estimate, while the second is a little more precise but in Japanese.

First, I recommend the Taxi Fare Finder website, which not only shows taxi fares for major Japanese cities but also for other cities around the world. Simply type in your starting and ending points (i.e. train stations, major attractions, etc) and it will plot the most direct route and show you an estimate of how much you can expect to pay.

The other one, which I like especially, is the Japanese “Taxi Fare Simulator” offered by Nihon Kotsu (日本交通), which I believe is the largest consortium of taxi cabs in the Tokyo area. Note that I said: JAPANESE, which means you need to do this in Japanese…. Right? Well… there are a few tricks that you can use to get by.

First of course, you’ll want to make sure that your web browser is set up to display Japanese characters.

You will see this on the home page:

Input from Nihon Kotsu Taxi Fare Simulator.
Input from Nihon Kotsu Taxi Fare Simulator.

Going over the form:

出発地 is your starting point
目的地 is your destination
経由地 is the “via” point, or the area that you would like to pass through on the way to your destination.

Below those, there are two check-boxes:
深夜割増 applies the Nighttime surcharge, which taxicabs in Japan apply during late night and early morning hours (in Tokyo, it is a 20% surcharge added to the fare for travel between 22:00 and 5:00 the next morning)
高速道路を使う asks the simulator to route you via the highway instead of regular roads, which may be faster but will probably cost more. Highway fares are not included in the fare estimate that it gives you, and will be added on to the fare at the end of the trip.

So now we need to plug in the information, which requires some Japanese… or does it?

The Nihon Kotsu simulator uses Google Maps… which means that your search may work if you type things out in English! Let’s take a look.

Say we are arriving into Tokyo on the Shinkansen and we want to take a taxi to the hotel that we are staying at. In this case my random selection is a hotel I’ve stayed at before: The Sutton Place Hotel Ueno, which is not too far from Ueno station.

Let’s try typing this in to the system:
出発地 : Tokyo Station
目的地 : Sutton Place Hotel Ueno

Now press the orange button. If you did not enter a “via” point in the field labeled 経由地 then the simulator will try to find the most direct route to your destination….

Sample result from Nihon Kotsu fare simulator
Sample result from Nihon Kotsu fare simulator

Well what do you know, it DOES work in English!

Let’s review what we see here:

The fare is estimated to cost  2,240 yen from Tokyo Station to the Sutton Place Hotel Ueno.

The figure below the fare marked 遠距離割引 indicates if your route is eligible for a long-distance discount (in this case, it’s too short to qualify)

Below the fare you will see the breakdown per passenger for groups of 2, 3, or 4 (the maximum number of passengers the regular taxis will carry). Wow, 560 yen per passenger for a party of 4 is not too bad!

Moving to the right side of the page:

移動距離 is the route distance, in this case 5.8 km
移動時間 is the estimated travel time, in this case 16 minutes

GPSコード
GPS Code? Now this is interesting. Nihon Kotsu’s taxis are monitored by a Global Positioning System. This is used so that Nihon Kotsu can keep track of their taxis, and to dispatch them to calls. Apparently, specific locations are given a unique GPS code number. So the GPS Code for Tokyo Station is 404-1846-076A and the code for the destination hotel is 423-8446-567A.

When taking a taxi, it helps to hand the driver a piece of paper with your destination printed or written in Japanese, as certain destinations in Japan can sometimes be difficult to find (especially in Tokyo where there are main roads and side roads all over the place!). But if you are traveling in Tokyo city on a Nihon Kotsu taxi, and you have this GPS Code written down, then it might be the easiest thing to show the driver the GPS code! Welcome to the wonders of modern Japanese technology.

By scrolling down on the page, you can see the direct route that the simulator has plotted.

You can try other destinations for yourself… Or if you are not satisfied with the route that you see, simply dragging points A and B on the map to desired start/end point will redraw the most direct route and re-calculate the fare.

One more thing to add about Nihon Kotsu… while you can hail a cab by yourself along the road side, join an official taxi queue at a train station, or have your hotel call ahead for a taxi on your behalf, you can also call for a taxi yourself. If you are in Tokyo and have access to a telephone, Nihon Kotsu offers a 24 hour reservation hotline… in ENGLISH! They are currently the only company in Tokyo to offer a taxi booking in the English language. The telephone number is: 03-5755-2336. Tell them where you are and they will dispatch a taxi to you. Note though that this booking service costs 400 yen, which is added on to the taxi bill at the end of your trip.

A few closing comments about taxi cabs, which apply to most trips:

– If you are hailing a taxi cab, look for one with a display on the front with the following Japanese characters:

空車 – this means that the taxi is available.

Other displays that essentially say “you can’t use this taxi” may include:

賃走 – the taxi is occupied
予約 or 迎車 – the taxi is already reserved for someone else
回送 – the taxi is not in service

– At night, a lit light on the top of the cab is also an indication that it is available.
– In most Japanese cabs, the driver will remotely open and close the left rear door, so don’t try to do this yourself. There are a small number of exceptions (i.e. MK Taxi cabs in Kyoto) where the taxi driver will come out and personally open the door for you.
– There is luggage space in the rear of the taxi cab that can fit a couple of regular suitcases.
– There is no tipping in Japanese taxi cabs… the fare that you see is the fare that you pay. Remember, any extra charges (such as highway tolls and reservation fees) are added in and paid at the end of your journey.
– Don’t be alarmed if the taxi driver wears a neat uniform… this is the norm in Japan. All taxi cabs are kept meticulously clean inside and out, and drivers typically wear white gloves.

In addition to the usual disclaimer, keep in mind that the fares shown in the above websites are estimates and may not factor in changes such as different routes, or driving in traffic conditions. Also, taxis may charge flat fares for certain trips (for example, from a major airport to the city, like Narita-Tokyo or Haneda-Tokyo).

One final suggestion… be nice and courteous to your driver! They are typically courteous and it’s nice to offer the same in return, especially since they typically work long hours during the day. My research of a couple of promotional YouTube videos for Japanese taxi companies, particularly in Tokyo, infer that cab drivers work in shifts of 20-22 hours at a time! No wonder there are so many Japanese taxi cabs and drivers to go around.