Welcome to Japan: Haneda Airport

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

Welcome to the second in a series of blog posts called Welcome to Japan. In the first project since updating the layout of my blog, I am introducing a series that will explain the available transit options after arriving at some of Japan’s major airports.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tokyo Monorail

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

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

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

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

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

 Keikyu Railway

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

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

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

Transfers to the Shinkansen

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

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

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

 Buses

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

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

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

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

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

Taxis

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

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

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

International Terminal

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Japan Trip 2017 Video #4

Hello again! I’ve posted a few new videos from my Japan trip on YouTube already, but WordPress has been having some issues linking the videos on this blog. It’s been fixed it appears, so I’ll go ahead and start catching up here. If you don’t want to wait, please visit my YouTube playlist directly.

After spending the morning at the start of the old Tokaido, I head out by train to Shinagawa, Kawasaki and Ofuna. Attractions visited include the Tokaido Kawasaki-shuku Koryukan, a museum dedicated to teaching the history of the Old Tokaido in Kawasaki, and Ofuna Kannon-ji, a Buddhist temple whose feature is a 25-meter statue depicting the Bodhisattva Kannon.

Japan Trip 2017 Video #2

Presenting my next Japan travel video! This covers the activity on October 11.

I’ve landed at Narita, and am making my way towards Tokyo as the weather gets worse. I’ve planned to visit Tokyo SkyTree tonight, and I read that the clouds will eventually break up later in the evening. Will the reports hold true? Watch the video to find out! I’ll also stroll a bit around the SkyTree, finding one of my favorite drinks in a vending machine along the way.

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.

 

Are you sure you need a Japan Rail Pass?

I have a new video update that was posted today to my Facebook page, located at facebook.com/myjapantips.

Amidst the unusually cool weather for a late August day in Upstate New York, I tackled the issue of the national Japan Rail Pass. Many online sites have articles that claim that the Japan Rail Pass is the best deal for train travel in Japan, and you have to get your hands on one.

The first part of that statement is true. The second? Not necessarily.

The Japan Rail Pass provides unlimited travel on Japan Railways lines, including all shinkansen trains (except Nozomi and Mizuho) for 7, 14 or 21 consecutive days in either ordinary class or green class (first class). You can also make free seat reservations on all services that offer them, which include bullet trains and many limited express services, such as the Narita Express and Haruka trains to/from Narita Airport and Kansai Airport, respectively.

To obtain a Japan Rail Pass, you purchase a voucher in your home country from a travel agency, and exchange the voucher for the actual pass when you arrive in Japan. This year JR has started trial sales for the pass in Japan with no voucher exchange necessary, but at higher prices.

The most important question – or perhaps the only question – that you have to ask yourself is: Will getting a pass be cheaper than buying regular tickets?

To answer this question, put together a list of cities that you would like to visit in Japan. Then, figure out the fares between the two cities. Several online sites will tell you the amount. Two sites I recommend are HyperDia and the JR East site (the latter only lets you search bullet train fares by individual line).

One example: If you’re in Japan for a week, and will only travel between Tokyo and Kyoto, a 7-Day Rail Pass (29,110 yen for ordinary class) might not work out, as the regular round-trip fare between these two cities is cheaper (27,820 yen). If, on the other hand, you add another side trip, then the rail pass might pay off.

If your trip includes visits to, say, Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Fukuoka or Hokkaido – which just gained access to the bullet train network recently – then you most certainly can look into a national rail pass. There are also a plethora of regional and local passes that are available… if you’re just meandering around Tokyo for example, consider one of several day passes, including the Tokunai Pass for unlimited JR travel in one day for 750 yen, or the 24-hour Tokyo Metro open ticket for 600 yen. You could also use a stored fare card such as a Suica or PASMO card.

Be sure to do your homework to see if a Rail Pass is something you really need!

Throwback to June 2004 – Japan Trip 1, Day 1

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Wednesday, June 2, 2004 was my first full day as a tourist in Japan. The day was spent in Tokyo, with stops at the Imperial Palace, Asakusa and Odaiba. Here I posed with some school kids that were interviewing foreign tourists in English outside of Sensoji Temple, the oldest buddhist temple in the city. They gave out small gifts, which included the mailing address of their school. I regret that I never sent them a thank you gift in return. Nevertheless, meeting these young children speaking my language on my first day in another country – a day filled with anticipation and apprehension – made me feel very welcome, and helped deepen my appreciation for Japan even more.

I enjoy reminiscing about the first trip… and I can’t wait for the fourth trip, now less than two months away!

Japan Trip #4 Is Booked!

Today I’d officially like to share on my blog news that was posted earlier in the week.

I felt like I was due for a fourth trip to my favorite country outside of North America, having visited Japan in 2004, 2008 and 2013. A couple of weeks ago, at the end of my quick trip to Boston, I was able to secure an award ticket through frequent flier points from American Airlines. In other words… barring any circumstances that might come up, my fourth trip to Japan is booked for the fall of this year!

As I think I’ve stated on this blog before, my hope is to travel at a leisurely pace from Tokyo to Kyoto. Sure, you could do it in around 2 hours and change on the fastest bullet train, but what I’d like to do this time is follow the route, more or less, of the OLD Tokaido Road… the road established centuries ago during the Edo period as a means of connecting the cities of Edo (Tokyo) and Kyoto. In this way, I hope to experience many facets of Japan that many tourists would likely overlook.

Now that the airfare is out of the way and I’ve purchased my travel insurance, I’ve been starting to map out my plans for where to stay, keeping my travel goals in mind. I’ve got a few hotels lined up in some places, and all I need to do is reserve them.

My view is that since it will be a fairly popular time to visit and travel Japan (autumn) I will want to look into reserving places as soon as I can.

I also look for places that I can pay for later. More and more properties in Japan are offering cheaper, non-refundable rates, which you need to pay for right away; unfortunately you would lose that money should your plans change and need to cancel. In my instance I need to be flexible… I’ll make bookings now and then check other hotels later to see if any better deals show up. I am keeping location and prices in mind, but also the exchange rate (the prices I am quoted in US dollars now may not necessarily be the same in a few months). If something better were to surface closer to the trip, I’ll cancel and rebook as necessary… which I have done multiple times before my previous Japan trips.

At the same time I’ll also want to look into my travel plans within Japan to see the best way to get myself around. Right now it doesn’t seem like a long Japan Rail Pass will be in my best interests; I might look into some day or regional passes instead.

This, my friends, is is what I think about before these sorts of trips. I also think it’s important that all travelers be prepared for what they want to do, then be a little flexible in case things happen once the journey has begun.

It’s going to be an exciting trip, and I am looking forward to it! I’ll do my best to share more updates here, in addition to my Facebook page (facebook.com/myjapantips).

Destination of the Week: Ryogoku Kokugikan

Greetings! In an effort to try and be more active on my Japan Travel Tips blog, I will be starting a new segment called the Destination of the Week. Every Monday or Tuesday I will try to choose one particular part of Japan to talk about, be it a city or an attraction.

The first destination in this series is appropriate to discuss because it deals with the Japanese sport – and tradition – of Sumo wrestling. Recently the Ozeki wrestler Kisenosato, a native of Ibaraki prefecture, won the first Sumo tournament in his long career. This effort, combined with his performance last year (despite not winning a tournament he won more Sumo bouts than any other wrestler), has made him eligible for promotion to the sport’s highest rank of Yokozuna. This is expected to happen later this week.

With a high-profile scandal damaging the sport’s reputation in 2011, there is no doubt Kisenosato’s efforts have aimed to positively promote the sport of Sumo, not just for tourists but for the Japanese themselves – there has not been a Japanese-born wrestler promoted to Yokozuna in almost 20 years.

So with Kisenosato’s promotion as a backdrop, the Destination of the Week is the Ryogoku Kokugikan, the home of Sumo.

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Ryogoku Kokugikan in 2006. Photo from flickr/CC

About the Ryogoku Kokugikan: This building is actually just over 30 years old, having been completed in 1985. The original Kokugikan opened in 1909, but was taken over by Allied Forces at the end of World War II. Tournaments were relocated to other venues in following years, before another Kokugikan opened in Kuramae, north of the original site, in 1950. Kuramae Kokugikan hosted Sumo tournaments until the end of 1984, at which point they returned to their original location in a new facility.

While the Ryogoku Kokugikan also hosts other sporting events, including boxing and professional wrestling, it’s main purpose is to host three of the six annual Sumo tournaments in Japan – in January, May and September. Each tournament lasts 15 days, with the Emperor’s Cup trophy going to the top-division wrestler with the most wins.

Did You Know: The Kokugikan is also home to the Sumo Museum, which helps to preserve and cultivate the sport. Located on the first floor of the Kokugikan, the museum is open on weekdays, except national holidays, from 10 AM to 4:30 PM.

Costs: If you visit the Kokugikan when there is NO tournament in progress, admission is free to everyone! But during tournaments admission is only open to those actually attending the tournament.

Purchasing tickets to Sumo tournaments requires some skill, especially for tourists. In most cases you have the option to purchase either regular seats on the upper level of the Kokugikan, or tatami-style box seating on the main level. Ringside seats are the most expensive to get, but as you’re the closest to the action there is no food or drink allowed in the ringside seats!

In recent years, sales of tickets in English have been possible through the Japan Sumo Association via their official ticketing website. Purchased tickets can be picked up at will call on the day you are scheduled to visit. Tickets should be purchased as soon as the ticketing window opens, as they are very popular… for example, in the January 2017 tournament all 15 days were eventually sold out.

There are other agencies whom you can purchase tickets from, but at a mark-up. One example is Buy Sumo Tickets, who will attempt to purchase tickets for you on your behalf. Their service charge is 1,200 yen for each ticket purchased. You can pick up your tickets at a 7-Eleven store in Japan, or they can be mailed to either your place of stay in Japan or to your residence overseas for an additional charge.

JTB, one of the top tour agencies in Japan, offers Sumo tickets starting at 9,500 yen per person. The tours includes a visit to the Sumo museum and a view of the day’s main bouts from the upper level reserved seating, accompanied by an English-speaking guide. For an additional charge you can enjoy eating chanko nabe – the protein-rich stew that is the traditional meal of Sumo wrestlers – after the matches are done. Bookings can be done through the Japanican.com website.

How to get there: The JR Sobu Line (the Yellow Line) stops at Ryogoku station, within a short walking distance of the Kokugikan. The Sobu Line connects with the Yamanote Line at Akihabara, two stops away, and with Shinjuku on the other end of the city.

What’s nearby: A short distance from the Kokugikan is the Edo-Tokyo Museum, which aims to show the Tokyo from centuries ago. (admission is charged)