New Post! New Logo! New News!

Hello everyone! It’s been a while…. again! Sorry to keep you all waiting. As real life continues, I am finding it harder lately to update this blog… but I realize that many people are still visiting this site every day to look at my Japan travel musings, and I appreciate everyone’s support very much.

Today I did two things on this blog: I finished off my Welcome to Japan series with a post introducing Kansai International Airport, and I introduced the new logo for this blog. The blog logo is a commission by Sorachuru, who was recommended to me by one of her twitter followers and my good friend Umi. Please follow them on both Twitter and Instagram; their handles are @sorachuru and @shojonoumi respectively!

One thing I would like to TRY and do soon is to put some of my videos from my last trip to Japan (back in 2017) into a compilation video. The reason for that is because later this year, my next big adventure to another part of the world will begin. Eventually, I will have to archive all of my previous videos from my phone and send them to the cloud so that I will have the room to take new videos. If this project comes to fruition, I will certainly keep you all posted!

Another thing I want to TRY and do soon? Return to Japan. I am not sure if there will be an opportunity to do this next year, but I’ll see what happens.

In the meantime, thank you all once again for your support, whether you check this blog regularly or you are a first time visitor. Please ask me any questions you may have and I’ll do my best to answer!

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Welcome to Japan: Haneda Airport

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

Japan Trip Teaser Video Posted!

Hello! It’s already been almost two weeks since I returned from Japan, and I miss it already!

I’m sorry to have been silent here on the blog as I’ve focused my posts on my Facebook page, and a little bit on Instagram too. Now that I am starting to review all of my photos and videos I hope to share all of the experiences of my trip with you here!

The first video is available, and that’s the teaser video! I used software called Quik from GoPro, which is free to download, to automatically assemble photos and videos set to music. This gives you a first glimpse at what I saw in Japan. Enjoy!

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: Enoshima

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The entrance to Enoshima island is prefaced with this stone marker. © Photo by Jose Ramos, October 2008

One of the more pleasurable trips on my journeys to Japan has been the one to Enoshima. An easy day trip from Tokyo, Enoshima is a mountainous island that is connected to the mainland by a beach-lined causeway. It can get busy during summer months… but whatever time you decide to go, a trip to Enoshima is rewarded with seaside charm and beautiful views of the surrounding area… even of Mount Fuji on a clear day.

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Looking from the end of the causeway towards the main pedestrian path. ©Photo by Jose Ramos, October 2008

About Enoshima: Technically a part of the city of Fujisawa, I passed through Enoshima on my first trip to Japan in 2004. Having spent most of my day in and around Kamakura (more on that in a bit), I was unable to visit Kamakura due to prior commitments. I made it a point on my second trip in 2008 to devote some time to this charming place.

Enoshima is best discovered on foot. Once you get close enough to the island, just take the walkway along the road. It’s a few minutes walk, but it’s better than taking a cab or vehicle… especially when the weather is nice and you can smell the salt breeze that brings memories of the South Shore of Long Island (well, that’s what it did for me at least), and especially during summer months when there can be traffic. Besides, there are not too many roads on Enoshima, and most of the island’s attractions and gems require that you go on your own feet.

As you ascend the island, you will encounter several Shinto shrines, all part of the same shrine complex. Enoshima Shrine is dedicated to the kami Benten, which is derived from a Buddhist goddess.

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This photo from the Samuel Cocking Garden shows the portions of the original garden’s foundation that were discovered during construction. © Photo by Jose Ramos, October 2008

Also of note is the Samuel Cocking Garden, home to a lovely botanical garden. It is named after the Englishman Samuel Cocking, who grew up in Australia and arrived in Japan soon after the country ended its over two-century long period of isolationism in the mid 1800’s. He created a botanical garden with a greenhouse, which was destroyed in the big Kanto earthquake of 1923. Parts of the original garden’s foundation were discovered in 2002. Today you can see a wide mix of plants and flora.

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Enoshima Sea Candle seen from the Samuel Cocking Garden. © Photo by Jose Ramos, October 2008

Also part of the complex is the relatively modern observation tower, known as Enoshima Sea Candle, with commanding views of the Pacific Ocean and Fujisawa City. As mentioned, you may be able to see Mount Fuji on a good day.

Finally, there are a couple of caves called the Iwaya Caves on the southern end of the island. Update: blog follower Okkie has provided some tips regarding the caves, saying that there are a lot of up and down steps to navigate, but you are given a candle to help light the way. You can see photos of the caves and of more destinations on Enoshima by visiting Okkie’s tumblr.

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Primary Entrance to Enoshima Escar. © Photo by Jose Ramos, October 2008

Did You Know: There are paid escalators on Enoshima Island? While you could spend some time and effort climbing steps to ascend the island, there are three sets of escalators that will make it extremely easy for you. Dubbed Enoshima Escar, this will shave some time from your trip and save 46 meters of climbing. The escalators only go UP, but I’m sure it’ll be a more pleasant journey walking DOWN at the end of your visit. It costs 360 yen for a ticket to cover all three sections; the Escar is also included in various combination tickets for visits to Enoshima Island.

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View of the walkway and road leading from Enoshima to Fujisawa City on the mainland, taken from Enoshima Sea Candle. ©Photo by Jose Ramos, October 2008

Costs: At Enoshima Shrine there is a small charge to view the shrine’s large Benten statue, but otherwise the shrine grounds are free. At the Samuel Cocking Garden the admission charge is 200 yen for the garden and 300 yen for the observation tower. The Iwaya Caves cost 500 yen to enter.

There is also a 1,000 yen Enoshima One-Day Passport that includes the Escar, the garden, the observation tower and the caves.

How To Get There: There are several options available to visit Enoshima. By train, it’s possible to get close to Enoshima to then complete your journey to the island on foot.

The closest train station to Enoshima is Katase-Enoshima Station on the private Odakyu Railway. A few minutes walk inland is Enoshima Station on the charming Enoshima Electric Railway, or Enoden, which connects to Fujisawa and Kamakura. Near the Enoden stop is the Shonan Monorail, an elevated transit line that runs to Ofuna station on the Japan Railway (JR).

Odakyu trains leave from Shinjuku on the western end of the Tokyo metropolis. It takes 70-90 minutes to reach Katase-Enoshima, with one or two train transfers required, at a cost of 630 yen each way.

Odakyu offers two excursion tickets for Enoshima: The Enoshima 1-Day Freepass covers a round-trip to Enoshima, the Escar, the garden, the observation tower and the caves for 1,970 yen. This represents a savings of 650 yen compared to purchasing individual tickets. They also offer a cheaper Freepass that combines the Odakyu train with a pass that allows use of the Enoden to visit nearby Kamakura. However, the latter Freepass does NOT include admission to the attractions on Enoshima.

For an additional charge, you can ride in a comfortable limited express train called the Romancecar, which I’m sure I’ve mentioned often on this blog. With comfortable reserved seats, you can reach the end of the line at Katase-Enoshima without switching, and not have to worry about crowded commuter trains. These services cost an extra 620 yen each way. On weekdays there are four return trips to/from Shinjuku, and on weekends and holidays there are trains every 1-2 hours. Be sure to check the timetables carefully to examine your options before using the Romancecar.

Japan Railways (JR) run a little further away from the access point to Enoshima, but can be considered because you can more easily access JR trains from around Tokyo, and because your trip costs nothing if you already have some sort of JR Rail Pass.

You can take a JR train to a few stations. Here are the recommendations along with fares:
* Fujisawa station allows you to connect with the Odakyu Railway to Katase-Enoshima Station, or with the private Enoden railway to Enoshima station. Katase-Enoshima is closer to Enoshima Island than the Enoden station.
Tokyo area to Fujisawa by JR: 970 yen (no charge with Rail Pass); Fujisawa to Katase-Enoshima by Odakyu: 160 yen. Approximate travel time from Tokyo Station 60-70 minutes.
* Ofuna station allows a connection to the Shonan Monorail. From the terminal of the monorail it’s a longer walk to Enoshima.
Tokyo area to Ofuna by JR: 800 yen (no charge with Rail Pass); Ofuna to Shonan-Enoshima by Monorail: 310 yen. Approximate travel time from Tokyo Station 60-70 minutes.
* Kamakura station allows a connection to the Enoden railway. From Enoshima Station it’s a longer walk to Enoshima island.
Tokyo area to Kamakura by JR: 920 yen (no charge with Rail Pass); Kamakura to Enoshima by Enoden: 260 yen. Approximate travel time from Tokyo Station 90 minutes.

JR also sells a one-day Kamakura-Enoshima Pass for 700 yen which includes unlimited trips on the Shonan Monorail and Enoden, and unlimited trips on the JR between Ofuna and Fujisawa.

Also, on weekends and holidays, there is a ferry that runs from the causeway to the Iwaya Caves. The ferry takes 10 minutes and costs 400 yen. It is another good way to save considerable travel time if you plan on spending a lot of time on the island.

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A small photo of some guy who runs this blog, from Enoshima Sea Candle. ©Photo by Jose Ramos, October 2008

What’s Nearby: I would highly recommend a trip on the Enoden to experience a leisurely trip through beautiful residential areas combined with a lovely stretch between stations that runs along the beach, which I experienced first hand. You can easily see surfers riding the waves along the line if it’s a good day!

If you have time, Kamakura is home to some important historical landmarks such as the large bronze statue of Buddha (daibutsu), Hasedera Temple and Hachiman-gu Shrine.

I highly recommend the Odakyu website to research some of the other wonderful destinations in the area, such as the Enoshima Aquarium, and to plan your trip to the area.