September 13, 2012 by Isshin Teshima
September 10, 2012-Gakushikaikan: Jimbocho, Tokyo, Japan
Even though we left Dulles 20 minutes late due to “CVV cleaning” (whatever the heck that is) we still arrived at Narita International Airport a few minutes ahead of schedule by some miracle. That’s what I love about taking Japanese airlines, they always say “sorry” and they’re always on time!
After a brief stint through immigration with some slight confusion due to the new policies implemented in July, I was out the door some 15 hours later.
But there’s a problem…
Narita International Airport is about as far away from Tokyo proper as Dulles International Airport is to the White House. It’s REALLY far away, but no need to fear, Isshin here will teach you the three easiest ways to get to where you need to go.
Perhaps the most popular method of getting into the city rests with the most established method. Narita Express, run by Japan Railways (JR), has been ferrying Tokyoites to Narita for several decades now. With a recent revamp in 2010, the trains now run to Shinjuku, Ofuna and others, basically taking you to wherever you need to go in Tokyo proper. An added benefit for anyone with a foreign passport, there’s a Suica & N’Ex option where you get one N’Ex ticket and a ¥2000 SUICA card. With a ¥5,500 value this is probably your best bet if you want to get into the city for cheap. (www.jreast.co.jp/e/suica-nex)
SUICA cards are plastic cards imbedded with IC chips that you can use at most metro systems throughout Japan. (Most cities with public transportation have this kind of system, if you’re from DC, you’ll realize it as basically a SmartCard) With the myriad of train companies running in and out of Tokyo (Toei, Keio, Seibu, Tokyo Metro, JR, just to name a few), it’s basically a must for any Tokyo traveler.
Keep in mind a few pointers with N’Ex though:
- Route: The way that the N’Ex route is structured, it takes you to Tokyo Station first, then around the southern part of Tokyo before ending up in the west at Ikebukuro. If you need to get anywhere North or North-east of Tokyo, refer to the Keisei Skyliner below.
- Stations: Keep in mind that other than Tokyo and Shinagawa, you may need to wait a fair bit for trains that go to farther stations (i.e. Ikebukuro, Shinjuku, etc.) the trains basically separate into two after Tokyo to go to their respective places.
- Bullet Trains: If you are going to take the Tokaido Shinkansen anywhere (towards Nagoya, Kyoto, or Osaka) take N’Ex, but consider going to Shinagawa, also a bullet train station, instead of Tokyo. Tokyo can get super crowded (Trust me, I know…) and it’s very confusing to get from place to place for the unacquainted.
- Reservations: All N’Ex trains require a reservation, there will be signs at Narita when you arrive, make sure you follow them.
Keisei Skyliner, which opened last year, is Keisei Railway’s response to the virtual monopoly that JR holds over rail transport to and from Narita. It was highly lauded when the train was launched as being the fastest route into Tokyo. And at ¥1,200, the price is very reasonable compared to the other options. (http://www.keisei.co.jp/keisei/tetudou/skyliner/us/)
However, the Keisei Skyliner’s biggest attribute in my opinion, is its route. With its terminus being Ueno with a stop at Nippori along the way, it’s by far the fastest and most preferred way into North/Northeast Tokyo.
A few pointers with Keisei Skyliner:
- Compatibility: Keisei is NOT Japan Railways (JR). If you have a JR Pass or a JR East Pass, it will not be compatible with Keisei. You will have to pay separately for the reservation.
- Route: North/Northwest Tokyo is especially popular because it’s where old world Tokyo and many sights like the famous Ueno Museum, Senso-ji and others are.
- Bullet Trains: If you are trying to travel to northern Japan such as the Tohoku region, Akita, or even Hokkaido, like Shinagawa, most of the bullet trains run through Ueno also on their way north. This can be an easy way to avoid the hassles of navigating Tokyo Station.
Airport Limousine Bus
No…contrary to popular belief, I am not recommending you rent a limo-style bus like one of those ridiculous limo hummers to make your way into Tokyo. (Though talk about an entrance!) Airport Limo is the Japanese way of saying “public bus transportation” and there are more than a few buses that will take you to various places in Tokyo. (http://www.limousinebus.co.jp/en/)
Usually, the price for an Airport Limo is around ¥3000, but this could differ depending on location, fuel costs, etc. However, oftentimes, these buses will go straight to several well-known hotels in the Tokyo area. If you are staying at or close to one of these, you won’t have to go through the hassle of navigating the hectic train system.
A few pointers for the Airport Limousine Bus:
- Location location location: Taking the bus will require you to plan your trip out accordingly. It’s no use taking the bus if your hotel happens to be miles away from where the bus leaves off.
- Station Access: Buses will also often drive to specific stations along their route. Check to see if the hotel you book at is near one of these exits.
- Convenience: You’ll save both time and stress by taking a bus, of course, the downside is that buses are a little on the expensive side given the options out there for foreigners. You’ll see a lot of locals take the bus though since it’s usually a very convenient option.