Narita airport must get the worldwide prize for being farthest from the city it serves. Seriously, what the heckin’ heck were they thinking?
But sadly, there’s no time to move it before you come. Depending on how much luggage you have, where you’re staying, and how much you want to spend, here are the options for getting into Tokyo from the boonies:
Pros: It’s the least expensive way into Tokyo if you have heavy luggage. The ride into Tokyo from Narita takes about 2 hours, unless the traffic is especially bad. A ticket costs about $35 per person. The limousine bus serves major hotels; if you are staying elsewhere, go to the hotel nearest to where you’re staying, then take a taxi, a local train, or walk to your destination. The person manning the ticket counter can help you decide which bus would get you closest to where you’re staying.
Cons: If traffic is bad, it can take FOREVER. It makes multiple stops, and there’s no way of knowing if yours will be first or last. If you’re not staying at one of the hotels it serves, you have to get in a taxi from the nearest stop to your hotel.
How to take the limousine bus:
• Go to the bus counter. It’s in the arrival lobby, right across from where you exit from customs. it will have a big “limousine Bus” sign above it in English.
• Look at the big board behind the counter. It will list hotel destinations and neighborhood destinations with departure times. If you do know know which one to choose, ask the clerk. Most of them speak English perfectly well.
• Buy your ticket, then go outside and stand in line at the designated lining-up place next to the curb.. The clerk will tell you which one is for your bus, and you can confirm that by looking at the stand-up sign in front of each curbside departure point. Note: Buses, like every kind of transportation in Japan, are extremely prompt. Do not be late. They will not wait for you.
Pros: Taxis still take about 2 hours to get into town from the airport, but they do take you directly to your destination. There may be an upcharge for dealing with luggage.
Cons: A taxi will cost you around $200-$250, one way. And if there’s traffic, it can take forever.
How to take a taxi:
• You can catch a taxi right outside the arrivals terminal, across the big street on the far island.
• When you get the cab, give the driver a written copy of the address of your hotel or show him on your phone map. It’s OK if it is written in English.
There are two high-speed train lines that go into town from the airport: the Narita Express and the Skyliner. They have drop-offs at several major stations, then you have to catch other trains or a taxi from there.
Pros: Fastest and cheapest. This is how I always go into town from the airport.
Cons: You have to schlep your own luggage, which isn’t a problem at the airport, but once you get to the express train terminal station, you have to lug it to your destination (which can mean transferring to another train, then wheeling it to where you’re staying or getting a cab). There are elevators or escalators at almost every station to help move your luggage, but some small/old stations don’t have them yet. If you can’t find it, ask the station attendant at the booth next to the ticket gates. (There may be more than one ticket gate, and at small stations, there will be a counter/booth at only one. If there’s no escalator/elevator, he will help you carry your bags up the stairs.)
How to take the airport express train:
• You have to buy reserved seat tickets at the airport before you get on the train. The ticket counters are close to each other on the very lowest floor of the airport. Follow the overhead signs that say “Keisei Line.” It costs about ¥ 2400, one way, to get into town.
• Walk to the ticket gates and put your ticket into the slot, arrow first. Be sure to pick up your ticket when it pops out the far side of the gate. You will need it to exit at the other end.
• Take the escalator down to the track. Check the overhead board to make sure you’re waiting by the proper track for the express train. It will switch between Japanese and English.
• Check your ticket for your car number and seat assignment (Right below the English words CAR and SEAT). Find your car number written on the platform edge and wait in line with the other passengers.
• When the train comes, stow your big luggage as you board and find your seat. There will be an announcement in English about which cars the drink machines and bathrooms are.
• Listen for your stop – it will be announced in Japanese, English, Korean and Chinese.
• When you get to the ticket gate, put your ticket into the slot before going through. On the Skyliner, the machine will open the turnstyle and swallow your ticket. (It won’t pop out the other end when you reach the end of the line.) On the N’EX, take your ticket when it pops out, in case you’re transferring to a JR train to reach your next destination. You can travel anywhere in Tokyo that the JR lines go.
Trains go every 40 minutes to:
One-way tickets are ¥2400
Here is the timetable
Trains go every 30 minutes to:
• Tokyo Station
• Shinjuku Station
• Yokohama Station
Some trains also stop at:
• Shinagawa Station
• Shibuya Station
• Ikebukuro Station
• Omiya (in Saitama)
• Yokohama Station (in Kanagawa)
• Ofuna (in Kanagawa)
One-way tickets are approximately ¥3000 to ¥4500
Note: I always take the Skyliner, so in case you’re taking the N’EX, here are Tokyo Cheapo’s super detailed directions that can answer any questions I haven’t covered.)
For that long bus/train/cab ride: a novel set in Tokyo