Avoiding lameness in Narita ground transportation: a primer

I leave in a few hours to spend my spring break in Florida—actually one of the last places I expected to spend spring break, but Ms. Joe has a new, difficult job and needs someone to give her backrubs at night.

Anyway, Narita is a really inconvenient airport. No matter how you do it, it takes at least an hour to get there from the city. Then there’s the time you have to spend getting to wherever you’re boarding your transportation, and the time you have to spend wandering around the terminal to get where you need to be. If you’re like me, you also have to factor in the time you spend being held for questioning.

It used to be worse, actually. Back in the day, the trains to Narita didn’t even stop at the terminal. You had to get off on the edge of the airport property and then take a bus. Fortunately, the Transport Minister figured this was daft, and he opened up some underground platforms that were originally intended for a Shinkansen line. (He’s a great guy—his name is Ishihara.) So today, the trains drop you off inside the terminals… but you still have to go up four stories to get to check-in. Hmpfh.

So what’s the best way to get to and from the airport?

THE LOW END: KEISEI LIMITED EXPRESS. This costs something like ¥1,000, and runs between the airport and Ueno. It isn’t a bad way to travel, per se, but it’s a commuter train. Basically, you’re in for a really long subway ride, and if you’re trying to travel during rush hour, you might end up crammed in.

THE MID-RANGE: SKYLINER. First of all, don’t take it early in the morning. That’s a route that will lead you to nothing but pain. I took the first train out of Ueno one day last summer, and there wasn’t a seat to be had. Then I had some scuzzy Chinese guy throw his seat back on me so quickly that it nearly split my PowerBook in half. Once we got going, it wasn’t too bad for the ¥2,000-ish fare. But you have to walk a mile underground to get from the station in Ueno to the subway; Nippori is a bit more convenient.

THE HIGH END: NARITA EXPRESS. It’s fast, it goes to most of the major stations, there are girls in funny uniforms selling snacks, and because it costs ¥3000, nobody takes it. I love this train. It has its drawbacks, though. For instance, if you get on at Tokyo Station, you have to go down escalators to the seventh level of Hell to get to it.

THEN THERE’S THE BUS… I don’t know who takes the bus. I figure the bus only makes sense if you’re staying at a hotel, or if you want to go to some suburban area that the trains don’t directly serve (e.g. Tokorozawa). You can go to that city air terminal thing in Hakozaki, I guess, but then you only have one line to transfer to. I avoid the bus because it costs as much as the train and tends to be less convenient (also slower), but maybe it makes sense for other people.

Of course, you can also fly from Haneda to Kansai and change planes, but that takes the adventure out of it. And I must admit, the trip to Narita is much better than the 2-hour drive I face on the Florida end. Selah.

11 thoughts on “Avoiding lameness in Narita ground transportation: a primer”

  1. On my last trip, I decided to cheap out and I took the Keisei. I got in, and as I bent over to shove my suitcase in a corner, someone grabbed my butt and gave it a good squeeze. I turned around and there were a bunch of women standing there, trying to look innocent.

    That may have been one of the highlights of my trip.

  2. I don’t know if I’d call the Narita Express “fast” – it takes about the same time to get to Narita as the Keisei Skyliner. In addition, the regular Keisei and JR Express trains only take 20 mins longer (80 mins) at a third of the price. Now that’s a bargain!

  3. Although it really doesn’t count you forgot just plain Personal vehicle. I just did the drive up to Narita from Tokyo Last week to pick up my brother visiting from the States. It cost about 2350 Yen one way in tolls and another 480 yen for the hour of parking as I waited for his flight to arrive. On my own personal trips, I’ve taken the bus and Narita express. The bus was a long ride and as expensive as the express. I really hate the express though. Being a family with a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old you tend to have a good number of bags and it’s the one part of Japan where I feel the people have a lot to learn from American courtesy. It’s the only time I’ve ever wanted to physically harm another human being since I’ve been here in Japan.

  4. I think the shared taxi is the best option It costs around 3,000 yen one-way which is on a par with the Narita Express and Limousine Bus. You get picked up from home and taken straight to your terminal. Most Japanese passengers send their luggage separately so there’s room in the trunk for all your bags. Sometimes, there are no other passengers so you get your own taxi for just over a tenth of the usual price. That’s especially the case if you arrange for the Narita to Tokyo leg.

  5. Sending luggage and taking the cheap train is an excellent option, assuming you have someplace convenient to send the luggage to.

  6. The shared taxi was great, especially if you have bags and/or a family. But it doesn’t seem to be running any more, at least not with MK Taxi. Does anyone have any other number to call for this?

  7. My boss contends that the best way to get to Narita is by driving in a Ferrari at 5 AM. Takes about 30 minutes and gives you a hell of a rush.

  8. In favor of the bus, from Yokohama it’s comparable to the cost of the train. No transfers, passable seat, relatively clean toilet, no need to keep track of your luggage, drops you off right where you need to be.

    On the other hand, it’s subject to traffic. Haven’t had a problem yet though.

  9. There is also a convenient bus non-stop from Narita to Omiya, if you happen to live in Saitama prefecture. It stops at the World Cup football stadium (Shin toshien) and takes less than 2 hours. The bus to Takasaki or Maebashi in Gunma is also fine (takes 3 hours). Actually transportation to Narita is no trouble at all. I don’t agree that it is inconvenient, but actually rather easier than London or many other European airports. In Japan, the trains are (almost) never delayed, so you can be sure to get there on time.

    How do I sign up for the Ferrari ride?

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