Welcome to Japan! Odds are that you’re excited (or soon will be) to explore this wonderful country, and have plans set up to do just that. Great! Japan can be a bit overwhelming to the first time traveler though, so below are some tips to help you get through the Tokyo airports, as well as the other main hubs, and hit the ground running. Before going further, I highly recommend reading the below article for tips on which public transportation to buy in advance, as well as education on the incredibly easy to use IC Cards. It will save you lots of time and money.
Tokyo is home to two airports Narita International Airport and Haneda Airport. Both Tokyo airports have incoming international flights; however, if you’re reading this you’re more likely arriving via Narita, about an hour from Tokyo City.
Tokyo Narita Airport to Tokyo (City)
To get into the City, the quickest option if the Narita Express for around 40 USD (4k Yen). This will take you from Narita Airport to the various main hubs in the Tokyo Metro area such as Tokyo Station, Shinjuku, Shibuya, Shinagawa and Yokohama, which takes no more than 1-1.5 hours. You will need to purchase a reserved seat either in advance on their site or in the station. If traveling during heavy travel times, I would advise booking a seat in advance, or you could end up standing.
Follow the signs for the JR Lines/ Narita Express upon exit from the customs area. You’ll be looking for the ticket machines or service desk for the JR lines (JR is the company that operates the railway). A good idea would be to follow the Japanese people who look like they know where they’re going, they’re heading to the same lines. Once there, you’ll need to speak with the service desk person or get a ticket via the machine. If it’s your first time in Japan (I assume it will be), just talk directly to the service desk staff and don’t hold up the line trying to figure out the ticket machine.
Tip: You don’t always need to book in advance, only during heavy travel times. To get a seat upon arrival, skip trying to figure out where to do this yourself in the station and ask the staff at the service desk to save time.
Of course, the Narita Express is not your only option. You are free to take the local trains or a bus, which will take much longer of course, with many stops in between, for not much less than the Narita Express. For that, check out Japan Plane, Train and Taxi Tips.
Tokyo Narita Airport to Tokyo Haneda Airport
If you happen to be catching a connecting domestic flight upon arrival, you’ll need to transfer to Haneda Airport, in the Southern area of Tokyo on the bay. The easiest and timeliest way to do this is via bus (they call this the airport limousine, but it is, in fact, a bus). Exit the customs area and look for the “Airport Limousine” counter and take the transfer bus to Haneda. This is common and will be very straightforward. You’ll get your ticket, line up outside at the designated numbered area and await instructions from the staff there. Expect around 2 hours of travel time, 3 if during rush hour. Great time for a nap.
Haneda to Tokyo (City)
If arriving in from Haneda, take either of the 2 local lines available at Haneda, the Keikyu (kay-que) line to various stops in the city, or the Monorail direct to Hamamatsucho Station, where you can access the Yamanote (yama-no-tay) line which circles the city.
Also, the Limousine Bus, which has a counter outside of arrivals, makes stops at each of the major stations in Tokyo. This may be more convenient except during rush hour.
If you haven’t yet planned your activities in Tokyo, check out 17 Mandatory Things To Do In Tokyo for some ideas.
Kansai Airport to Osaka
If you’re arriving in Osaka, congratulations, you don’t have to deal with Tokyo commuting AND you’ll get to enjoy Osaka, my personal favorite. Kansai International Airport in Osaka is located about 1-hour Southeast from the city itself. Upon arrival, there are two lines to get you into the city: The Nankai Line and the JR Line, both of which take you to the JR line in Osaka. From here, you can access the entire city, or catch the Shinkansen elsewhere at Shin-Osaka Station, just a short local train or taxi from Osaka Station (they are two different stations). Which line you take depends entirely on your destination.
Alternatively, there are buses available with direct service to Osaka Station in the same amount of time, and for about the same price as taking the local trains.
Fukuoka International Airport
You likely won’t be arriving here unless traveling from a neighboring Asian country. Fukuoka International Airport is a relatively small airport. To get to the main train and transport hub of Hakata, exit the airport and catch the bus to Hakata train station and bus terminal. From here you can get anywhere in the region, including via the Shinkansen and the Limited Express train to the Nagasaki area.
Alternatively, if your destination is Fukuoka, you can also take a taxi from the airport, as it’s relatively close to the city.
Central Japan Airport (Nagoya)
Catch the local train to Nagoya Station in about 30 minutes. From here you can get anywhere in the region, including the via Shinkansen.
Lockers and Luggage Services
You may find it to be inconvenient to cart your luggage with you, either during the day or from city to city. There are 2 options to deal with this:
Sized from small to large enough to fit a suitcase into can be found at nearly every airport or train station. I highly recommend using these in the event you don’t need to drag your luggage around with you. These can be paid by small bills or by the IC Card. For IC card use, you must pick the luggage up with the same IC card. Also, ensure that you keep the receipt. If you try to pick up your luggage and have lost either one, you’ll be in a very bad position. Keep it safe.
Locally known as Kuro Neko Yamato transport, I cannot recommend this service enough. This is a delivery service that operates throughout the country which has pickup/ drop-off points located everywhere. Most importantly, they can pick-up your luggage at your hotel, and have it delivered to a hotel, airport or Black Cat location in another city within 24-48 hours. Black Cat can also utilize most convenience stores as drop-off/ pick-up locations. That, however, will require a native Japanese speaker to help coordinate these more complex details or pick up one of these amazing Translation Devices.
This service is great for avoiding transporting your luggage on trains. To take advantage of this, drop your luggage off at the Black Cat location in the airport and provide them the drop-off location. Once paid for, your luggage will arrive when estimated, like clockwork. Also, you can schedule a hotel pickup online.
If you are arriving in Japan with lots of luggage, I would highly recommend you use this service to get your bags to your hotel. There is nothing worse than navigating Tokyo’s trains with luggage.
Service desks are located in the arrival halls of major airports.
For more tips on travel in Japan, check out the article below.