The ultimate guide for getting to (and around) Tokyo

The In's and Out's of Tokyo Travel

With its rich culture, mesmerizing landscapes, and futuristic cities, Japan remains a top bucket-list destination for travelers worldwide. As you embark on your journey to the Land of the Rising Sun, this comprehensive travel guide will unravel the secrets to navigating Tokyo, Japan's bustling capital city, and beyond. We'll cover everything from choosing your flight and airport options to mastering the Tokyo metro system for seamless adventures throughout the city.

1. Choosing Your Destination

As you prepare for your Japanese adventure, the first step is to select the most suitable flight to the country. Japan is served by several major airports, but most international travelers will land in either Haneda Airport or Narita Airport in Tokyo.

Haneda Airport Located closer to the city center than Narita, Haneda Airport is a popular choice for travelers seeking convenience and a quicker route to downtown Tokyo. This airport is well-connected, with numerous domestic and international flights, making it a prime gateway to Japan's vibrant capital.

Narita Airport While Narita Airport is farther from the city center, it remains a significant entry point for international travelers. The airport offers a wide range of flights, often providing more competitive fares, making it an attractive option for budget-conscious travelers.

3. Getting from Haneda/Narita Airports to Downtown Tokyo

After landing in Tokyo, your next step is to make your way to the city center. Fortunately, Japan offers efficient transportation options to accommodate travelers arriving at either Haneda or Narita.

Getting from Haneda Airport to Downtown Tokyo

  1. Tokyo Monorail: The Tokyo Monorail connects Haneda Airport with Hamamatsucho Station in central Tokyo. The journey takes around 13 minutes, and the monorail runs every 4-5 minutes.

  2. Keikyu Line: The Keikyu Line also connects Haneda Airport with various Tokyo stations. Consider taking the Keikyu Line for easy access to areas like Shinagawa, Shibuya, and Yokohama.

  3. Airport Limousine Bus: The Airport Limousine Bus offers direct service to major hotels and areas in Tokyo. It's a convenient option if your accommodation is along one of the bus routes.

Getting from Narita Airport to Downtown Tokyo

  1. Narita Express (N'EX): The Narita Express is a popular and convenient option for travelers heading to central Tokyo, stopping at major stations like Tokyo, Shinagawa, Shibuya, and Shinjuku.

  2. Keisei Skyliner: The Keisei Skyliner is another rapid train service connecting Narita Airport with Ueno Station. It's a good choice if you're staying in the Ueno or Asakusa areas.

  3. Airport Limousine Bus: Similar to Haneda, Narita Airport also offers an Airport Limousine Bus service to various Tokyo neighborhoods and major hotels.

FOOJI TIP: If you want to plan in advance, check out the websites like https://tokyo-haneda.com/ which have extensive maps of the airports, where to locate the different points of interest, and how to use the ticket machines with step-by-step photo instructions. There are even links to video walkthroughs of exactly where to locate the ticket gates and how to board!

If you want to learn more about travel to Japan, check out these articles!

While both airports serve Tokyo, understanding the differences between Haneda and Narita can help you make an informed decision based on your travel preferences.

Haneda Airport: Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Close proximity to downtown Tokyo (around 30 minutes by train).

  • Fewer immigration and customs queues compared to Narita.

  • Extensive domestic and international flight options.

Cons:

  • Smaller international terminal with limited shopping and dining choices.

  • Some international flights may still land at Narita, depending on your departure city.

Narita Airport: Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Potentially cheaper international flights.

  • More extensive shopping and dining options in the terminal.

  • Airport buses provide direct access to various Tokyo neighborhoods.

Cons:

  • Farther from downtown Tokyo (approximately 60-90 minutes by train).

  • Longer immigration and customs lines during peak travel times.

FOOJI TIP: If you're split between the two, we recommend Haneda for it's proximity to downtown Tokyo - the Tokyo monorail is just past the luggage pickup (no need to leave the airport!) and only about a 30 minute ride to the center of the city. There are plenty of ticket machines (make sure you select "English" or you language of choice) and a number of helpful attendants nearby.

2. Choosing Your Flight

Japan is home to two major airlines, Japan Airlines (JAL) and All Nippon Airways (ANA), both renowned for their exceptional service, safety, and extensive route networks. Here's a closer look at each airline and a little on which one might be the better choice for flying from the US to Japan.

Japan Airlines (JAL)

  • Overview: Japan Airlines, also known as JAL, is one of the country's flag carriers and has a long-standing history in the aviation industry. Founded in 1951, JAL has been a pioneer in introducing new technologies and enhancing passenger experiences. It has earned a solid reputation for its top-notch service and high safety standards.

  • Fleet: JAL boasts a modern fleet of aircraft, including Boeing 777s, Boeing 787 Dreamliners, and Airbus A350s. The airline is known for updating its fleet regularly, ensuring passengers travel in comfort and style.

  • In-Flight Experience: JAL offers a delightful in-flight experience, with attentive cabin crew, comfortable seating, and a wide selection of entertainment options. Passengers can enjoy a variety of meals, including both Japanese and international cuisine, catering to diverse palates.

  • Frequent Flyer Program: JAL operates the JAL Mileage Bank, a comprehensive frequent flyer program that rewards loyal customers with various benefits, such as flight upgrades, lounge access, and partner rewards.

All Nippon Airways (ANA)

  • Overview: All Nippon Airways, commonly known as ANA, is the largest airline in Japan. Established in 1952, ANA has grown into a global carrier known for its excellent customer service and operational efficiency.

  • Fleet: ANA operates a modern fleet of Boeing 777s, Boeing 787 Dreamliners, and Airbus A320s. Like JAL, ANA consistently updates its fleet to provide passengers with the latest in aviation technology.

  • In-Flight Experience: Passengers flying with ANA can expect a premium in-flight experience. ANA's cabin crew is attentive and dedicated to ensuring passengers' comfort throughout the journey. The airline offers a diverse range of entertainment options and delectable meals, reflecting both Japanese and international flavors.

  • Frequent Flyer Program: ANA runs the ANA Mileage Club, a loyalty program offering generous rewards to its frequent flyers. Passengers can earn miles through ANA flights, Star Alliance partners, and various other affiliated services.

Which is Better to Fly from the US?

Both Japan Airlines (JAL) and All Nippon Airways (ANA) offer exceptional service, so deciding which one is better largely depends on individual preferences, flight routes, and pricing.

If you're flying from the US to Japan, consider the following factors:

1. Flight Routes: Check which airline offers direct flights or convenient connections from your departure city. Both JAL and ANA have extensive route networks, but specific destinations and flight frequencies may vary.

2. Price and Deals: Compare fares for your travel dates and destinations. Sometimes one airline may have promotions or discounts that make it more cost-effective for your specific journey.

3. Loyalty Programs: If you're a frequent traveler, consider which airline's frequent flyer program aligns better with your travel habits and offers more appealing rewards.

4. In-Flight Amenities: Both airlines are known for providing a superior in-flight experience. If you have specific preferences, such as seat configurations or meal choices, take those into account when making your decision.

5. Schedule and Convenience: Assess flight timings, layover durations, and overall convenience for your travel plans.

Ultimately, both Japan Airlines (JAL) and All Nippon Airways (ANA) are highly reputable carriers, and you're likely to have a fantastic flying experience with either. It might be worth trying both airlines on different occasions to appreciate their unique offerings. Whichever airline you choose, rest assured that your journey to Japan will be a delightful experience filled with warm hospitality, efficiency, and a glimpse of Japan's cultural charm even before you land.

FOOJI TIP: If you're coming from the US, we highly recommend flying nonstop. We've done a layover in Beijing, and we'll never do that again. It might save a few bucks, but the headache of catching your layover (and making sure your bags get transferred) in a foreign country is always a risk, just isn't worth it in our opinion. If you can, try to get a flight operated by ANA or JAL - even if it's a ride share with a US airline, the Japanese operated flights have top notch service and incredible airplane food for a taste of Japan before you even touch down.

4. Navigating the Tokyo Metro

Once you've arrived in Tokyo, the city's efficient and extensive metro system will be your best friend for exploring the city's attractions.

Understanding the Tokyo Metro System The Tokyo Metro system is well-designed, consisting of multiple color-coded lines, each serving different parts of the city. It's essential to understand the key lines to navigate effortlessly.

  1. Marunouchi Line (Red): Connects Tokyo Station and Shinjuku, passing through popular areas like Ginza and Ikebukuro.

  2. Yamanote Line (Green): A loop line covering major stations like Tokyo, Shinjuku, Shibuya, and Ueno.

  3. Hibiya Line (Silver): Connects Ueno and Ginza, passing through central areas like Roppongi.

  4. Chiyoda Line (Green): Connects western and eastern parts of Tokyo, including stops at Omotesando and Akihabara.

  5. Tozai Line (Blue): Runs from Chiba in the east to Nakano in the west, passing through Otemachi and Kudanshita.

FOOJI TIP: If you're in Tokyo, take the metro! Depending on what city you're from, you may not be used to using the subway, or maybe even consider it unsafe or impractical. In Tokyo, the metro is easily the fastest, cheapest, and best way to get around. Uber's and cabs are everywhere, but the costs will rack up very quickly and traffic is often an issue. Use Google maps to plot your route - it will show you the exact color of the line, name of the station, number of stops, etc. We recommend searching your destination above ground, then take a screenshot of the Google maps info which you can use while on the train to make sure you get off at the right stop. It may seem confusing at first, but it's very simple once you've done it a couple times. If in doubt, the green line (Yamanote) is a loop, so if you keep riding you'll end up where you started, or you can hop off and hop back on the opposite direction if you realize you're heading the wrong way!

5. Purchasing Metro Passes or Tickets

To maximize your Tokyo metro experience and save on transportation costs, consider purchasing a metro pass or using prepaid cards.

Types of Metro Passes

  1. Suica and PASMO Cards: Prepaid cards that offer convenient fare payments for trains and buses throughout Tokyo. They can be used interchangeably on almost all public transport.

  2. Tokyo Subway Ticket: Offers unlimited travel on Tokyo Metro and Toei Subway lines for a set number of days (e.g., 24, 48, or 72 hours).

How to Purchase a Pass or Ticket

  1. Suica/PASMO Cards: Purchase these cards at ticket machines or service counters in metro stations. You can also use them to make cashless payments at convenience stores and vending machines.

  2. Tokyo Subway Ticket: Buy the ticket at Narita or Haneda Airport, or at any major Tokyo Metro station.

FOOJI TIP: PASMO is now available for Apple wallet! Your phone will automatically show an option to add PASMO once you land in Japan (if you have T-mobile, you're already connected! If not, or if you need wifi, see our other article here). This will greatly simplify your travel, as you can top up your PASMO card digitally whenever you need. It's important to keep a small balance, since some of the trains in Japan will charge you upon exit from the station based on how many stops you rode, and you may not know exactly what the charge will be in advance (there are fare maps, but it might take you awhile to figure them out!).

Conclusion

Congratulations! You've now mastered the essentials of navigating Tokyo and exploring the incredible destinations that Japan has to offer. From the convenience of choosing your airport to understanding the efficient Tokyo metro system, you're well-equipped to embark on an unforgettable journey through Japan's fascinating culture, traditions, and modern wonders. So, pack your bags, embrace the unknown, and immerse yourself in the enchanting world of Japan. Your adventure awaits!

Remember, every traveler's journey is unique, and while this guide provides valuable insights, don't be afraid to venture off the beaten path and make your discoveries. Enjoy your trip, and safe travels! -M&A

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