Tokyo Narita Airport
Tokyo Narita Airport, located nearly 70 kilometers northeast of Tokyo, is Japan's largest international airport. The airport is generally modern and efficient, but sometimes overcrowded (particularly at immigration). Security has been rather heavy, especially when coming in, due to continuing controversy over land expropriated for the airport - there are plans in the works, however, to relax the checkpoints at train stations and possibly the entry gates for vehicles as part of the first security overhaul since the airport's 1978 opening.
The airport has two terminals connected by both train and bus. Foreign airlines operate out of either terminal, with Japanese carriers ANA and JAL operating out of terminals 1 and 2, respectively.
The Terminal 1 South Wing houses most airlines in the Star Alliance (e.g. ANA, Asiana Airlines, United, Air Canada). Most carriers in Skyteam (e.g. Air France, China Southern, Delta, KLM, Korean Air) operate out of the Terminal 1 North Wing, and OneWorld airlines (e.g. JAL, American, British Airways, Finnair) operate out of Terminal 2. Check the airport's website just prior to your departure to determine the terminal you will arrive at. On the way to the airport, there are also lists (in English) posted near the doors of trains going to Narita.
There is a wide variety of methods to travel to Tokyo from Narita Airport, from trains and buses to taxis and even helicopters.
If you're really in a hurry (depending on your definition of the term), Narita Heli Express will whisk you to or from Tokyo Heliport (in Shin-Kiba). The regular fare is ¥260,000 per flight, which means that a solo passenger would spend the cost of one night's stay at the average Tokyo hotel every minute during the 20 minute ride. But if you share the ride with four other willing companions (the helicopter seats up to five), it splits down to ¥52,000 per passenger.
When making a journey-time comparison with other transport methods, one should take account of the time required to travel between one's point of origin and the heliport in Shin-Kiba and the time taken for travel between the helipad at Narita airport and the relevant terminal building. For a journey from the Tokyo station area to Narita Terminal 2, the time difference may be 20 minutes or less.
IF this tickles your interest, keep in mind that the helicopter also has service to Kawajima, Saitama prefecture in 30 minutes (¥235,000 per flight) and Maebashi, Gunma prefecture in 40 minutes (¥355,000).
Another helicopter service, Mori Building City Air Service, or MCAS, offers chauffeured helicopter services for ¥280,000 per flight each way. This includes the 20-minute helicopter ride to the Ark Hills Heliport in Akasaka, and a trip by chauffered car to any destination in Chiyoda, Chuo, Minato, Shibuya and Shinjuku wards. A trip to any other Tokyo ward outside of this zone incurs an additional surcharge. With five in the same party the trip costs ¥56,000 per passenger.
There are three train lines from Narita and all will get you into Tokyo. Note that if coming to the airport, each terminal has its own station and it is imperative that you get off at the right one. The stop for Terminal 1 is Narita Airport (成田空港), and the stop for Terminal 2 is, appropriately, Airport Terminal 2 (空港第２ビル), pronounced kūkō dai-ni biru, or literally, "Airport Number 2 Building". Lists of airlines and their terminals are posted inside the trains.
The two premier reserved-seat train services that operate out of Narita Airport are the Skyliner and the Narita Express. As a general rule of thumb, Skyliner trains offer the fastest ride into Tokyo (36 minutes), while Narita Express trains offer direct one-seat connections to the bullet trains and most of Tokyo's major train stations, albeit at a slower pace (61 minutes).
If you are on a budget and plan to use any of the various commuter train services that run out of Narita Airport, using a stored fare card (Suica or PASMO) will prove to be convenient.
Smoking on any of these trains is prohibited.
From Narita Airport, the most convenient (direct service into many places without transfer; like Shinjuku), yet expensive way, (by rail) into Tokyo is the Japan Railways (JR) Narita Express (N'EX)  into central Tokyo Station. The ride takes 55 minutes, costs ¥2,940 and offers the best connections to Shinkansen (bullet train) services or the JR Yamanote loop line. Trains usually depart Terminal 1 at around 15 and 45 minutes past the hour; there is one hourly departure between 12 Noon and 1 PM, and after 8 PM. Smoking is not permitted on board the Narita Express, and all seats are reserved.
Alternatively, you can continue onward in the same train, which splits in two with the front half heading south to Shinagawa, Musashi-Kosugi, Yokohama and Ofuna, while the rear cars go west to Shibuya, Shinjuku and Ikebukuro. Trains run to Hachioji, Takao and Omiya in the evening, with service from these stations to Narita Airport during morning hours. Reservations are required but can be purchased just before boarding if there is space (and there usually is). If there is no space, JR will sell standing tickets for ¥500 less.
JR also operates Rapid trains on the Sobu/Narita line, leaving once per hour and stopping at various points along the way, including Chiba. To Tokyo the trip is approximately 82 minutes and costs ¥1,280. These are normal, non-smoking commuter trains and often get crowded during rush hour (though boarding at Narita Airport should not be a problem, and seats can be easily obtained). The Rapid service train also has Green Car service (reserved seating); a seat can be obtained for ¥950 (¥750 on a holiday) if reserved beforehand, or for ¥1,200 (¥1,000 on a holiday) if obtained onboard the Green Car.
If you have a voucher for a JR pass, then you should exchange it here at the JR View Plaza Travel Service Center (Regular JR ticket counter when the View Plaza is closed), as the Narita Express is free with a Japan Rail Pass. You can also make onward reservations from Tokyo.
Suica & N'EX
JR East sells a special Suica fare package, called "Suica & N'EX", exclusively to foreign visitors. The cost includes a discounted fare on the Narita Express (one-way or round-trip, in standard class or green class) and regular JR lines from the airport to any destination in the Tokyo metropolitan area; ¥1500 to use on rail travel in Tokyo or on purchases at locations that accept the Suica card, and a ¥500 deposit. The "Suica & N'EX" card is sold only at Narita Airport, and can be purchased using cash or credit card. It can also be recharged with additional funds, but only by paying cash. The one-way Suica & N'EX ticket is ¥3500 in standard class and ¥5000 for the green car. The round-trip ticket costs ¥5500 in standard class and ¥8000 for the green car; the return trip to Narita Airport must be taken within 14 days and seat reservations must be made prior to departure. (As an example, under this plan a one-way trip on the Narita Express from the airport to Shinjuku in standard class would cost only ¥1500, compared to the normal fare of ¥3110. A round-trip for the same journey would cost ¥3500, compared to ¥6220.)
The private Keisei (京成, stylized as K'SEI) Railway offers trains to central and southern Tokyo, as well as direct commuter trains to Haneda airport. Keisei trains run on two routes: the faster, more-direct Narita Sky Access Line and the slower, less-direct Keisei Main Line. Both routes connect to Tokyo's Keisei Ueno and Nippori stations; the two lines branch off separately between Airport Terminal 2 Station and Takasago Station. Nippori offers the easiest connection to the JR Yamanote and Joban Lines, and to the Nippori-Toneri Liner for Tokyo's Adachi Ward. At Keisei Ueno you can walk over to JR Ueno station in 4 minutes to connect to the JR Yamanote, Tohoku and Takasaki lines and northbound Shinkansen trains, as well as the Ginza and Hanzomon subway lines.
Because the Sky Access and Keisei Main Lines operate on different fare structures, separate ticket gates and platforms are used at Narita Airport's two train stations. Sky Access Line passengers only have to pass through one ticket gate, while Keisei Main Line passengers must pass through two ticket gates. Taking a train through the Sky Access route between the Airport and Nippori/Ueno is ¥1200, while the Keisei Main Line route is ¥1000.
Sky Access Line
Confused by these options?
Since the opening of the Sky Access Line, train options to and from Narita Airport on the Keisei Railway may sound confusing, even to a seasoned traveler. Here is a brief summary of major services:
Keisei's premier service is the Skyliner, which operates on the Sky Access Line 2-3 times per hour. The Skyliner is the fastest train connecting Narita Airport to Tokyo, with trains running into and out of Keisei Ueno and Nippori stations. The new Skyliner trains offer comfortable seating and a maximum speed of 160 km/h (100 mph). The full run from Terminal 1 to Ueno takes 44 minutes, with the train traveling nonstop between Nippori and Terminal 2 in 36 minutes. All seats are reserved and the fare is ¥2400 each way.
The budget option along the Sky Access Line is the commuter train service known as Access Express, or Access Tokkyu (アクセス特急). Access Tokkyu trains depart every 40 minutes, and most daytime trains run into the Toei Asakusa Subway Line (from 4:00/5:00 PM, only to Ueno). Making limited stops, the Access Tokkyu offers the best ride to Asakusa (65 minutes, ¥1240) and Nihombashi (70 minutes, ¥1280). Shimbashi (75 minutes, ¥1280) puts you within easy reach of the Yurikamome light rail line to Odaiba. A change of trains at Nihombashi will allow you to make a quick hop into the Ginza district (Higashi-Ginza Station, 80 minutes, ¥1280). Many services also continue onto the Keikyu Line for Shinagawa (85 minutes, ¥1460) and Haneda Airport (105 minutes, ¥1740).
After 4:00 PM (5:00 PM on weekends), Access Tokkyu trains run directly into Nippori and Keisei Ueno in 60 minutes at a cost of ¥1200. Other times, you will be required to transfer at Aoto; the connecting train a local service; this increases travel time to 80-90 minutes. During these hours, it is better to take the Mainline Limited Express directly to Ueno (81 minutes), and save ¥200.
From the Access Tokkyu trains you can transfer at Imba-Nihon-Idai station - two stations after Terminal 2 - to local Hokuso Railway services. One place of interest is Chiba New Town Chuo (Central Chiba New Town), where malls and shopping venues are on the plenty. At Shin-Kamagaya station you can change to the Shin-Keisei Railway and Tobu Noda Line, which make for inexpensive trips to Matsudo (65 minutes, ¥1070) and Omiya (130 minutes, ¥1580), respectively. At Higashi-Matsudo station you can change to the JR Musashino Line for Saitama's Minami Ward (80-110 minutes to Musashi-Urawa depending on connection, ¥1450).
Keisei Main Line
Regular Tokkyu (特急) commuter trains - those that do not carry the "Access" designation - depart from Narita Airport every 20 minutes, reaching Keisei Ueno in 81 minutes at a cost of ¥1000. During the morning and early afternoon hours, you should use these Tokkyu services over Sky Access trains as they offer a one-seat, cheaper ride. (Taking the Access train will require you to transfer at Aoto, the only connection being a "Local" service to Ueno, hence losing any time-savings you made previously on the Access line). After 4:00 PM (5:00 PM on Weekends), Sky Access trains offer a one-seat ride from Narita Airport directly to Nippori and Ueno; the 20 minutes you'll save on the Sky Access train is worth paying the extra ¥200.
Reserved-seat services that are cheaper than the Skyliner include the Morning Liner which operates from the airport to Ueno twice in the morning, and the Evening Liner which operates from Ueno to the airport six times at night after the final Skyliner service has run. Morning and Evening liner trains cost ¥1400, but you can only make a seat reservation on the day of departure from a special ticket vending machine. The vending machine will sell liner tickets for ¥400 which are to be used on top of the regular ¥1000 fare.
From the Keisei Main Line you have the option of transferring at Funabashi station to the JR Chūō-Sobu line or at Katsutadai station to the Tōyō Rapid with through service to the Tōzai subway line, both of which go right through the middle of Tokyo. The Chūō-Sobu line goes through Akihabara (86 minutes from Narita, ¥1100), Ochanomizu, Yotsuya and Shinjuku (104 minutes, ¥1260) and facilitates an easy transfer to the regular JR Chūō express, which goes as far west as Tachikawa, Ōme, Takao and other destinations beyond. The Tōzai line takes a slight southern approach with stops including Kiba (77 minutes, ¥1400), Nihonbashi, Iidabashi and Takadanobaba (98 minutes, ¥1440).
Note that none of the subway or elevated lines are specifically prepared for travelers with big luggage and tend to get crowded once inside the Yamanote ring; the exchanges at Katsutadai and Funabashi are usually rather pleasant though.
Skyliner & Metro Pass
As the Narita Express offers a fare package for foreign visitors, so does the Skyliner: The Keisei Skyliner and Metro Pass includes a trip on the Keisei Skyliner and either a one or two-day open ticket valid for unlimited travel on all lines of the Tokyo Metro subway. A one-way Skyliner trip combined with a one-day Tokyo Metro open ticket costs ¥2600; with a two-day pass ¥2980. A round trip on the Skyliner with a one-day Tokyo Metro open ticket costs ¥4500; with a two-day pass ¥4880. Note that the Tokyo Metro open ticket does not allow travel on any JR Line, nor does it allow travel on subway lines operated by Toei.
There is also a network of Airport Limousine shuttle buses that serve most major hubs within Tokyo, stopping at major hotels, as well as some suburbs. Prices are comparable to the Narita Express train services (¥3,000/person), but are convenient for the first-time traveler as they take you directly to your hotel. The Airport Limousine is also one way to transfer to Haneda Airport; Access Tokkyu trains are cheaper, but Airport Limousines are much more frequent. The journey to most points in central Tokyo takes 90 minutes or so, but watch out in rush hour (especially on the way to the airport) as there may be traffic jams.
The Airport Limousine's flagship service is to/from the Tokyo City Air Terminal (T-CAT), located in Hakozaki section of Tokyo's Chuo Ward. There are approximately 4-5 departures per hour at a charge of ¥2900. Travel times are advertised at 55 minutes, as the buses can access T-CAT from several highways. T-CAT is directly connected to the Hanzomon Line of the Tokyo Metro, which runs to Shibuya and to Tokyo SkyTree with plenty of other connections in between. A taxi can bring you from T-CAT to Tokyo Station for about ¥1000.
A cheaper bus operated by Heiwa Kotsu runs hourly to/from Tokyo for ¥1000. Buses stop at two locations: In front of the Tokyo Tatemono building, a short distance away from the Yaesu Exit of Tokyo Station, and in the Ginza district next to Yurakucho Marion, located near the Marunouchi Subway Line and the Yamanote Line. While this is currently the cheapest travel option, the service does not run as frequently as the other Airport Limousine buses described above (For example, the ¥3000 buses run to Tokyo Station's Yaesu Exit up to four times per hour).
All buses make three pickup stops (Terminal 1 North Wing, Terminal 1 South Wing, Terminal 2) and either two or three dropoff stops.
Limousine & Metro Pass
A Limousine & Metro Pass is offered to everyone (not just foreigners) and offers a discount on the regular Airport Limousine services when combined with a one or two-day Tokyo Metro open ticket. There are two versions: a one-way bus trip combined with a one day Tokyo Metro open ticket costs ¥3000-3100 depending on the bus' destination. A round-trip bus trip combined with a two day Tokyo Metro open ticket costs ¥6000. Again, the Tokyo Metro tickets are not valid on any JR Line and cannot be used on the subways operated by Toei.
In nearby Yokohama there is, appropriately, the Yokohama City Air Terminal (Y-CAT) which is only a few minutes' walk from the Yokohama train station. Buses operate between Yokohama and Narita Airport 3-4 times per hour and cost ¥3500, with travel times estimated at 85 minutes.
If you land at Narita Airport late enough, or decide to hang around, there is an overnight bus that will take you directly to Kyoto and Osaka. The service is operated by Nankai Bus and Chiba Kotsu, and departs from Narita Airport at around 9:30 in the evening, with arrival in Kyoto and Osaka the following day at 6:20 and 7:30, respectively. It costs ¥8500 to Kyoto and ¥9000 to Osaka. The return trip leaves Osaka at 9:05 in the evening and Kyoto at 10:15, arriving at Narita Airport the following morning at around 6:50.
A taxi to central Tokyo is extremely expensive - a trip from Narita to Tokyo Station will run approximately ¥25,000 if you hail a cab directly by yourself (equivalent to a few nights stay in the average Tokyo hotel) - you are more likely to get stuck in a traffic jam than save any time. Of course, a hailed taxi's fare can change due to the routing and any traffic conditions.
Flat fare taxi cabs to Tokyo go for around ¥17,000-19,000 from special taxi ranks, but even so, it will be easier and cheaper to take public transit into Tokyo (i.e. Narita Express, Skyliner, Airport Limousine Bus) and change to a taxi upon arriving in Tokyo. Use the train if you're in a hurry, or the bus if you're not.
Remember that licensed cabs in Japan have green license plates. Unlicensed cabs will have standard white or yellow license plates and should be avoided.
Eat and Drink
Once you have arrived at Narita, you can access cash machines operated by Citibank, Japan Post and 7-Eleven that accept international ATM cards and credit cards.
When departing Narita, the better shops and restaurants are located in the check-in area: after passing security and immigration, all that's really available is expensive duty-free and some convenience store sundries. But remember that Japan restricts liquids in carry-on baggage, and plan to buy drinks for the plane after security.
Free WiFi access is available throughout the airport; paid access to WiFi through NTT and Softbank hotspots is also available. There are several charging stations in both terminals with desks, 100-volt power ports and desk lamps.
If you're at Narita for a connecting flight, you may wish to use the dayrooms and showers inside the terminal, past security. Dayrooms are paid for by the hour; ¥1000 for the first hour and ¥500 for each additional hour. The dayroom consists of a bed and a bathroom with a shower. It's a great way to refresh yourself before your next flight. If you just want to take a shower, you can get a shower room for ¥500 for a half hour. Soap and shampoo are provided, but not things like toothbrushes, toothpaste, shavers, and deodorant, so bring them in your carry-on with your change of clothes. Twin dayrooms are available for ¥1600 for the first hour and ¥800 for each additional hour. Dayroom reservations can be made up to a month in advance.