Updated: Jan 12, 2020
I don’t know how many people just travel to Japan on a whim without doing any research, but if you do arrive in the airport completely unsure of what to do next, this is the post for you ;)
So picture this:
You and your friend Bob have arrived at Tokyo Narita International Airport. You’re pumped! This is your first time in Japan! You’ve done a little bit of research...not tons...but you've got this!
When you first get get off your plane, things are easy. All you have to do is follow the signs toward the customs counter. Once you’re let through, you’ll go to the baggage claim, pick up your luggage, and then you’ll head toward the exits.
So far so good.
You’ll find one more area where you’ll stand in line, your baggage and passport will be checked, then finally, you can actually go through the exit doors!
O.M.G. you're in TOKYO! How exciting!
You walk into that officially Japanese part of the airport and look around. You hear Japanese announcements, see various informational counters, and a tiny store full of never before seen snacks and drinks. You go in there and get one, eager to try something new, and buy a drink. You take a huge swig...
You put the cap back on and look around.
Yikes. Now what do you do?
You look at Bob. Bob looks at you.
You both begin to sweat...
You have your hotel name and address, hopefully even the name of the closest train station to said hotel (Do not forget to look this up, seriously!).
But how do you get there from here?
That is the question.
Well, you'll be pleased to hear that it isn't incredibly complicated, despite the way I know it's going to look.
I do not recommend just taking a cab because it can be horribly expensive! (Unless you're staying right next to the airport. Most people don't.)
Military spouses and spouses of civilian contractors actually have options to take buses, so if that's you, definitely go that route because it's quicker!
But for the rest of us, there are the trains.
When you first exit the customs area of Tokyo Narita, all you need to do is look for an escalator or an elevator. Use it to go down until you reach an underground train station. I believe it is only one floor down (anyone who knows otherwise please correct me in the comments).
There will be information counters, currency exchange areas, small kiosks for food and drink, even some tiny restaurants and coffee shops.
If this is your first time seeing anything like this, it's probably going to fascinate you.
You'll want to exchange a lot of money. Cash is definitely still king in Japan, so when you go, you'll want to
a. have some cash to exchange right away. and
b. make sure you have a debit card so you can withdraw more cash at an ATM
Anyway you have two options for the trains:
1) The Narita Express
To me, this is the best option. It is certainly the faster and most enjoyable one. You can follow signs for the NEX. There is an actual counter for it (with a red and white color scheme), and a row of touchscreen machines where you can purchase tickets.
Your best bet here is honestly to POLITELY get the attention of an attendant, and ask for help. Tell them you need a Narita Express Ticket. Show them your hotel address. They will help you purchase a ticket to the closest possible stop on that train. You may or may not have to switch to local trains afterward to get to your exact destination.
The ticket does cost a bit more than the local trains would (between $20 and $40), but again, it is definitely worth it. Here is why:
a. It is faster. The NEX doesn't make nearly as many stops as the local trains.
b. You'll have your own comfortable seat (not at all guaranteed on the local trains),
c. a place to put your luggage,
d. and the option to buy refreshments right there on the train.
It's so much nicer.
Once you get to the stop on your ticket, you will get off the NEX. If you are already at the stop closest to where you're staying, GREAT! You're lucky. If not, you'll need to take...
2) The Local Trains
Once you're actually at the right train station, you can walk, take a bus, or take a cab from there to your hotel. Be sure to check out my other posts on these subjects.
You're almost there! You and Bob are so on your way now.