The Narita Airport Quandry - How Do I Get Into Tokyo?
Arrival at Narita airport was pretty hectic. The lines at Customs were long and it seemed to take forever for our luggage to come onto the carousel. It didn't help that we had our bags searched as we were exiting (it might have had to do with the husband being Mr Scruffy). It might be a good time to note that perhaps in Japan looking clean-cut and hiding any visible tatoos might be the way to go, just to avoid hassles at Customs.
There are four main options for getting into Tokyo from Narita (figure two hours on the safe side):
1. The local train called Limited Express (¥1,000 to Ueno or Nippori). This train makes a lot of stops between the airport and Ueno but it is only 11 minutes more than the Skyliner. Do note that if you ride it during rush hour, it will be extremely cramped as locals use this service as a commuter train. From Nippori you can transfer onto the Yamanote Line which is easy.
2. The Skyliner train (¥1,920 to Ueno or Nippori) which takes one hour. Seats are reserved and more comfortable. There are also little vending machines selling cans of coffee and soda.
3. The N’EX (Narita Express) trains are even more comfortable and go straight to Tokyo Station (¥2,940) or to Shinjuku Station (¥3,110). The only downside to riding the N’EX is that upon first arriving at either Tokyo Station or Shinjuku Station, you could have something akin to a meltdown as it is one of the most overwhelming places in the city. Think a flurry of activity; massive crowds, confusing signs and plus… do you really want to be lugging your suitcases up and down those stairs?
4. The Airport Limousine (fancy name but ordinary buses). The tickets cost around ¥3,000 depending on where you are going. The best thing about the Airport Limo is that they service many of the larger hotels in the city so this way you are getting a direct ride to your hotel. So do check to see if the hotel where you are staying is on one of their routes. Or ask your hotel.
We immediately ruled out the Narita Express because we just didn’t have the energy or the courage to deal with either Tokyo or Shinjuku station while fighting fatigue, sleep deprivation and the beginnings of jet-lag. The Airport Limo did not go to our hotel so we decided to try the ultra-budget way and go with one of the trains. But which one? In this case, we took the Limited Express because there was a train leaving in 5 minutes, whereas we had just missed the Skyliner and we would have to wait another 20 minutes or so for the next one.
At the train station we also managed to purchase the "PASCO" at the vending machine. Note: we could not buy it at the counter but the kind attendant walked us over to the vending machine and helped us purchase two PASCO cards with ¥3,000 (including a ¥500 deposit which you get back upon return of the card) on it. These cards were awesome to have; it sure beat struggling to find change to buy the tickets or even standing in line at stations to buy tickets.