If you have not checked out Part 1 of the guide, you can do so here.
You have overcome immigration, got your baggage – hopefully, you got the right suitcase, better to double-check – and even your salami made it through customs without raising alarms. Now you are in the arrival lobby and probably wondering what to do next.
Available options are again very different, depending on the airport where you land. Narita Airport in Chiba prefecture (don’t get fooled into thinking it’s in Tokyo, although they would like you to think that) is Japans biggest airport with most international connections, and probably the airport where most people will land when they come to Japan for the first time. Haneda Airport has fewer international flights but is actually located in Tokyo and it only takes about 30 minutes to go to the city centre from the airport. If you are looking to start your adventures in the Kansai region around Kyoto and Osaka, Kansai Airport will be your best bet. Flights might be sparse and expensive, however, depending on where you will be flying from, so even in this case, it might be sometimes more economical to fly to one of the Tokyo airports and then move by train or bus to Osaka.
For the sake of simplicity, let us assume that you landed at Narita Airport and want to go on to Tokyo now, where you will be staying in a hotel for the time being. As stated earlier, the airport is located in Chiba prefecture (even though it used to be called Tokyo-Narita Airport), and it takes at least around one hour to reach the Tokyo city centre from the airport. You can either take the bus or the train or if you have too much money on hand you can get a taxi. The counter that sells bus tickets is located directly opposite the arrival gate. A bus ticket to Tokyo will be between 2000 and 3000 Japanese Yen and the bus stops are easy to find. The only problem is that there’s a lot of different busses and finding the correct bus stop for the ticket that you just bought can be a challenge. Your other reasonable option is to take the train. Trains are by far the most common means of public transportation in Japan, especially urban areas, so getting used to them early is a good idea as well. If you have the patience and stamina left, I would recommend taking the local train, operated by Keisei Electric Railway, into Tokyo. This will take a while, but it will take you through some pretty scenic countryside and it will also let you experience the absolute chasm that is the gap that separates rural and urban Japan. If you are exhausted and just want to get to Tokyo quickly, there are a few express trains available, such as the Keisei Skyliner or the Narita Express operated by Japan Railway.
Before you leave the airport in the direction of Tokyo, there are a few optional steps that you could take. First, if you have not already, get some cash. Acceptance for credit cards is growing in Japan but paying in cash is still infinitely easier in many cases. If you have a card that allows you to withdraw money at Japanese ATMs do so, otherwise, you can exchange money at the airport, there are machines and tellers all over the airport. Next, depending on the airline that you used food may have been inedible (looking at you Aeroflot), so get some food and drink with your fresh Yen. Finally, it is a good idea to get internet for your smartphone as soon as possible. You WILL get lost and while Japanese people are usually helpful if you ask them for directions, having Google Maps or something similar available will make your life a lot easier. You can buy sim cards, data-only, aimed at tourists and usually only valid for a few days or weeks at most. Or you can rent a small portable WIFI device called “Pocket-Wifi”, which lets you connect multiple devices if you also brought a Laptop for example (though data is limited). Also available at the airport are luggage forwarding services (for example JTBs Luggage Free Travel or Yamato Transports Hands-Free Travel), which lets you send luggage from the airport to your hotel.
If you take the train, make sure that you get an IC card as early as possible. These rechargeable cards let you pay train fare seamlessly and are available at the airport or any major train station. There are special IC cards for tourists, but all that really differentiates them is that you do not need the 500 Yen deposit and that they expire after 28 days. Unless you are short on cash, I would recommend just getting a normal IC card. The normal card does not expire and even if you leave Japan you can keep it at as a souvenir or use it when you come to Japan again the next time. One last thing that you can take advantage of at the airport is the plethora of free pamphlets and guidebooks in English that are available. You can of course also simply research online, but if you are looking for some inspiration it is available for free here.
And that’s it. In the end, airport design is pretty streamlined and most major airports will resemble each other in some or even most ways. If you have been to any major airport before, chances are there will be a lot of similarities to Narita Airport. Also, Narita Airport is one of the rare places where you will truly be fine If you only speak English (or even Chinese or Korean), because there is a lot of international staff and multilanguage support is everywhere. The only real difficulty is getting from the airport to Tokyo or wherever else you want to go and deciding whether you take the bus or the train.
For the time being, that is all I have to say about airports. There might be a part 3 in the future, explaining the process in more detail or focusing on different airports than Narita. It is also possible that part 3 will not be an article but a video, at this stage nothing is decided yet. Anyway, thank you very much for reading and I hope that this was useful to you in some way.