Recommending travel to people is not easy because different factors are important to everyone. One person’s adventure is another person’s logistical nightmare. Train travel is do-able, the question is whether you WANT to do it. I’ll spell a few things out from my experiences below.
Tokyo Airports to City Trains
Tokyo has two international airports to fly into and both are excellent. Haneda (my favourite) and Narita (a little further out of town). When you arrive at either airport and collect your luggage it’s very easy to get onto a train into the city. Even with no Japanese language skills you can follow the train signs (literally, an illustration of a train) out to the train.
From Haneda step 1 is a monorail. Catch the monorail to Hamamatsu-cho station , it takes about 10 minutes if you’re on the express train then transfer to the JR rail line to Tokyo station. It’s platform 2 or 3. It’s a green line , the different rail lines are coloured, a little like parking levels are coloured so we remember where we’ve parked. Tokyo station is the station after Yuraku-cho, if you’re someone who likes to monitor each stop, and with loads of ski bags it helps to get ready to embark the station before so it’s not a mad rush.
When you’re returning home, you can go and drop your bags at the airport and spend the day back in the city, it’s really not far. We couldn’t check our bags onto our flight because it was too early to do that so we paid (per item) to be minded at the airport. It was slightly cheaper than the luggage minding service back at Tokyo station. Some may find this annoying to come from the city to the airport, check luggage in and head back to the city luggage-free but we prefered to sightsee for 5 hours than sit at the airport waiting for our flight.
Watch the gaps between trains and platforms with the kids and luggage. We travelled with three kids and three ski bags. There are lots of escalators. Remember to say SUMIMASEN (excuse me).
If you’re heading to any snow resort in western Japan and you need to head through Nagano you catch the Shinkansen (ultra fast bullet train). It cost us 280,000 yen and we caught the 8.10am Asama Nagano bullet train (call them shinkansen), not bad when we only got off the plane in Tokyo at 6.30am. We had our skis clicked on by 10.30am but we like to push it a bit. Someone else may have enjoyed a few more rests between trains. Sleep when you’re dead I say.
You can buy drinks and food on the shinkansen. If you have coins you can buy hot drinks and cold drinks from jidohanbaiki (vending machines) on every platform.
There are two train lines from Narita airport into the city area of Tokyo and takes between 60 and 90 minutes. There’s a JR express line that takes you to Tokyo station, or a slightly cheaper Keisei Skyliner Airport Express but it goes to Ueno station, then you need to change if you have to depart any Shinkansens from Tokyo station.
The trains in the centre of Tokyo operate along a circular ring (see this map). When you reach The centre of Tokyo from either airport these are going to be the main points of embarking and disembarking the trains if you’re doing any sightseeing. Each time you exit a station you will need a valid ticket, the exit points require tickets to open the gates to let you out and are manned by lots of staff so if you don’t have cash, feel nervous about how to purchase tickets or have any questions just ask the staff or head to a ticket window.
Keep your feet off the seats and hold onto the handles so you’re not thrown about. It’s nice to offer your seat to the elderly or less mobile and don’t place your luggage on seats that could be used by other passengers. In short, be mindful of other people.
If all this sounds a little daunting, especially with small wriggly children, loads of luggage and involving international flights with very little sleep, it may be better for you to pre-book a Chuo shuttle bus to snow resorts and not have to think about it.
This upcoming trip we fly in and out of Narita but returrning home our flight from Sapporo lands in Haneda so we will be traversing across Tokyo city from Haneda airport to Narita airport, looking out the window at all the sightseeing possibilities, munching on yummy Japanese snacks, wish us luck.