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How to Get Around Tokyo

The thought of planning a trip to Tokyo delivered a host of emotions from excitement to fear to feeling completely overwhelmed. One, I had never visited any country on the Asian continent. I must admit there was this fear of doing something wrong that would land me in jail. Extra, I know! Two, I had never been on a flight that long. This caused me a lot of anxiety because I wasn't sure what to carry on the plane to ensure I was as comfortable and content as possible. And three, I was traveling to Tokyo for Christmas....Holy shit! I had never done Christmas out of the country. Let alone apart from my family and friends.


When I tell you I put myself through those emotions for nothing, I truly mean it. Traveling to Tokyo, navigating how to get around Tokyo, and everything else was easier than I expected.


Subway in Tokyo, Japan

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So here's what you need to do - take a deep breath! I'm here to guide you through it. If you're planning a trip to Tokyo, Japan, here's everything you need to know.


Vector Art


Vector Art

How to get around Tokyo Japan

FLIGHT

For reference, I flew out of Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) located in Newark, NJ. EWR offers to routes to get to Tokyo: Narita International Airport (NRT) and Haneda Airport (HND. Here's what's important to note (or rather the pros and cons in choosing which airport to fly into):


Narita International Airport (NRT)

  • Non-stop flight via United Airlines (approximately 14 hours)

  • Further from the Greater Tokyo Area

  • Cheaper flight fares


Haneda Airport (HND)

  • Non-stop flight options were not available (1+ stops)

  • Close to the Greater Tokyo Area

  • More expensive flight fares


I decided to fly into NRT because I prefer non-stop flights. I understood this meant that I would have more leg work once I landed, however, I've had bad experiences with connections - so I didn't want to risk any delays or missing a connection flight due to weather, having to go through a customs check point, etc. These factors would be beyond my control. I would rather reach my final destination and figure out local/ground transportation from there.


With that said, I flew ERW to NRT via United Airlines. Since the flight was longer, I decided to pay to upgrade to Economy Plus seating.


To prepare for the flight, I made sure to properly pack my personal sized bag (I also carried on my bag). Inside my personal bag I packed the following:

Hot Food / Snacks (Just in case I didn't like the food selections)


These things definitely made the flight more enjoyable for me. Although, not all of it was needed as the airline provided more amenities since it was a long international flight like:

Pillow

Blanket

Dinner, Breakfast, Snacks

Water, Soft Drinks

Complimentary Beer & Wine


Learn more about complimentary dining and alcoholic beverages on long-haul international flights here.


For me, it's about preference. Using my own blanket and pillow made me feel more comfortable, but was not necessary. Also, did y'all catch beer and wine were complimentary? On long-haul, international flights to/from Asia, Europe, the Middle East, the South Pacific, and select destinations in Latin America, United offers these services. This includes Basic Economy fares.


Lastly, I used my United points to purchase Wi-Fi. I don't have a credit card with United. These points were from signing up for United MileagePlus Program. Each time I book a flight, I get points.


Narita Airport Tokyo, Japan


Vector Art


Vector Art

AIRPORT EXPERIENCE

The airport was easy to navigate. We filled out the required paperwork (standard if you've traveled internationally). Now, I did get selected for a "random search" before exiting customs, but it only took five minutes. I'm pretty sure they were looking for drugs, but all I had were snacks on snacks on snacks!


Once we exited customs, we walked over to the ATMs and withdrew funds. I withdrew the amount I thought I would need for the entire trip, which wasn't a lot. I prefer to using a credit card without foreign transaction fees when traveling. I'll explain this in detail on another post. The currency exchange booths only accept cash at the airport. This why the ATMs are key.


If you decide to wait to withdraw money, you'll be fine! There are 7-Eleven locations throughout Tokyo and they have ATMs. I think the conversion might have been lower (more comparable to actual exchange rate). If I remember correctly the exchange rate was higher at the airport.


Narita Airport Limousine Bus


TRANSPORTATION FROM AIRPORT TO HOTEL

As I previously mentioned, I knew once I landed at Narita Airport, I would have to commute into Tokyo by bus, train, or private transfer. Depending on the option you select, it will tack on an additional 1 to 2 hours of travel time. Here's a breakdown of the options available to get from Narita Airport to Tokyo:


Transport

Approx Cost

Travel Time

Frequency

From US$15*

1 hr

Every 15-20 mins

US$19.61*

 1 hr

Every hour

US$8.00*

95 mins

Every 15-20 mins

US$23.00*

90-120 mins

Every 15-20 mins

Regular Taxi (Grab outside of terminal)

From US$174*

90 mins

Generally available outside of the airport

From US$56.00*

 1 hr

Pre-book

US$146.00*

1 hour

Pre-book

*All of the details above were calculated on travel to Tokyo Station. Exact fares, times, and transfers will vary depending on your destination.


Here's why I ultimately chose the Narita Airport Limousine Bus over all of the other options:

  1. It was convenient.

  2. It was cheap. Not the cheapest option though.

  3. The buses "run" to hotels all over Tokyo, which mean I didn't have to navigate the trains. More on this below.


I didn't book the bus tickets in advance. Although, I should have (and really wanted to) to get the discount for booking in advance. However, the language on the website didn't seem clear to me at the time. I partially feel the language wasn't clear because I was planning and navigating so much and couldn't process all of the information to reach a sound decision. For this reason, I waited until I exited customs to purchase my roundtrip ticket. You can't miss the kiosk. The buses depart from the airport frequently (or you can save time, and book using the links above).


Now that I'm experienced, I would probably opt to take the train. The commute from NRT to the Greater Tokyo area can be approximately 1 to 2+ hours depending on your form of transportation. Since there was tons of traffic, my commute ended up being around 2 hours. After using the free Wi-Fi to let my loved ones know I arrived, I ended up sleeping most of the trip. The bus terminal was two block away from the hotel, which was less than a 5 minute walk.


Tokyo Japan Travel Tips

The Japan Rail Pass can be purchased in advance of your trip. Once your order is confirmed, your pass can either be delivered to your home or to your temporary residence in Japan. After you arrive to Tokyo, your voucher needs to be exchanged for the actual rail pass.


Learn more about the Japan Rail Pass here.


If you choose this option, you need to plan accordingly because

  • If you opt to use the JR Pass to get from the airport to the Greater Tokyo Area, you'll need the pass to be delivered to your home.

  • More importantly, whether you use it for transport from the airport or not, you'll still need to ensure it arrives to your home or temporary residence in Japan in time for you to use it during your trip.


How to get around Tokyo Japan

GETTING AROUND TOKYO

My hotel was in the Shinjuku ward of Tokyo. I intentionally chose to stay in this area because it's safe and has an active nightlife. The Shinjuku ward is similar to Times Square boasting nightclubs, karaoke, pubs, and tons of food options. Many of the businesses do not open until the late afternoon and close around dawn. Plus, a lot of the attractions were walkable from this ward. Remember when I told y'all, I didn't want to navigate the trains? Push this far from your memory! I'd heard the trains were quite challenging to navigate. For this reason, I avoided it and wrote it off before even giving myself a chance.


Needless to say, I walked a lot at first, which in my opinion Tokyo was a very walkable city. I eventually bossed up - well I'm lying a little bit! One of the activities I wanted to do was too far to walk, so I had to quickly didn't have choice but to learn the trains system or miss out. Take another breath - You'll be fine! If you've managed a subway/train system in any other major city in United States or abroad, I can assure you that you can navigate Tokyo's train system! I think the person who shared how challenging it would be got caught up and flustered because they didn't know the language. Just don't the fact that you don't know the language stop you, employ some common sense (i.e. match the colors to letters), or simply ask for help. I purchased a regular day pass. Next time, I will explore multi-day pass options.



Tokyo Japan Travel Tips


In part 2 of this guide, I will share my itinerary. This will be especially important if your trip is short and you want a travel guide that will help you be the most efficient with your time. For this trip, I organized my itinerary by wards, which truly helped me see and do more.


Ready?! Read part 2 - Best Things to Do in Tokyo, Japan here.





How to Get Around Tokyo Japan

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Hey Y'all!

I'm Santeka - a colorful, outspoken Southern woman that landed in New Jersey. Welcome to my corner of the internet where I share travel, food, twirlable moments, DIY pjojects, and fixer upper inspiration all while living my life out loud! My favorite gig is helping entrepreneurs leverage their table to grow their business.

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