Getting from Narita Airport via Narita Express

In this most recent trip to Japan, my wife and daughter went a week earlier, while I stayed home to work through the Christmas season and then fly out. From Kawasaki City, where my wife’s family lives, it takes 2.5 hours to drive out to Narita Airport, which is the only airport with a direct flight from Seattle (which only runs once a day anyway…) so it’s a lengthy trip for them. Naturally, they were going to pick up my wife and daughter, but I didn’t want them driving out again a week later for just me, so I opted to just get to their house myself. My speaking and reading skills were just enough to survive on my own, and I wanted to try out the new Narita Express train system. So, this post is a review of my experiences which will hopefully help future travelers.

The Narita Express is a new train line that runs from Narita Airport along several routes. The one I needed passes through Tokyo at two stops (Tokyo Station, Shinagawa Station) before reaching Kawasaki City’s Musashi-Kosugi station. I know that station very well, even though it’s not that close to home, and so I know which trains to switch to.

From the point when I got out of customs at Narita Airport, there is a big staircase leading down to all the train terminals. I stopped first to convert some currency,1 then went down the stairs. It’s pretty straightforward from here to the Narita Express ticket office. Unlike regular trains in Japan where you just buy a ticket from point A to point B (preferably paying with a Suica card) and just hop on any car, the Narita Express has reserved seats, so you have to go to the ticket office and purchase them there. The ticket office was easy to find: after going down the stairs and following the hallway, the first building on my left was the ticket office. Very easy to find.

From there, you have two options: purchase at the counter or use the automated machine. I was a little confused, so I just walked to the counter and with my awkward Japanese ordered a one-way ticket to Musashi-Kosugi station. The first available train line was leaving in 5 minutes, so I took the next one at 6:45 pm which gave me 30 minutes to blunder around, get some coffee, etc. ¥3400 later, I had my ticket. :)

The actual train terminal itself was not far away. Opposite of the ticket office is a bunch of ticket gates, or kaisatsu (改札) for various train lines. The Narita Express belongs to JR (Japan Railways), so you need to find the green gates. If you get stuck, there’s an easy to find information desk in the middle and they have a handy map. It’s pretty close to the Starbucks too, so you’ll have little trouble of finding it. When you’re ready, just insert the ticket you get into the slot at the ticket gate, and the gate will let you through as the ticket pops out the other side. Remember, when you get to your destination, the exiting ticket gate will eat your ticket and not give it back since it’s done. Don’t be alarmed as you go through. They even have signs reminding visitors of this. ;)

The ticket has a car number and seat number on it, so when you get to the train platform, keep an eye out for your train car. They’re pretty easy to see, but if you’re really stuck, just ask the guard there for help. I did with my weak Japanese skills and managed fine. :)

On the whole, I found the Narita Express pretty nice. It’s not quite at the level of the Shinkansen (Bullet Train), but is a pretty reliable way to get to and from Narita Airport. On our return trip back to Seattle, the family (wife, daughter, in-laws, myself) took the Narita Express instead of driving out to the airport, luggage and all, and it took about half as long as driving. With my wife’s parents getting into their 70′s and 80′s it’s pretty helpful.

1 My wife scolded me for this, because I could have had a better rate if I saved most of my money first and went to a bank instead later, or just withdrew from the ATMs. Right now, with the Japanese Yen being so expensive (1$ = 80¥), we needed every yen we could get. Oh well, I was being lazy. ;)

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