Narita Airport Train or Limo Bus? – The Great Debate 1

In the Tokyo TripAdvisor forums there is a great amount of debate on both sides of this issue.  The pros and cons of each method are relevant and sometimes even profound.  I’ll try to discuss them here and let you decide which one is best for your particular requirements.

Disclaimer:  in Japan, the author prefers using rail travel to any other form of transportation.

Both Methods

  • Clean
  • Safe
  • Toilet facilities
  • Cost-competitive (except for Suica-NEX deal available to foreigners which is extremely compelling)
  • Frequent service

The Limousine Bus

  • Door-to-door Service – this pertains only to selected destinations including TCAT, YCAT, major hotels, some medium-sized hotels
  • Timely Service – this is subject to interpretation with the risk being twofold:  traffic delays into Tokyo and the number of stops on your particular route
  • Comfortable – this is subject to debate.  The bus has very soft, cushioned seats, however it also has a very narrow aisle, shallow pitched seats with very cramped legroom and offers no opportunity to walk around and stretch your body out.

Narita Express

  • The current Suica/NEX deal available for inbound travelers going into Tokyo or Yokohama makes this a no-brainer.
  • Green car seats are the most comfortable seats available into Tokyo or Yokohama
  • Timely Service – trains run on-time in Japan, usually within 20 seconds of the schedule
  • Easy connections to the Shinkansen, most train and subway lines and taxis for the last kilometer of travel

Keisei Skyliner

  • Most economical express service to Narita Airport from Tokyo
  • Services the shitamachi area of Tokyo
  • More comfortable coach seats than either the limo bus or the coach seats on the NEX.
  • Easy transfer to the JR Yamanote Line at Keisei Nippori Station

Straw Man Arguments

  • “The trains are too confusing after a long flight.”  This is a rather weak argument because if one is spending any amount of time in Tokyo then negotiating the rail system is going to be a significant part of the journey.  What better time to get acquainted with the rail system than where it is the easiest to use, where there are a plethora of English language signage and plenty of travelers around with the same concerns?
  • “The bus is too slow in heavy Tokyo traffic.”  This is basically true after noon and in the evenings.  Traffic in the most congested parts of Tokyo is relatively light in the early morning.  If your flight arrives early then the bus is probably going to make pretty good time into Tokyo.
  • “The bus into TCAT is usually pretty quick.”  This is true, however TCAT isn’t a good destination unless you’re staying in the Hakozaki area.  The principal time lost and frustration felt on the bus is mostly in the last few km of the trip.   TCAT is right off of the Shuto-ko.
  • “The bus is very relaxing.”  It depends upon your personality to a large extent.  For some, it is reentering a crowded transportation vessel full of people in more cramped corridors than flying coach on an airline.
  • “It is a bother to haul large amounts of luggage onto trains.”  This is a personal choice and preference.  Many people who have large luggage burdens (such as when traveling with small children) can use takkyubin to forward their luggage or a combination of the train and taxi if they are not staying at a hotel serviced by the bus.

Please add comments (anoymous or otherwise) and if they have merit they will be integrated into this living blog entry.  Debate and criticism is always welcome.

One comment on “Narita Airport Train or Limo Bus? – The Great Debate

  1. Reply Jon Allen Jun 3,2009 6:18 AM

    That’s a good summary of the pros and cons.
    I’ve tried both and prefer the train, but, like you, I always prefer railways.
    The reason we tried the bus once was due to the schedule of the Narita express from Shibuya. In the mornings there are three or four trains direct to Narita, but after a certain time.. no more. You have to got to Tokyo and change, which is a bit of a pain. whereas there is a direct bus from Shibuya.

    The bus is less comfortable in my opinion, but it is a bit cheaper.

    As regards the luggage it took me a while to figure out why all the Japanese seem to travel so light on long distance trains or out to the airport -> they all use the luggage forwarding service. It’s not that expensive and saves so much hard work if you have large suitcases.

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