Six hours in Narita: but is it enough?
July 9, 2009 7:19 AM   Subscribe

My sister and I are returning from Seoul in mid-August and have a 6 hour layover in Narita. We're not interested in going to Tokyo, since we won't have enough time, but are very keen on exploring the town of Narita. My question is, given the unpredictability of immigration lines, security checkpoints, etc., is 6 hours enough time?

We're allowing ourselves 90 minutes to get out of the airport and 90 minutes to get on the plane, and that leaves three hours to kill. I'd rather not be stuck in the airport for three hours, especially since we'll be there from 1:30pm to 7:30pm - prime eating hours. Local cuisine is a big attraction for us, especially since we both have fond memories of ramen shops and snack machines in Japan.

Neither of us speak Japanese, but the internet research I've done seems to indicate that there is just enough familiarity with English that we could get by. I've seen Mike Newman's page, and it's very informative, but I can't get a cut and dry answer to my question. Three hours is definitely too little time, twelve hours definitely a lot: but what about the median? Is it worth it?
posted by foulowl to Travel & Transportation around Narita, Japan (13 answers total)
my girlfriend and I had a six hour layover in Amsterdam while transiting between Africa and North America, and found that the window was perfectly fine to just take a train into the city, get a meal, meander about, window shop, then take a train back. Already being checked in for our flight and not having to deal with luggage saves a lot of time.

I don't have recommendations for Narita, specifically, but on the whole surgical strike outing, tips I'd have ...

if the airport has left luggage facilities, I would recommend leaving as much of your carryon luggage in a locker and just take along a small bag with travel documents, wallet and room for impromptu souvenirs. No need to lug your roll-aboards or laptops around if you won't use them, and you want to travel as lightly as possible.

be mindful about exchanging local currency, especially in a country like Japan, which prefers cash transactions to credit cards. Unless you're planning on being in the area again, you don't want to be stuck with a bunch of yen that you can't use or stuck with having to convert unused currency back to your home denomination and paying exchange fees again.
posted by bl1nk at 7:33 AM on July 9, 2009

Three hours should be enough to get out, eat, and get back. There isn't much in Nartia town, I would suggest taking the Keisei line or the Narita Express to Funabashi which is a little larger and has more stuff near the station. It's just a little bit further down the line from Narita City. There are even lockers in the stations so you won't need to lug around your carry-ons.

That said, Narita does have a good selection of food available. There is a sushi restaurant in one of the terminals that makes wonderful Kansai-style mackerel and another shop in the food court that makes excellent fried prokchops.
posted by Alison at 7:35 AM on July 9, 2009

I'll check out Funabashi, that sounds like it has potential.

Do you remember the name of the sushi restaurant and food court shop? The mackerel and the pork chops both sound excellent (and will certainly be better than whatever swill United Airlines will try to con us into buying).
posted by foulowl at 7:42 AM on July 9, 2009

bl1nk - I'm pretty positive the airport has luggage lockers, but I'll double-check. My sister and I are planning on only taking carry-ons for our entire trip (one of the benefits of traveling in the August heat is our clothes tend to be much thinner and easier to smush into a bag), and I know there are ATMs that exchange dollars to yen. I think you can change it back at the reception desk, but I'll double-check that, too.
posted by foulowl at 7:47 AM on July 9, 2009

I've always found customs/immigration at Narita to be pretty fast. But I think that you'll need to pay a ¥4000 (¥4500?) departure tax if you leave the airport and come back, so be prepared for that.

I recommend visiting the temple in Narita, Narita-san. The grounds are extensive and really pretty.
posted by adamrice at 7:49 AM on July 9, 2009

I've done this thrice, either to/from Korea, with a long layover in Narita.

Getting out of the airport on both occasions took me much less. The Incheon-Narita flights are pretty frequent enough that they're relatively quick and efficient -- enough so that I've gotten out of the airport in half an hour, got on the train, and arrived at Tokyo 90 minutes after I've landed, once. Just to let you know.

As of June, the airport did have luggage lockers, both on the departure and arrival floors. The larget locker which stores suitcases is ¥500 for each calendar day (so ¥1000 for a single night's storage), and I think they charge less as size decreases. The check-in lines at Narita Airport were pretty efficient and quick -- 6 hours is definitely a good chunk of time to head into Narita and wander around.

I'd actually recommend (if you can change your tickets without a monetary penalty) extending your layover a bit, just for fun. You're in the area, might as well take the train into Tokyo, spend half a day there or something!
posted by suedehead at 8:17 AM on July 9, 2009

Oh, and I've never had to pay a departure tax of any sort -- I think what adamrice mentions is just a general airport tax included in the flight ticket.
posted by suedehead at 8:18 AM on July 9, 2009

When I was at that airport (several years ago), every sign in the subway area was in Japanese only. So, something to be aware of. To enter, you must put money in the machine to get a coin or ticket (can't remember), then use that coin/ticket to enter the subway area. My two words of Japanese (domo arigato and hai) did not get me very far, but helpful and anxious-for-me-to-get-going people assisted. The schedule, too, was only in Japanese. I also had a problem with the buses, as I thought I got on the right one, but didn't... but again, people were helpful once it was clear that I had no idea and was completely lost. So perhaps you can find something/someone to help you figure it out before you arrive.

The airport itself is interesting -- I seem to remember that it had areas for sleeping, even, along with the usual shops and restaurants. Narita itself, to my memory, did not have much to see (but I was exhausted and mainly interested in getting to the hotel).
posted by Houstonian at 8:31 AM on July 9, 2009

As adamrice suggests, visiting Narita-san would be interesting. However, I hate being rushed and going through immigration etc. Seems a somewhat risky proposition, if you ask me.

I kind of like Narita airport (although the miles of concrete tarmac reminds me of the Death Star). Usually when I have a long layover in Narita I go to one of the lounges and take a shower, change my clothes, and get a massage or something. The airport also has a number of restaurants, some cheap, some not so cheap, plus convenience stores and bookstores with English books.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:57 AM on July 9, 2009

Sorry, as a resident of Chiba, DO NOT go to Funabashi. Keisei Funabashi station is a hole. It's the center of a commuter/bedroom town. At night, the place is overrun with (most likely illegal) foreign prostitutes/people offering "massages". In the daytime? There are a couple of department stores, quite small by Tokyo standards.

If you get through immigration quickly enough, take a train to Narita. Narita has a pretty sizable temple (the temple festival is this weekend, it's a shame you'll miss it, it's fantastic), as well as, on the same road, a visitor center with staff who speak excellent English. The temple is beautiful, and worth walking around, even with no festival.

The road to the temple is lined with old style restaurants and shops. In August, you should (if you want to try it) be able to get the Narita specialty, unagi-don, or grilled slices of eel over rice, which is supposed to help you deal with the heat. Also along the road are souvenir shops, sembei shops, and, coming from the station, on the right side of the road, before you get to the Barge Inn (a local gaijin/flight crew bar, with patio seating off the road) a fantastic sushi restaurant by the name of Edokko. Seriously, it's great sushi.

Coming from Narita Airport, there aren't so many trains per hour. Make sure you have enough time to get from the airport, around whereever you go, and back again in time for check-in. Narita to, say, Funabashi, by the Keisei line, that's about 40 minutes. Don't waste that time. Even if you miss a train from Narita to the airport, taking a taxi (while excruciatingly expensive) is still doable, and will get you there in time.

As for the Airport, yes, there are lockers, and there are check-in places to stow your bags. Narita (the city, not the airport) station has lockers as well. Depending on when you're coming, send me a memail, maybe I can give you the quick tour.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:58 AM on July 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

suedehead - Sadly, because the tickets are with United Air we can't modify them in the least, unless the plane itself is delayed. Next time around I think I will choose any airline but them. "Friendly skies" indeed.

Houstonian, KokuRyu - We're considering just staying in the airport, depending on how tired we are after our week or so in Seoul, but right now we're more keen on exploring than resting. It's quite possible we'll change our minds once we're actually at the airport (and given that we have yet another five hour layover in Honolulu after that).

Ghidorah - Unagi-don sounds fantastic! My sister and I are inordinately fond of unagi. And I've actually heard of Edokko and marked it as a possibility. There's also supposed to be a really excellent noodle shop, from what I've read. I think we'll skip Funabashi from what you've told us, especially given the time constraints.
posted by foulowl at 9:26 AM on July 9, 2009

I really enjoyed going to Narita-san on a layover. I was lucky and was there during new years and it was quite an experience.

I am a bit jealous you are there and my advice is to eat eat eat!
posted by avex at 9:38 AM on July 9, 2009

Yes, there's absolutely no reason to go to Funabashi (or Chiba City, for that matter) when you can visit Shinshoji at Narita-san. There's a circulator bus running between the airport, the central train station and the temple, and you can always grab a taxi in a pinch (there are usually a few sitting around near the temple gates).

Six hours should be plenty of time to get out, see the temple, grab a bite to eat (perhaps as a bento) and get back to the airport. However, if your transit through Narita overlaps with Obon (August 14-16) you may find lines are much longer than usual, so be careful.
posted by armage at 7:20 PM on July 9, 2009

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