Around Japan in 12 hours or less!
December 26, 2018 3:32 PM   Subscribe

I will have a 12-hour layover (flight gets in at 6:30 AM, flight leaves at 6:30 PM) in Tokyo-Narita airport in early February on my way from Jakarta to Boston. I've seen recommendations to go into Tokyo, or to go into Narita. What should I do with my 12 hours, and how cold should I plan to be?

I'll be spending about a month in Jakarta, and flying JAL from Jakarta to Tokyo to Boston on February 8. I've seen a few previous questions related to this, but they're all 6+ years old. Is visitin the town of Narita the best option? I've never been in Japan (last time I flew from Boston to Jakarta, I had a surprise overnight in a hotel outside of the airport, but that was all I saw), and I'd really like to do more than just sit in the airport!
posted by ChuraChura to Travel & Transportation around Narita, Japan (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Narita is a nice little town and a good introduction to Japan, though you could easily get into town in the time you have.

It’s probably a good idea to be conservative in where you go and how much time you have, the scale and confusion of Tokyo is immense, but so fun and so exciting, it’s like nowhere else I’ve been.
posted by Middlemarch at 3:38 PM on December 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Tokyo seems intimidating but actually fairly easy to get around, especially if you have a smart phone with internet for navigation. Easiest way to get in and out of the airport seems to be those big airport shuttles that you can buy tickets as you leave (tickets is about $30 each way). I was there in late Oct and spent days just wandering around. Seems like all the major subways lines have English audio and LCD display that announce stations.

If you wander to Shibuya, where the famous intersection is, here is one nearby recommendation: T-site Daikanyama. This is the most beautiful book store I have ever been to, a must-go for any book lover visiting Tokyo. It's just a 15 minutes walk or one subway stop from the bustle of Shibuya Crossing. There are huge collections of periodicals from all over the world, about travel, design, art, food, etc. A lot of comfortable seats to encourage you to sit down and browse. I could have easily spent half a day there.
posted by Pantalaimon at 4:24 PM on December 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Narita has the nicest people on earth, but it's not an exciting town. If you do spend your time there, you might go look at Narita-san Shinshoji, the big temple; by early February the New Year's crowds should have about disappeared (no, not kidding).
The train into Tokyo takes about an hour each way give or take. If you take a Keisei express you can arrive in Tokyo around the Ueno area; the Ueno station complex has a lot of shopping and dining stuff, and it's right on the edge of a nice small park with several museums, not far from Asakusa which has a famous temple also (and a really nice cat cafe nearby too).
Early February is about as cold as it gets, but barring abnormal weather (never a sure thing these days), it will probably be cold enough to want a coat and scarf but not quite cold enough to snow.
posted by huimangm at 6:21 PM on December 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

I had a 9 hour layover last December, and I went into Tokyo. It was also my first time in Japan, and I found it very straightforward to navigate. I took the train into the Shibuya station and walked around that area. Tons of little shops and restaurants, then I walked over to the Meiji Jingu temple, which was a peaceful oasis in the middle of the busy city. Afterwards I walked back to Shibuya (although, if I were you I would follow up by walking into Harajuku, which is right by the temple) and stopped at a random ramen restaurant. The very kind waiter helped me order and I had a great bowl of ramen. Got back on the train, and had no problems making my flight.
posted by foxonisland at 7:41 PM on December 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

Definitely skip Narita and head into Tokyo - you'll have at least six or seven hours to wander around and see stuff before you need to head back to the airport. Note that a lot of shops and attractions don't open until 10am, so you'll have to specifically look for things that open early for your first few hours of sightseeing.

One idea is Tokyo Skytree - in addition to the observation deck there are a couple of small museums, an aquarium, an area devoted to local craftsmen from the neighborhood, and a big shopping complex with 300 shops and restaurants, all indoors.

After that you should be able to explore one or two neighborhoods like Shibuya, Shinjuku or Tokyo Station. All of them have direct Narita Express trains back to the airport.
posted by Umami Dearest at 8:14 PM on December 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

Tokyo is an amazing city but if you are like me, you will be tired after a long flight and just want to relax. So I recommend my favorite thing in Japan, an onsen! Here is a beautiful-looking one in Narita.
posted by mai at 9:05 PM on December 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Seconding Tokyo Skytree. If you're there on a Friday the planetarium has a live string quartet.
posted by storytam at 9:54 PM on December 27, 2018

I would tend to recommend Narita, but if coming in to the city foxonisland and Umami Dearest have good ideas. For early morning stuff many shrines and temples will be open that early. Meiji Shrine opens at sunrise. Sensoji at Asakusa should be open early too.
posted by Gotanda at 4:12 PM on December 28, 2018

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