Most tourists to Japan will come in and out through Tokyo’s Narita Airport. But like many international airports, Narita is not exactly on the doorstep of a major destination city, and travellers headed for Tokyo will usually make the 60-kilometer (36-mile) journey to the metropolis via the Narita Express, a high-speed rail service with a single-trip fare of 3020 yen (US $25.34).
What’s perhaps less well-known is there are two budget bus services that take you from Narita Airport to Tokyo Station for as little as 900 yen. Tokyo Shuttle and The Access Narita seem to offer similar airport shuttle services, but which is the better option? And can they match the Narita Express in comfort and convenience? We sent one of our Japanese reporters to test out both services and find out!
First things first, let’s have a look at the vital statistics for each service.
1) Fares and times
Tokyo Shuttle: Reserved seats for all services cost 900 yen ($7.55) and can be booked online in English. The walk-up fare is 1,000 yen, or 2,000 yen on early morning services (before 5 a.m.).
The Access Narita: Tickets cost a flat rate of 1,000 yen ($8.38); you can also book online, but the website is in Japanese only.
Both services run approximately every 15-20 minutes (except services before 5 a.m. which are less frequent), with journey times of 60 to 80 minutes. By comparison, the Narita Express leaves every 30 minutes, with a journey time of just 53 minutes, although it doesn’t run as early in the morning as these buses.
Tokyo Shuttle operates between Narita Airport and locations in Tokyo: Ginza Station, Tokyo Station, Shinonome Shako, and the Oedo Onsen Monogatari in Odaiba.
▼ That’s right, you can get a shuttle bus direct from the airport to the retro wonderland that is arguably Tokyo’s coolest hot spring!
The Access Narita, meanwhile, runs between the airport, Ginza, and Tokyo Station, and also runs a service between Tokyo and the major hotels at Narita airport. So if you’re staying near Narita Airport before flying home, The Access Narita is a good bet.
▼ They also get a bonus point for that unnecessary “The” in their name, although we immediately docked that point again because “The Access Narita” isn’t actually written on their buses anywhere.
3) Location of Tokyo bus stops
When heading to the airport on your way home, you’ll need to be able to find the bus stop. Tokyo Shuttle’s stand was a little way away from Tokyo Station, and our reporter had a hard time finding it. The Access Narita, however, was close to the station exit and easy to find. He felt this gave it the edge in terms of convenience.
▼ I guess with a suitcase full of souvenir Kit Kats, that extra hundred yards or so could make all the difference…?
Tokyo Shuttle buses, operated by Keisei, are easily identifiable, unlike The Access Narita which is operated by different bus companies depending on the time of day.
▼ What bus company is this? We’re sure you’ll figure it out.
4) Onboard facilities
With tickets purchased and bus stops located, it was time to ride to Narita Airport! Next up, our reporter wanted to check out the facilities available on each service.
Tokyo Shuttle’s buses have electrical sockets and Wi-Fi which could be very handy if you’ve just arrived in the country (don’t forget your adapter!). The Access Narita, on the other hand, has more leg-room and an onboard toilet.
▼ Tokyo Shuttle gets a bonus point this time though, for those lacy seat covers.
▼ Although there are still some Tokyo Shuttle services that don’t have Wi-Fi and electrical outlets yet, ours did, as marked on the exterior of the bus.
▼ The Access Narita looks pretty similar, but boasts “wide seats” for extra comfort.
▼ A choice between charging your electrical devices, and having access to a bathroom? It’s the ultimate 21st-century dilemma…
We think this contest is almost a tie, to be honest, but our Japanese reporter felt that the extra leg-room and onboard restroom made The Access Narita the winner in his book. He offered the following words of advice for new riders:
- When you ride the bus from Tokyo to the airport, an official comes onboard and checks tickets and ID. So keep your ticket and passport accessible, not buried in the bottom of your bag under all those souvenirs.
- If you don’t make a reservation, it’s possible the bus might be full and you might have to wait for the next one. So we recommend either booking in advance online, or leaving a little extra time to get to the airport on your return journey.
With these points in mind, you should be able to enjoy a cheap and easy trip from Narita to Tokyo! Just think how many butter-flavour Kit Kats you could buy with that extra 2,000 yen.
So what do you reckon, Rocketeers? Could low-cost shuttle buses be a true contender to the Narita Express?