Tokyo is one of those cities in the world that has two major international airports. I think of places that I know, like Montreal, New York, London, and Paris. Some cities have multiple airports, four or five or six. I don’t count Toronto as a double-airport city because the Toronto City Airport on Toronto Island is not a major airport. Many cities with multiple airports are like that – they have a major one and several nearby minor ones. So when I say that Tokyo is one of the cities in the world with two airports I am specifically thinking of major airports that handle both domestic and international flights from large carriers.
In Tokyo we have Tokyo International Airport, commonly called Haneda Airport in Ota Ward on the Tokyo Harbour shoreline very close to the Kawasaki City limit, and the New Tokyo International Airport, commonly called Narita Airport in Narita City, Chiba Prefecture about a hundred kilometers east of the metropolis.
All of my life in Japan I have used Narita Airport to come and go. But in 2015 Air Canada, my preferred airline, changed its Toronto-Tokyo-Toronto flight from Narita to Haneda, so this year I used Haneda for the very first time. The Vancouver-Tokyo-Vancouver flights remain at Narita - for now, anyway.
Narita Airport has always been a very controversial project. Construction began in the 1960s on relatively arbitrarily-confiscated farmland and it finally opened in 1978 with a single runway. The land protests surrounding it are legendary. To this day the airport remains a tightly guarded, secured compound, like a clean Nazi Stalag, or something. Approaching it is like approaching a battlefield: moats, walls and other barriers, razor wire fences, armed guard towers, observation posts, security checkpoints, open space (a killing zone for armed guards), then a new series of moats, walls, fences and guard towers and observation posts, etc.
Originally planned with five runways, Narita Airport opened with only one. Authority preparations for a second runway ran into fierce opposition in the 1990s reminiscent of the 1970s. Nevertheless a second runway was eventually built in 2002 (in preparation for the 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup) and extended in 2009, but to this day Narita has some anomalies - like a small private farm smack dab in the middle of the landing field inhabited by a holdout farmer whom the courts have declared a legitimate occupier of the land.
For many years after its 1978 opening the national government here tried to delegate all domestic flights to Haneda and all international flights to Narita. But it failed due to the policy of allowing international flights from Taiwan to use Haneda while Narita took the flights from Communist China. They were kept separate like that for security and harmony reasons. But the fact that Haneda was still allowed to handle some international flights irritated the business senses of some Japanese, especially after discount airlines were introduced. Haneda began to open up to more international flights in the early 2000s, first with flights to-and-from Hawaii, after which the floodgates opened and it once more became a full-fledged international port. With cheaper landing fees than Narita it began attracting more carriers and I think that is why Air Canada moved some of its operations to the closer airport.
The airports are accessible by different means. If one owns a private automobile one could drive oneself, of course, and park in the long-term parking lot. There is a coach bus service in orange and white livery called the Airport Limousine that has service to both airports from many locations in Tokyo on a regular, frequent schedule. Narita Airport can also be reached by different train services: the Keisei Line local out of Ueno Statin in central Tokyo, or the Keisei Skyliner - a red, white and blue express train that follows the same route as the Local. The Keisei Skyliner is a handsome train. If one didn’t know better one might mistake it for a shinkansen bullet train. Narita is also reachable by the Narita Express, or “N’EX” (I call it the “Narex”), a red, black and white train services a variety of major downtown statins since 1991. I have taken the Skyliner a couple of times, but I have never tried the N’EX. Almost all of my journeys to-and-from Narita Airport have been on the slower Airport Limousine bus. I like that it is slower. I can relax in a nice seat and enjoy the urban view out the window. The Limousine Bus is also much easier for me to access from home - a simple taxi ride down to a department store at Shinjuku Station’s West Entrance and I’m there. No dragging luggage up and down stairs, escalators and elevators and through train stations.
Haneda Airport is also reached by the Tokyo Monorail Haneda Airport Line. It operates between Haneda Airport and Hamamatsucho Station in Minato Ward, on the famous central Tokyo commuter loop called the Yamanote Line. The monorail opened in September 1964 ahead of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. I don’t get monorails. What’s the point? What are their advantages? Are they faster? Do they carry more people? I have no interest in the monorail. It seems like a 1960s fad to look futuristic and modern. It seems like a Disney ride more than a serious people-moving device.
When I went there on July 16, 2015 it was super easy. The morning hosted scattered heavy rain due to Typhoon Nanga which was making landfall in Japan on the island of Shikoku. But the storm missed Tokyo, so I worried unduly. I always worry, because I’m a worrier. Travel is stressful. Any number of things can go wrong. Instead, the day in Tokyo was humid and cloudy. Transport from Nishi Shinjuku’s Keio Department Store to Haneda Airport was a mere 35 minutes. Much of that was through a tunnel that brought us up right at the Tokyo Harbor side. There are three terminals. Terminal 1, Terminal 2, and the Tokyo International Air Terminal, the third and final stop. The bus deposited me on the ground floor. But Departures were on the third floor, so I had to get a luggage cart and drag myself to an elevator. There was a very helpful, Japanese-speaking airport information lady standing right inside the doors to direct me. It was a big, fine modern facility, not very crowded, with free luggage carts. I noticed that except for Air Canada and Delta Airlines all the other airlines using the terminal were servicing Southeast Asia: China, Taiwan, Korea, the Philippines, Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand, etc. Maybe the general lack of congestion had to do with the time of week, the time of day, the time or year, or the weather. Once I passed Security and Passport Control I had plenty of time to cool my heels, but there was almost nothing in the terminal by way of low-budget gift or snack shopping. I was disappointed because that’s what I wanted to kill the time. Instead there were many restaurants in the terminal - fine sit-down-at-a-table-with-a-menu-and-eat-a-hot-meal kind of restaurants, which is not what I was looking for.