Features

Port of Calm

31 May 2009 by intern22

Japan’s premier gateway may lack the “wow factor” of Beijing airport or Singapore’s Changi, but it does manage to remain serene during rush hours, says Kate Graham

Narita International Airport (known as New Tokyo International Airport until 2004) first opened in 1978 to respond to congestion at Haneda. While Narita, strictly speaking, handles international flights, Haneda has recently begun to host some flights to Seoul, Shanghai and Hongkong.

In 1992, Narita built a second terminal, and in 2002, timed for the World Cup, added a second runway. Terminal 1 features a satellite terminal design, and is divided between the South Wing and North Wing. The newer Terminal 2 is different, with a main building and satellite joined by a shuttle system.

As you might expect in Japan, service is efficient, orderly and speedy. The airport, however, lacks the wow factor of its Beijing counterpart or Singapore’s Changi. Apart from the odd flair in the newly renovated sections of Terminal 2, design is not really at the forefront, appearing somewhat functionary in places. But it is spotlessly clean and, even in rush periods, maintains a mercifully calm air.

Given the distance from central Tokyo, most travellers arrive either on the Limousine Bus (www.limousinebus.co.jp/e) or Narita Express (www.jreast.co.jp/e/nex). All must be prepared to show passports upon entry.

For those flying into Narita, arrival procedures, which were introduced in 2007, now require passengers to be fingerprinted and photographed. It is not a difficult process, although on an international flight, this can mean long lines, so be prepared to make a sprint as you leave the aircraft. With the latest threat of influenza A (H1N1) virus, health scanners have been working overtime, especially for flights coming in from the US where the disease still keeps spreading.

CATERING FOR ALL

Both terminals are well equipped to deal with crowds as well as different passenger needs. There are doctors, dentists, barbers, laundry services, lottery ticket counters, wheelchairs and baby carriages for rent and even a pet hotel.

To provide for travellers’ wellbeing, dayrooms with showers (¥500/US$5 for 30 minutes), reflexology and an oxygen bar are available. One unusual service is the baggage delivery, where belongings are collected in advance from customers’ homes (in Japan) and delivered to the airport, allowing them to commute unencumbered.

ATMs are an issue. While it may seem unusual in a highly industrialised nation, the fact is that many of these shut down during big Japanese holidays such as Golden Week in May, Obon festival in October and New Year. So before this happens, it would be best to plan ahead and withdraw enough cash to tide you over the break. International visitors who find themselves facing an unresponsive machine, should head for the Post Offices where they can get their problem solved.

Business needs are answered at the Business and Travel Support Center, located on the fifth floor of the Central Building. Open from 7am to 9pm, it offers Wi-Fi and cable LAN connectivity, copy and fax services and printing of business cards (absolutely essential for any meeting in Japan). At Terminal 2, requests for photocopy and fax are fufilled at the TEI Lounge, which is found in the Main Building on the fourth floor. Operating hours are between 7am and 9pm.

FOOD TRIP

Visitors to Japan know how delicious and unique its cuisine can be – remember Tokyo generated the first Asian Michelin Guide – and luckily, the airport offers an adequate sampling.

Terminal 1

Landside: Proceed up the escalator from the check-in area to the food arcade lined with cafés, sushi joints (Kiasen Misakiko), ramen outlets (Ramen Kagetsu Arashi), Korean (Welly and Ishiyaki Bibimpa), octopus fritters (Tsukiji-Gindaco), Soup Stock Tokyo, tempura (Nanosato) and more.

Airside: Strangely, the variety falls away as you progress towards your flight. In the North Wing are cafés and sushi nooks, while in the South Wing are udon and soba noodle outlets.

Terminal 2

Landside: For Japanese cuisine, pull up at one of the 29 counter seats at Sushiden for a pick of the freshest sushi. Tempura is always on the menu at Tentei and for tonkatsu (deep-fried pork cutlets), try Inaba Wako, which also sells boxed takeaway meals. For something more elaborate and formal, there’s Chiyoda, which has formal kaiseki meals served on a traditional tatami matt floor. Sanbei has quick and tasty udon or soba noodles and Shiki Shunsai offers healthy and filling bowls of vegetable, meat and vinegar rice.

Other cravings will be satisfied by Italian (Pause), La Toque (curry) and Chinese (Shahoden). Caffeine junkies can get a vigorous fix at Starbucks, Live Coffee or Café Croissant.

Airside: As the selection is much sparser here, one would be wise to fill up before being cleared to leave. But if hunger pangs do hit, there is the nice Café and Bar Avion, which serves appetisers, light meals and draught beer to go along with them and the Asian Café and Bowl for tasty noodles and rice.

RETAIL PARADISE

Terminal 1

Landside: Before security, it is gifts and gadgets that are largely showcased. The Cover Nippon+Chassin, located in the North Wing, carries quality lifestyle products from all over Japan and U-Mart brims with handicraft, foodstuffs and accessories. Tokyo’s popular Oriental Bazaar has an outpost here, filled with trinkets, kimonos and other novelties, all reasonably priced. Desire something with a definite wow factor? Then, head for Mikimoto, Japan’s world famous pearl jeweller.

Japan-based travellers enjoy another plus: the useful Pre-departure Gift Order Service. After customers select the items of their choice from a catalogue, these will be delivered to their homes, arriving before their return.

Tsutaya, which stocks the widest range of books and magazines in the airport, lures film buffs to purchase a DVD, along with the promise of being able to rent a DVD player for their journey. Mobile phones can also be hired out at the Softbank counter with no advance booking necessary.

Airside: After passport control, the emphasis is on splashing the cash on big-name labels. The third floor is home to the Gucci leather line, Burberry’s traditional British offerings and Coach’s wildly popular handbags. In Bvlgari, the watches, jewellery, handbags, wallets and purses call out as do the blings of Tiffany & Co and Cartier.

At Ralph Lauren’s first airport duty-free boutique in Japan, the extensive collection includes chinos, knitwear, accessories and his famous polo-inspired shirts.

Another Narita first, Emporio Armani impresses with high-quality suits, jackets, knitwear and jeans. Duty free, of course, is where you can pick up the value-for-money staples such as Chanel, Clarins, SKII and L’Occitane as well as cigarettes and tobacco products. Akihabara has the electronics, with some of the models only available at Narita.

For local flavour, the Japan Origami Museum carries origami books, paper and 200 varieties of sweets.

Terminal 2

Landside: Before passport control, there is the chance to browse for a range of souvenirs and omiyage (small gifts or tokens bought by Japanese travellers to give away). Chiba Boukyou sells the famous prefecture’s traditional crafts, including Japanese fans, ceramics and household items.

Shinkine produces the wildly popular traditional Japanese sweet cakes. Choose between daifuku (red sweet beans wrapped in soft rice cakes), kusamochi (red sweet beans wrapped in soft, herbed rice cakes) and mushi-manju (red sweet beans wrapped in steamed rice cakes).

Fans of kawaii (the generic Japanese term for anything “cute”), The Bee Box has cuddly animal toys, stationery and children’s clothing. Green Port has perfectly packaged confectionary and Tsubasa always stocks up on whole roasted peanuts, Chiba’s famous pickles and marinated seafood. Even more unusual items are to be found at the ANA Festa Japanese Gift Shop, where you can buy Sapporo ramen (egg noodles), Sanuki udon (whole wheat noodles), dried seafood and broiled eel.

Landside: If you are looking to blow the budget, after having cleared passport control, there are certainly the big names to tempt you. Hermès has a selection of butter soft leather items, and at Salvatore Ferragamo, there are scarves for her and neckties for him.

For the ultimate in penmanship, it has to be Montblanc, which in recent years, has expanded from writing implements to watches, leather goods, bags and sunglasses.

Also present is Dunhill, one of the UK’s top brands for men with taste and Samantha Thavasa, a home-grown handbag specialist, not found in Terminal 1 and endorsed by celebrities such as Beyoncé, sisters Paris and Nicky Hilton and lately, Jennifer Lopez. The biggies are again there in full force: Gucci, Celine, Burburry, Etro, Hermès among others and the duty-free gang.

AIRLINE HUB

In 2006, a renovated South Wing became the new home of Star Alliance, the biggest co-branded airline facility in Asia. Consisting of 21 full members and three regional members (at press time), the grouping’s airlines depart from Satellites 3, 4 and 5. Star Alliance’s founders are Air Canada, Lufthansa, SAS, THAI Airways and United.

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