Welcome to Japan! Your plane has arrived, you're well-rested thanks to Airplane Yoga, and you're in Tokyo.
Wait - you're not in Tokyo. You're at a Japanese airport, which is over an hour away if you're at Narita. You need to get to Tokyo, but first you need to take care of a couple things before you leave the airport.
Get some cash.
There's an ATM right around the corner from the currency exchange, but we had you pack $100 just in case your flight was delayed and the ATM was closed. Yeah, it's weird - Japanese ATMs have operating hours. We'll cover the ATMs in more detail later, but for now just find the ATM with the little green logo on the right and withdraw a few hundred dollars. It sounds like a lot, but don't worry, it's safe.
If the ATM works out, you can save your $100 to re-deposit when you get back home, if you like. If the ATM is closed (say, you land on a Sunday or late at night) then you should exchange your $100 for Japanese yen so you can get some food and a ticket into the city.
No smartphone? Rent a cell phone.
These days, you can bring a 3G or 4G smartphone to Japan and have it roam on a domestic Japanese network. If you're not a data hog, this is usually worth it for easy access to email and navigating public transportation. As long as you don't need to make a lot of calls, this is the way to go.
If you need to make a lot of phone calls, however, you should leave the cell at home and rent a phone while at the airport.
Phone rental counters counters are easy to find. Feel free to pick any one - the prices are all about the same. Before you leave the rental counter, add your travel buddies' numbers to your phone or write them down in your little notebook.
Got some yen and a cell phone? You're ready to head in to the city. There are a couple of ways from Narita into central Tokyo, and we'll start with the easiest. Landed at Haneda instead?
1. Narita Express, aka N'EX
This fast train heads straight from Narita Airport to central Tokyo with just a couple of stops. If you're staying on the east side of Tokyo (near Ueno, Asakusa, Ginza or Akihabara), hop off at Tokyo Station. If you're on the west side of Tokyo (near Ikebukuro, Shinjuku, Roppongi or Shibuya), hop off at Shinjuku Station. The ticket costs about 3,000 yen ($30) per person. To save money, buy the combined "Suica + N'EX" ticket. You'll use the Suica card around town.
There are a couple of alternatives to the N'EX, if you're staying in certain parts of town or want a more scenic introduction to Tokyo:
2. Limousine Bus
There's nothing "limousine" about it; it's just a bus. It costs about the same as N'EX and takes just a little more time. But you'll see nice scenery above ground, and if you're staying in a nice hotel, the bus will take you straight to the hotel's front door. Check here for a list of hotels that the bus serves directly. Use the Please select your alighting point drop-down menu (and no, I don't know what that means either.) Make sure you're reading the Pick me up from the airport section.
3. Keisei Line Skyliner
If you're staying specifically in the Ueno area, you can take the Skyliner instead of the N'EX to get to Ueno Station. It's faster and cheaper than N'EX, at 2,000 yen ($20) a ticket, but it only goes to Ueno.
Landed at Haneda?
You'll take the Tokyo Monorail all the way to its final destination, Hamamatsucho. Or you can take the Limousine Bus described above. Here's your hotel list.
By now, you're off the train and you're... somewhere. In a train station. You could be anywhere. We still have to get you to your hotel, so now's a good time to learn how to get around town.