Tōkyō’s main international airport and I go back a long way. I flew in through here a decade ago, at the start of my very first visit to Japan – a visit that sparked an enduring interest in this country, its history, its culture and unique way of life. Even though I’ve used other entry points since then, many of my visits still begin and end at this particular airport, and nearly always at Terminal 2: the facility that will be the subject of today’s post.
Welcome to Narita International Airport.
Note: For the sake of brevity, I shall refer to Narita International Airport (“NRT”) throughout this post using its three-letter IATA code. Terminal 2 will likewise be referred to in abbreviated fashion (“T2”).
The information and pictures presented here are drawn from my own experience of using NRT T2 on 28 September/06 October 2019. Facilities, check-in procedures, flight schedules and other details may change at any time without prior notice.
Now then, let’s manage expectations. Today’s report will be lighter on practical tips than others I’ve written previously. (Compare it against this terminal report on MNL T3, for example.) It won’t be short, but I’ll try to keep it from becoming too precise or too technical. With a comprehensive official website and other resources documenting almost every aspect of the airport experience, NRT doesn’t need my help to spread information about its facilities across the wider interwebs. (^_^)
My focus will be on describing what one can expect to see inside T2 – especially with a major renovation currently under way – and giving a general impression of what the passenger experience was like as of the dates indicated here.
Airport name (English) : Narita International Airport
Airport name (Japanese) : 成田国際空港 (成田国際空港)
IATA code : NRT
ICAO code : RJAA
Major city served : Tōkyō, Japan
Year opened : 1978
Terminals : Three
Passenger traffic : 42,601,130 (2018)
Related links : Official Site / Wikipedia / Japan-Guide
Date of visits documented in this report : Saturday, 28 September 2019 (arr.) / Sunday, 06 October 2019 (dep.)
The Greater Tōkyō area is served by two major airports: NRT outside the city proper, and Haneda Airport (HND) closer to the city centre. Although HND handles about twice as many passengers, the vast majority of them are domestic. Most international travellers arrive or depart via NRT instead.
The airport has three terminals. Two of them – including T2 which is the subject of this post – are conventional, fully equipped terminal buildings and are used mainly by full-service carriers (although some budget airline flights also arrive or depart from them). A specially built facility for low-cost airlines, Terminal 3, opened in 2015; you can read more about it in this separate report.
As mentioned earlier, I won’t go into too much detail about the airport and its facilities. The airport’s official website is the best place to start if you’re after information on travelling to/from NRT, operating hours, what restaurants and shops are available, where specific facilities are located and so forth. There’s also an excellent summary of transportation options on Japan-Guide.
And of course, your own airline’s website might offer further details that are relevant to your specific flight.
THE ARRIVAL EXPERIENCE
After landing, my priority was to get the heck out of the airport and start enjoying my holiday in Japan. That of course meant zipping through T2 as quickly as my feet would carry me, ignoring much of what I passed en route. Let’s just sketch out a brief summary of what went on.
I’d arrived from Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NRT) aboard Cebu Pacific flight 5J 5054. Our assigned gate was located somewhere near the ends of the earth … or, to be precise, in the satellite concourse about 250-350 metres (depending on your measuring points) northeast of T2’s main structure.
The gap between the satellite and the mother ship, er, main terminal was once easily traversed by way of a people mover: the Narita Airport Terminal 2 Shuttle System. I actually got to ride on this train-like vehicle myself before it was shut down for good in 2013. The parallel tracks it once used, along with the space in between, have now been fully enclosed and redeveloped into additional retail, dining, and leisure space (all in the departures zone), with a series of travelators taking the place of the people mover (for both departures and arrivals).
We’ll have a look at what they’ve done in the departures area later on. For the moment, as an arriving passenger, there was nothing for me to do but embark on the long journey – partly assisted by moving walkways – between the satellite and the main terminal.
Quarantine came next. Standard stuff: temperature scanners and mats soaked with disinfectant.
After that, immigration. My photograph and fingerprints were taken at one of several kiosks set back from the immigration counters – an extra step that’s probably intended to reduce bottlenecks at the counters themselves. Then (after a few moments spent queuing) it was my turn to face an immigration officer, who applied the usual entry sticker to my passport and sent me on my way.
Down to another level for baggage reclaim, then a quick stop at one of the customs counters to hand in my declaration form. The officer flipped through my passport, cheerfully remarking that I visit Japan rather often. At this point, staff might ask you to open your bags and/or put them through a scanner. Not today though: the officer quickly returned my passport and waved me through.
Easy peasy. Well, other stuff needs to follow of course – arranging transport to your hotel or next destination, getting a rail pass issued, etc. – but the details will vary depending on your own circumstances.
Fast forward to 6th October. Time to head home on Cebu Pacific flight 5J 5057.
THE DEPARTURE EXPERIENCE
After arriving at the railway station underneath NRT T2 from central Tōkyō, I had to go up a rather long series of escalators to reach the departures level.
Here’s the main check-in hall. Modern and well-maintained … but also dreadfully boring (architecturally speaking). By and large, not counting equipment upgrades and a new lick of paint here and there, it seems as if this vast space hasn’t been updated significantly since T2 opened in 1992.
You know you’re in Japan … when even official government posters rely on anime to help get their message across.
There are shopping and dining options aplenty up on 4F, one level above the check-in hall…
…but I merely sailed on to the airside/secure zone after checking in.
Security checkpoint first, then immigration. At NRT, even foreigners are now directed to use the terminal’s automated smart gates for outbound immigration if they’re holding biometric passports. No immigration officer, no physical stamp; just scan your documents and off you go. I recall seeing a separate queue for those requiring the services of an immigration officer, whether it’s because their passports are non-biometric or due to special circumstances (problems with the smart gate, special visa categories, etc.).
I won’t go into detail re: the main terminal’s airside retail/dining zone, mainly because it’s all quite similar to what you’ll see at other large airports (in Japan or elsewhere). Refer to the official website for detailed information on what’s available.
Now then, if your airline uses the main building of T2, congratulations! Just head towards either end in search of your boarding gate. But if your flight’s been banished to the distant satellite concourse, as mine was … there’s still a lot of ground to cover.
I mentioned earlier how the main building and satellite were once linked by a train-like people mover. That’s long gone now, replaced by what I’m about to show you below. One legacy of that old arrangement is the fact that you’ll need to descend to a lower level, down to where the “train” station once was.
Instead of the former parallel tracks, you’ll see two long corridors flanking a central area filled with cafés, waiting areas and other passenger amenities. Unlike the dated, soulless public zone of T2 – as exemplified by its bland main check-in hall – this area sports the sleek, modern design ethos one would expect of a major international airport.
Amongst the various facilities available in this section of T2, I found two things worth lingering for. First, the toilets.
Not something I’d usually comment on … but this isn’t your ordinary public washroom.
Set up like a contemporary art museum, the so-called GALLERY TOTO has private cubicles fitted with different examples of Japanese “washlet” technology. Yes, that’s right: the “exhibits” here are those sophisticated toilets with push-button bidets and heated seats that you’ll inevitably run into (and perhaps want to rip out of the wall to take home) whilst journeying across the country.
Note the strip of light next to each door. It glows blue if a cubicle is unoccupied (or perhaps if you’ve forgotten to engage the lock?), but the illumination shrinks to a small red bar near the bottom once you seal yourself inside. Now I didn’t linger long enough in any of the booths to notice it myself, but I’ve read that the red glow will gradually rise towards the top the longer you stay inside. Useful for people waiting outside, as a fully red bar might suggest that the person within has been ruling on the throne for quite some time and that their, er, reign of darkness will shortly draw to a close. (And if it does not, simply lay siege to the door and overthrow them by force.)
Well, that’s one place to take a seat. But there are others of a less private design, and better suited to a relaxing wait.
Apart from GALLERY TOTO, the other thing that caught my interest hereabouts was the remarkable variety in seating options. From semi-private booths fitted with massage chairs to counter-style tables with built-in power points, and even a set of napping couches featuring a new type of mattress – there’s a veritable buffet of seats to choose from.
Something to bear in mind. The people mover no longer exists, but the distances between various sections of T2 are as vast as they’ve always been. The travelators should help make the transit easier, but one must also be mindful of the time required to walk from one part of the terminal to another.
To illustrate, here’s a map posted near the middle of the connecting passageway between the main building and the satellite. Note the estimated distances between here and the tips of the terminal.
With the clock ticking closer to boarding time, I decided to park myself near the boarding gate assigned to flight 5J 5057.
Completing the long trek from the main terminal, I finally emerged into the midsection of the satellite concourse. The renovators had already done their work in this part…
…but the renewal was still very much a work in progress closer to the boarding gates.
A few sections were already more or less finished, offering a sneak peek at the fresh new look that passengers can look forward to once the project is completed.
I’d like to think of NRT T2 as an old friend, in view of the many happy journeys across Japan that began (or ended) here. Now as an old friend, I’m emboldened to speak frankly and say that the current renovations are long overdue. Far from being a showpiece of Japanese architecture and technology and economic prowess, this outdated facility has fallen well behind some of its neighbours – the terminals of Korea’s Incheon Airport (near Seoul), for example.
Now on the one hand, this present facelift won’t completely eliminate the yawning chasm between NRT T2 and its competitors in the region. But on the other hand, I’m convinced that the upgrades will go a long way towards improving the passenger experience, at least to the point where Japan’s reputation as a tourism and business magnet is maintained in the eyes of those who pass through this major gateway. Leave the job of impressing visitors to nearby Tōkyō and to the rest of the country. All T2 has to do is smile and bid them a polite welcome or farewell, even if it can’t wow them on its own.