Trip to Tohoku and Nagano in 2013 winter – Part 1, from Narita airport to Ueno

2013 winter trip route map (Click to enlarge)
2013 winter trip route map (Click to enlarge)

I had a trip to Tohoku area and Nagano area in this past January and February. I stayed there for only three nights. But fortunately I have got many trains, like Overnight Limited Express Akebono, Skyliner, Resort Shirakami, Fuji Kyuko, Ueda Railway, Limited Express Hakutaka. This following list is what I wanted to do in this trip:

  • Try to book and take overnight train on arrival day.
    I wanted to check how long we spend to change the pass, book and transfer to Ueno/Tokyo.
  • To take Resort Shirakami and Akita Nairiku Jukan Railway.
    I wanted to see some spots and trains in Tohoku area.
  • To go to Kawaguchiko (Lake Kawaguchi) station from Shinjuku via Fuji Kyuko Railway.
    I wanted to take both Fujisan Limited Express and Fuji Tozan Densha on Fuji Kyuko Railway.
  • To take a train between Nagano and Naoetsu.
    This section will be transferred to non JR lines in 2015. Because it will be transferred to third sector companies, Shinano Railway and Echigo Tokimeki Railway after Hokuriku Shinkansen will open. JR Pass will not cover this section.
  • To take Limited Express Hakutaka.
    This express train will be discontinued after Hokuriku Shinkansen will open in 2015.


I just wanted to do above things. However I believe some of my experience will help you to plan your trip in Japan. This will be a long story. First of all, I write the post about the first day. After I arrived in Narita, I exchanged the pass, booked trains, and transferred to Ueno to take Overnight train Akebono.

Arrived in Narita Airport

15:05

My flight supposed to arrive around 16:00. Fortunately it arrived one hour earlier at 15:05. I tried to go through Immigration, Custom and Baggage pick up as soon as I could. I got out around 16:00. Even though I am very familiar with Narita airport, I spent one hour to complete it. So expect to spend at least one hour to exit.

16:00

I went to Post Office on 4th floor before going to JR ticket window. 4th floor is the departure floor. We don’t usually need to go there after arrival. But I needed to pick up WIMAX mobile router at Post Office where is located on 4th floor. I don’t have a cellular phone in Japan. I really needed WIFI connection first. I used Global Advanced Communication. I rented pocket WIFI and they sent it to the airport. It was very easy to use. Just turn on the mobile router, find it on your PC, tablet or smart phone, and input password to connect. You don’t need to install anything. I recommend to use this device if you need WIFI access in Japan. By the way, in Narita Airport, public WIFI is available at the free of charge now. (It was not free before.) So you can access WIFI easily almost anywhere in Narita Airport.

16:10

JR East Travel Service Center is located in front of ticket gate. Not next to ticket gate. (C) JP Rail
JR East Travel Service Center is located in front of ticket gate. Not next to ticket gate. (C) JP Rail

After I got mobile router, I went to JR East Travel Service Center. This counter is open for overseas travellers. You can exchange JR Pass, purchase JR East Pass, Suica and N’ex or other JR East discount tickets and book your seats on trains. After I exchanged the pass, I received the ticket because I booked some seats through JR East Eki Net. I’m sorry that this service is provided in Japanese only. But only daytime trains are available to that site. We cannot book overnight train except some seasonal trains. Of course Overnight Limited Express Akebono is not available on Eki Net.

My wish list is the following:

First choice: Goronto seat (all covered by JR Pass)
Second choice: B solo compartment (additional 9130 yen)
Third choice: Type B berth (additional 9130 yen)

Goronto seat was sold out. It was no surprised. It is the best deal and most popular seat on Akebono. It is always sold out. But I could get B solo. I did not expect I could get it. I expected to get only Type B berth. Both solo and B berth are sold at same price. Even though B solo is very small room, it is a compartment and we can get privacy. It is a big difference from B berth. I was very happy to get B solo. But the future of Akebono is not bright because there were lots of empty seat on Akebono. I really worry about Akebono.

16:30

I booked a seat for 17:16 departure Narita Express to Tokyo. I still had some extra time in Narita. So I decided to use shower facility in Narita airport.

Shower room in Narita airport

The entrance of shower room. It is just located in front of the elevator.
The entrance of shower room. It is just located in front of the elevator.

There is no shower facility in Overnight Limited Express Akebono. So I wanted to take a shower somewhere. I supposed to use the public bath at Ueno. There is a public bath (寿湯) 15 minutes away from Ueno station on foot. But I had a medium size suitcase. If I could not find coin operated locker at Ueno station. I had to carry my suitcase to a public bath. I did not like to do that. So I decided to take a shower in Narita.

There are several shower facilities in Narita Airport. I used one of those at second floor of south wing, terminal 1. It was a bit hard to find it. Because it can be accessed by elevator only. I spent 5 minutes to find the right elevator. It is near domestic check in counter at south end of terminal building.

Once I got off the elevator, the entrance of shower room is just right there. The price is 1000 yen per first 30 minutes. After that, 500 yen for every 15 minutes. I paid 1000 yen at the entrance and received key for the shower room, tooth brush, shaver, and a bottle of water. Towels, soap and shampoo are in the shower room. So you don’t need to bring anything.

Of course it is divided into men and women. Each part have Comfort corner (dressing room) and several shower room. In men’s part, there were four shower rooms. There are some changing space in shower room. The space is enough to open full size suitcase. So you can take your suitcase to shower room. Please see the following pictures:

004 002 003 001

Price is a bit higher than public bath because of airport. But it is very clean and convenient. Most of you go to the hotel from airport. I don’t think you will not have many chance to use this facility. But if you want to take a shower in Narita, I can recommend you to use this facility.

After taking a shower, I was ready to go.

From Narita airport to Ueno by Keisei Skyliner

Transfer ticket is a small piece of paper. It cannot be read by automated gate. (C) excl-zoo
Transfer ticket is a small piece of paper. It cannot be read by automated gate. (C) excl-zoo

I supposed to take Narita Express to Tokyo. Because it is covered by JR Pass. But all JR trains are temporally suspended because of accident. I asked station staff how long it would recover. It would take more than one hour, he said. Other choice, Keisei Railway was operated. In like this case, we can get transfer ticket from JR. We can take Keisei train instead of JR trains. But this ticket covers only regular fare. So it is not available for trains with surcharge. Even if you are Japan Rail Pass, JR East Pass or Suica and N’ex user and you have a ticket for Narita Express, we cannot take Skyliner. If you have regular ticket for Narita Express, you can refund it and purchase regular ticket for Keisei line.

So I could take Express trains, Not Skyliner, to Ueno with no extra charge. But I did not like to take regular commute trains. So I paid 2400 yen to get Skyliner. Because I had never taken Skyliner before.

17:19

AE series for Skyliner is designed by one of the most famous designer, Kansai Yamamoto. (C) JP Rail
AE series for Skyliner is designed by one of the most famous designer, Kansai Yamamoto. (C) JP Rail

I got on Skyliner to Ueno. Travel time is 45 minutes to get Ueno from Narita.

Regarding seat, Narita Express is more comfortable for me. I felt Skyliner’s seat is very thin. It looked very thin as well. But you know it takes only 35-45 minutes from Narita to Ueno by Skyliner. Skyliner is one of the fastest train other than Shinkansen. Since travel time is very short, it was not a big issue. There is a power outlet. Fortunately it was an empty beside me. So I used two power outlets at same time. I uploaded pictures on my facebook page and replied email. 45 minutes was too short for me.

Ueno and Tokyo 003 Power outlets are underneath the seats. Ueno and Tokyo 001

About travel time, Skyliner is faster than Narita Express. But you can access to Ueno or Nippori by Skyliner. If you go to Tokyo, Shinagawa, Shinjuku and Shibuya, Narita Express gives you direct access. If you go to Ikebukuro, Skyliner to Nippori and Yamanote line is faster than Narita Express.

18:05

It is around ticket gate at Keisei Ueno station. This station is very small and crowded. (C) JP Rail
It is around ticket gate at Keisei Ueno station. This station is very small and crowded. (C) JP Rail

Skyliner arrived at Ueno on time. I spent about 3 hours since I arrived at Narita airport. I think this is minimum time required to get downtown Tokyo from Narita. If you want to take a train from Tokyo or Ueno after arrival in Narita, expect to spend at least 3 hours. Otherwise you might miss a train.

After I arrived at Keisei Ueno station, I moved to JR Ueno station to transfer to Yamanote line. I knew Nippori station is better to transfer from Keisei to JR. But it was the first time to be Ueno in last 20 years for me. I wanted to check how long I would spend to move from Keisei Ueno to JR Ueno stations.

It was not far between Keisei Ueno and JR Ueno. It took less than 5 minutes. But the easiest way is on the ground. If it is rain, you may have to use umbrella. If you don’t want to worry about rain, transfer the trains at Nippori. Keisei Nippori station is just beside JR Nippori station. It is much easier to transfer.

I would take Overnight Limited Express Akebono. I still had 3 more hours to Akebono departure time. I went to Tokyo station and tried to find coin operated locker. Because I would come back to Tokyo next day by Shinkansen. I wanted to leave suitcase. I found it easily and enjoyed shopping around Tokyo station.

Continue to Trip to Tohoku and Nagano in 2013 winter – Part 2, Tokyo station – See more at: http://jprail.com/travel-informations/passengers-review/2013-winter-tohoku-nagano-trip/trip-to-tohoku-and-nagano-in-2013-winter-part-2-tokyo-station.html

2 thoughts on “Trip to Tohoku and Nagano in 2013 winter – Part 1, from Narita airport to Ueno”

  1. Hi Takeshi,

    It looks like you got a lot done! I am pleased you got to try Akita Nairiku and Akebono. I enjoyed both very much when I went in November/December. Although, I had the lower solo. It was good inside, but the door is not very high! I encourage people to try out Blue Trains whenever they can – I am not sure how long the few that are left will be around for. Maybe JR East should attach more Goron-to seat in Akebono formation 🙂

    I do have a couple of questions. I am planning to return to Japan in February 2014. I am hoping to revisit Abashiri in this time to see drift ice. I would like to try 2 lines that are closing/transferring to 3rd sector. These are:
    (1) Esashi Line
    (2) Shinetsu Line (Nagano – Naoetsu)

    I have had a sort of preliminary look around at timetables and such. Do you think there any logistical difficulties with the following:
    (1) Start day in Hakodate, go to Esashi, back to Hakodate, to Aomori and take Hamanasu overnight to Sapporo?
    (2) Start day in Tokyo, go to Kusatsu Onsen (or Karuizawa if you think it is not enough time) onto Nagano, to Naoetsu and overnight in Niigata? A Non-JR bus is ok to connect Kusatsu Onsen with Nagano or Karuizawa to save time.

    I am hoping to finally get to Amanohashidate and Onomichi or Iwakuni this time 🙂

    Best regards,

    – Jonathan Ayre –

    1. Hi Jonathan,

      It was much crazier trip than the last time. But it was very nice trip. I have completed most things on my wish list, Akebono, Resort Shirakami, Akita Nairiku Jukan, Fuji kyuko trains, Shietsu line, Hakutaka and Ueda railways.

      I am writing about Akebono now. I agree with you. JR East should give up using berth as type B. When I took it, it was almost empty. I cannot find to take type b at the same price as B solo. Even if JR East increase Goronto, B solo passengers will stay in B solo. JR East still can make a profit. I think Goronto passengers compare JR fares and highway bus fares. Type B berth unfortunately does not work in shoulder season.

      Now let’s talk about your trip in 2014.
      1. I think it is very easy to go to Esashi in the morning. I checked this year’s timetable, it is easy.
      Hakodate 7:24 (Super Hakucho 20) 8:03 Kikonai 8:08 (Esashi line local) 9:17 Easashi 10:27 (local) 11:30 Kikonai 11:44 (Super Hakucho 11) 12:22 Hakodate
      You can get Aomori very easily in the afternoon. If you want to stay in Esashi, you can increase your time. But next train is 13:13 dep and come back to Hakodate at 15:10. (same pattern, transfer to Super Hakucho at Kikonai)

      2. It depends on how long you want to stay in Kusatsu. And also, if you want to take Ltd Exp Kusatsu, the first train arrive there at 12:31. I think it is too late to complete everything in one day. So you have to take Joetsu Shinkansen to Takasaki and transfer to local on Agatsuma line. So far, there are two trains available:
      Takasaki 7:24 – 8:53 Naganohara Kusatsuguchi
      Takasaki 9:25 – 10:54 Naganohara Kusatsuguchi
      If you trip on weekend, you may be able to get Resort Yamadori (Takasaki 9:19 – 10:22 Naganohara Kusatsuguchi)

      From Kusatsu to Karuizawa, there are not many bus services.
      http://www.kkkg.co.jp/bus/timetable/kk-winter-h25.html
      Please check second table. So 13:00 or 16:30 will be your choice. You have to take 13:00 bus. Otherwise you cannot see anything between Nagano and Naoetsu.

      If you can get 13:00 bus, you may be able to complete it to Niigata.

      It is possible, but it will be very tight. If you are okay with Karuizawa, it will be easier. And if you want to take a bath in hot springs, consider about Bessho Onsen. I will write about it soon. It is 40 minutes away from Ueda by Ueda railway. It is very quiet places. There are three public hot springs. This place is sometimes called Kamakura in Shinshu.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JP Rail

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