It is confusing for foreigners flying into Osaka and Tokyo. Both cities have two airports. Here in Osaka, we have the Itami airport, which is about a 15 minute taxi ride away from our house. The other airport is Kansai International Airport or as it is known by its code, KIX. KIX is an elegantly designed airport, (Italian architect Renzo Piano – yes, his real name) but is inconvenient for almost everyone in Kansai to get to! I would guess there was some politics or corruption that occurred to put the airport on an artificial island, 30-40 miles south of the population centers of Kobe, Osaka and Kyoto. For me to get to KIX, I have to take a “limousine bus” for and hour and 10 minutes to Itami airport and then the 15 minute taxi from there. For people in Kobe, they can take a ferry across the bay, but both the Kobe and Itami airports are so much more convenient.
Our flight was delayed coming out of Los Angeles and we were forced to spend the night at the Narita airport north of Tokyo. A very strange airport in that once you exit the airport, you are in the middle of rice paddies and forests. Great if you have a layover and have a day to kill, horrible if you need to do business in Tokyo. This is another case of a bad selection of placement of the airport. The other airport in Tokyo, Haneda, is closer to the center of Tokyo, but is limited by size. Narita airport officials have been fighting local residents with departure and arrival times, which are limited and the number of flights.
All four airports have been passed by the competition in other Asian cities to serve as a hub for east Asia. Japan’s airports have the highest landing fees in the world, discouraging airlines from scheduling more flights in the airports. Narita and KIX are both inconveniently located for passengers wanting to go to Osaka or Tokyo and there are less options with flights. The restaurants also only keep regular open hours, thus many times in the evening or morning, one cannot get something to eat or a coffee. Internally, they get competition from the shinkansen or “bullet” train, which in many ways is more convenient.
I am not sure how one solves a bad location, without closing and moving the airport to a more logical location. That is an expensive solution, but it might be the only one. Japan is also probably losing out in international tourist or travelers to Seoul and Hong Kong, which are more convenient hubs to the major cities of China and SE Asia. I personally am annoyed every time I need to take a taxi and bus and 3 hours of my time to fly in/out of KIX. I will do a blog post about my next experience of using KIX.
Problems aside, I highly recommend an overnight and full day layover at Narita. We went for a hike in the woods near the airport with the kids. They loved watching the planes roaring into the airport directly overhead. There were also many walking and running trails in the countryside. We met an American Airlines pilot from a small town near mine in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula as well for a bonus! In the afternoon we went swimming in the hotel pool. It felt like an extra day of holidays and a great way to end our summer before the onslaught of work and school.