Super Mario, Hello Kitty and Gundam toys peering out through window displays. Shops beckoning from behind the facade of a lantern-lined, Edo-style street. Restaurants ranging from burger boutiques to conveyer belt sushi.
Ah, the joys of Tokyo. Except, this is not the city. This is the airport.
The Haneda Airport International Terminal opened to the world on October 21, 2010. Haneda Airport had already been in use for domestic flights, but this recent expansion - less than 20 minutes to Shinagawa and Hamamatsucho in Tokyo - has caused quite a stir. Haneda (literally "feather field"), has lined its nest with such a kaleidoscopic array of shops, restaurants and attractions that it has become a destination unto itself. Already, hordes of tourists (most of them domestic) have stormed the gates, often armed with one of the many magazines detailing Haneda's most interesting spots. This article will ensure that you too are ready to make the most of the newest star on the tourist map, whether you are only passing through or making it a point to explore all of the nooks and crannies.
This escalator takes you directly to the outer limits of the third floor.
Guests arriving by free shuttle bus, regular bus or taxi will naturally find themselves carted up to the first floor entrance. It is from here that you will begin your Dante-esque ascent through five strata of airport paradise. You first walk into the entrance plaza, which really consists of little more than a series of escalators, some bathrooms and smoking areas. Be careful of the escalator on the far left, as it skips the second floor and heads merrily on to the third floor. That kind of thing is nice in a game Chutes and Ladders (or Snakes and Ladders, if you prefer), but is rather frustrating when you are forced to stare on as you slowly move past your friends waiting on the arrivals floor. In fact, the layout here reminded me my trip to Ninja-dera in Kanazawa.
That's probably not a comparison the architects were hoping to achieve.
So, after you escalator your way up to third floor than take the stairs back down to the second floor, you finally find yourself at the arrivals area. American Airlines, British Airways, Air France, Korean Air, Chinese Airlines... all said and told 20 different airlines have decided to bring their talents to Tokyo beach (two Japanese airlines, 18 "foreign" airlines).
The arrival floor is pretty much par for the course. Behind the scenes, guests get off of their respective planes and are eventually corralled toward the center of the floor before stampeding out into the main area. There are, however, some interesting things to note before we make our way to level three. First, if you visit before it has wilted away, there is a clever piece of flower arrangement displaying a special message for new arrivals. Second, in an obligatory act of shameless self promotion, there is a JTB-JAPANiCAN-Sunrise Tours booth located on this floor. It is a meeting place that can be reserved in order to provide a convenient point of convergence for large groups, such as those taking a big tour or attending a conference. Also, this floor is home to an information area housing pamphlets and other materials about a wide variety of locations in Japan. Now, back to the escalators.
As you ascend to the third floor, you notice the ceiling has also ascended, creating a vast, spacious feel to this floor. Convex fixtures hang overhead, so that when you look up you feel as though you are underwater, gazing up at the underbelly of a canoe or the belly of a blue whale. The reason for the high ceiling is that this area actually houses the third, fourth and fifth floors. What you will first encounter is the departure lobby. Here you have the requisite rows of counters, organized by carrier, at which you can enjoy a nice queue. The Keikyu Line and monorail also both have platforms on this floor.
Arrivals, departures... okay, so it's an airport. However Haneda is more than meets the eye, and from this point on it is about to transform before your very eyes.
Proceeding across the departures floor will bring you to another set of stairs and escalators leading to the terraced the fourth and fifth floors. The penultimate floor greets you with an arrangement of Japanese lanterns and antique-style facades. Continue straight and you will find yourself at the Edo Butai Japanese stage. Flank left or right and you will eventually find yourself circling back to the stage anyway, taking in the Edo Market's series of shops along the way. The duty free shops are a great way to pick up last-minute gifts for your crazy uncle or that girl at the office whom you forgot asked for something from Japan, all while sticking it to the taxman. The stage itself plays host to a variety of Japanese-themed events and cultural activities.
When you have had your fill of nostalgia it is time to go back. To the future. Another flight of stairs will find you at the pinnacle of Haneda International Airport, both physically and figuratively. The fifth floor has a lot to offer. For starters, there is Tokyo Pop Town. Get off the escalator and head right to enter the "Cool Zone," left to visit the "Hot Zone." Both are stocked with shops stocked with familiar faces: Mario, Hello Kitty, Gundam, Astro Boy, and other assorted friends.
The "Cool Zone" passage ends at the popular planetarium cafe. While a mild-mannered cafe by day, at designated times visitors who have reserved a spot can marvel as it comes alive with celestial splendor.
The "Hot Zone" features a miniature racecar track, where tiny cars zip along sloping banks and across tortuous turns to the delight of Godzilla-sized onlookers The "Hot Zone" also features an R Burger, whose steamed buns and veggie-stacked burgers have a distinctly Japanese flavor.
Head back to the central area and you can pop outside to the observation deck. As is always the case when I leave laundry out to dry, it began raining after I left my apartment. All I could see was an ocean of gray clouds hanging like a pall over a few silver airplanes resting above an expanse of charcoal runway. However, I could still imagine that is would be quite a nice view in slightly less inclement weather. They even have gaps sporadically placed throughout the fencing to facilitate the hordes of amateur photographers that gather there.
As you head back inside and begin retracing your steps back to the station, you are met with a beautiful view of the entire complex from the fifth floor-a multi-tiered, travel-shopping extravaganza alive with century old tradition and state-of-the art gadgetry. In short, the perfect ambassador for Tokyo.
For more information, please visit Haneda Airport International Terminal's web page
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