There was a time when I loved airports; they promised excitement. I doubt they were ever exciting in themselves but for a young traveler they were portals to lands unknown and served up morsels of exotica.
Things have changed: McDonalds and Starbucks, self check-in and baggage procedures, heightened security screenings and health monitoring. Terminals nowadays are about as exotic as bus stations. Navigating them — for those that can — is a necessary chore. Few that I’ve visited have left an impression. Tokyo International Airport is one.
Haneda Airport, as it’s more commonly called, is a far more pleasant place than Narita, the city’s main gateway. For one thing it’s in the city, sitting on reclaimed land in Tokyo Bay, with convenient train, bus and monorail access. Even taxis to certain parts of the city are affordable — compared with a Narita–Shinjuku fare of around USD240.
Opened in 1931, Haneda served as Tokyo’s airport until 1978, when the newly constructed Narita became the city’s main international gateway, relegating Haneda to domestic duties. However, in 2010 a third terminal opened at Haneda, dedicated to international flights; since then both airports share the load.
Aside from its proximity to town, I like Haneda for its six-level shopping mall with restaurants that are a cut above the usual airport eateries. Then there are the three rooftop observation decks, that of Terminal 2 offering particularly good views of the runway action and the city’s skyline beyond. The stylish Japanese food court and Isetan cafe that service the departure gate lounge at Terminal 1 are a treat, and the spotless Tokyo Monorail and Keikyu line basement train stations couldn’t be more conveniently located. All of this is complemented by the polite, efficient service the Japanese are renowned for. It’s unlikely to win any architectural prizes, but Haneda is about as good as a modern airport gets.