Traveling to Aizu from Narita Airport
There are two buses in a day, one at 9:20 am and the other at 3:30 pm. These go from Narita airport Terminal 2 and Terminal 1 to Fukushima. You have to get off in between at a station called Koriyama. The expected time of arrival for the two buses above at Koriyama are 1:40 pm and 7:50 pm respectively.
The Bus ticket booth looks something like the above from a distance.
This one is a view of the bus ticket booth from more closer by.
At Koriyama, you need to take a bus again to Aizu-wakamatsu. It may be easier to take a train from the adjoining JR station, 10 meters or so across the point where you get off at Koriyama. The travel to Aizu takes about 1 hr to 1 hr 15 minutes. There are trains and buses that leave Koriyama every hour to Aizu till about 10:30 pm.
By Train (JR = Japan Railways)
Train is convenient, as it runs much more frequently through out the day. A ride from Narita to Aizuwakamatsu will cost around JPY 10,000 (equivalent to USD 100). Children below a certain age do not need a ticket. Some children will need a ticket with a reduced price. Please approach the JR counter shown in the picture below (left half). Ask for a one way ticket from Narita to Aizuwakamatsu, using Narita Express and the Shinkansen. The Narita express is convenient for passengers traveling the first time, and with luggage. You need a reserved ticket on Narita Express. For the Shinkansen, I recommend buying an ‘unreserved ticket’.
You may get more than one ticket (usually two or three). You should put them together into the automatic ticket gate. You should put all the tickets (for one person) together into the ticket gate slot. If more than one person is traveling, each person should insert their own bunch of tickets. Kids travelling without a ticket should follow immediately in front or back of the person carrying the ticket. If your bag is too big to pass through the gate, approach the station staff for help (usually from a window at on one side of the ticket gate).
If you face any trouble, just collect the tickets from the ticket gate, and approach a JR staff for help.
Here is a view of the train ticket booth at Narita as soon as you exit the Customs gate. The JR ticket booth is closed in this picture. In such a case, you have to find another ticket booth, either on the same floor or on a floor below
Buy a telephone card
Unless you have acquired a mobile phone that works in Japan, I recommend you to purchase a pre-paid telephone card from any KIOSK or Convenience Store at the first available opportunity. The next few pictures are of KIOSKS at the Narita airport on the way down to the JR platform.
Ask for a ‘Telephone Card’ as slowly and clearly you can manage and hope for the best. Some stores may not carry it, so you may have to ask at more than one place. Buy one that costs around 1000 Yen (10 USD). There are public telephones in many places where you can use these cards. (It can be a life saver - be sure to carry them and keep it safe and accessible).
Here is a KIOSK booth
Here is another KIOSK booth
Here is a pay phone. Two slots are visible. You put the card into the top-slot and after you finish the call, the card comes out through the bottom one
Here is a KIOSK closer up
Narita Express or NEX
Narita Express or NEX is a fast and convenient public transport by rail between Narita and Tokyo. It takes about a hour and a half between the two stations. The Narita express may go beyond Tokyo station, so be wary when you have travelled about 1 hr and 20 minutes. There are announcements in English, and also inside-the-train displays, and it should be easy to notice when the train is approaching Tokyo.
You need a reserved ticket on NEX. The ticket will indicate the coach and seat number. The first job is to locate your coach. Look for signs like the one below. It gives you an approximate idea of where your coach is going to be.
A sign board telling that Cars/Coaches 1 to 6 are located somewhere on the left side of the board. There may be another sign later, that may tell you that you have to go down. So keep watching out and following these sign boards
This sign is telling you to go right and down to reach coaches 7 to 12
Once you are on the platform, you can locate your coach even before the NEX arrives, by watching out for these signs on the ground. This sign tells you that Car No.2 is going to stop at this location
Here is the NEX itself
Catching Shinkansen at Tokyo
After you arrive at Tokyo, go two levels (or more) up to the Shinkansen platform. The Shinkansen platforms are 14 to 23. There are several sign boards that will safely and quickly guide you to the Shinkansen platform, if you watch out for them.
If you forgot to buy your telephone card, you may try to buy it at a ‘Convenience Store’ such as the one above
A signboard showing approximate directions for various platforms.
This one is saying that Shinkansen platforms are from 14 to 23. Notice the icons for the Shinkansen and remember them.
Getting in to the Shinkansen
You have to pass through a separate ticket gate to get into the Shinkansen. The picture below shows one such gate. You should put all the tickets (for one person) together into the ticket gate slot. If more than one person is traveling, each person should insert their own bunch of tickets. Kids travelling without a ticket should follow immediately in front or back of the person carrying the ticket. If your bag is too big to pass through the gate, approach the statio n staff for help (usually from a window at on one side of the ticket gate).
Here is a typical ticket gate from the regular platform to the Shinkansen platform
After you got through, it is time to locate your Shinkansen platform. Usually trains going to Koriyama are leaving from platform 20 or 21. You may take a Shinkansen named “Yamabiko” or “Tsubasa”. There will be plenty of Shinkansens going to the Tohoku region. Some of these may not go upto Koriyama. And there may be others that may not stop at Koriyama. However Yamabiko and Tsubasa will stop at Koriyama. If in doubt, always ask the station staff for help. There are usually many staff standing near the ticket gate.
The signboard above says that a “Yamabiko” shinkansen will leave platform 20 for Sendai at 9:16 am. This particular sign is in Japanese, but if you wait for a while, it will change to English
This sign board one level above the ticket gate is located at the place where you can board the Shinkansen. If you watch this board, it tells you which cars are unreserved. Usually cars 1 to 5 are unreserved, and I recommend taking car 5 or some number below that
Keeping your luggage inside the shinkansen
The good news is that the Shinkansen has some space for luggage - not a great deal. A typical luggage rack is shown in the picture below. It may fit a mid to large-size suitcase fine. Not all coaches may have these, so you may have to walk a bit to find these. I hope you will be lucky to find one as soon as you are in the Shinkansen. You can also store your luggage towards the backside of the coach. There is a picture coming up showing luggage stored in the backside of the coach.
My mid-size suitcase (good for a week or two of travel) will fit fine in this luggage rack
However for convenience, I kept it close to me, at the backside of the coach
Once you are inside, keep watching your clock (it is about 1.5 hrs between Tokyo and Koriyama) and listen to the announcement/display as well. The announcements/display are in Japanese and English.
Koriyama to Aizuwakamatsu
Unfortunately my cell phone ran out of battery at this point, and there are no more pictures. The train between Koriyama and Aizuwakamatsu leaves from Platform 1. The time of departure will be shown after you exit the Shinkansen gate.
After you get off the Shinkansen, go down using the escalator or a lift (in caseyou have big luggage). There are one or two escalators and lifts. Please look for them. After you get down, there are two exits. Take the one that points to the direction of the local trains (Banetsu west line http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ban'etsu_West_Line). Anyway the train to Aizu leaves from platform 1. If in doubt, ask a station staff or a staff in one of the shops.