It takes me almost as long to get to the airport, as it does to get from Japan to Hong Kong, but I think it's worth it, living where I do.
And Japan's travel infrastructure is just exceptional - clean and comfortable. And always on time except for the occasional delay for bad weather or a suicide. If your train is not on time, you have to double-check - your watch is probably wrong.
My only complaint is that things are a bit "over-announced" - there is a nearly constant stream of messages confirming the train you're on [even the escalator you are on - "you are now approaching the up-escalator to the platform" - seriously!], or the name and arrival time of the next station, or what they are selling from the cart that comes through the car with sandwiches and beer, snacks, and ice cream.
My whole door-to-door trip is in seven parts:
- a 5-minute taxi ride to the train station - I could take the bus, which costs ¥160, but there is really no place for luggage, so I call for a cab a couple hours ahead of time and pay ¥810 instead - about USD $9.00 at today's exchange rate.
- a 20-minute train ride up to Atami on the "Odoriko Super View" express train, which gets up to Atami a bit faster than the 30 minutes it takes the stops-at-every-station train. The line runs right along the eastern coast of the Izu Peninsula and alternates between really nice views of the rugged coastline and long tunnels that burrow into the folded fingers of rock that jut into the sea. But today, it is cloudy and gray - not so good for sight-seeing.
- at Atami, I switch trains to the Shinkansen - Japan's famous "bullet train". Leaving Atami, the train heads a bit inland and we lose sight of the coast, but on a good day glimpses of Mt. Fuji can be had between Odawara and Yokohama.
- arriving at Shinagawa at the southeast margin of Tokyo after 40 minutes on the Shinkansen, I have just enough time to hit Starbucks for a Soy Venti Latté before changing trains again to the Narita Express. After diving underground and stopping at Tokyo Station, the Narita Express comes up out of the hole on the eastern side of Tokyo and continues eastward for a little over an hour to the airport, so there is time to read or work without having to jump up and change modes of transportation again.
- out in Chiba Prefecture, approaching the airport there rice paddies and villages with traditional Japanese tiled-roof houses. The train pulls into Airport Terminal 2 right on time, as usual, and then its check-in, security check, passport control, and the airport lounge until departure time - then the approximately 4-hour flight to Hong Kong. Four hours and twenty minutes today - the Jet Stream must be pretty strong. The flight goes right over Mt. Fuji, but I am sitting on the left side of the aircraft today, so I don't see it.
- after landing at Hong Kong's new international airport, which is out on Lantau Island, getting through immigration, and grabbing my luggage, I catch the Airport Express train into Central Hong Kong - a comfortable 40-minute ride.
- and then race everybody else off the train to the taxi stand to catch a cab to the hotel. Tonight, there are plenty of cabs and the wait is short.
Door-to-door elapsed time: approximately 10 hours.
The worst part of the trip is flying economy class - being trapped for over four hours with a bunch of total strangers, each of us allotted a space so tiny that it would constitute a human rights violation in any other context. If I had my way, my commercial airline travel events would be fewer and farther between.