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Published:March 12th, 2010 19:20 EST
Narita Airport

Japan's Airport to Nowhere

By Geoff Dean

 It must have seemed like a good idea at the time, some twenty years ago. Narita Airport, the normal gateway to Tokyo for international travelers, was and still is perpetually overcrowded, inconveniently located an hour and a half from city center, and unable to build needed new runaways due to a dispute with local farmers in the Narita area. The Japanese economy was leading the world and tourism to Japan seemed to know no limits.

 Narita Airport

 Unfortunately, the world and Japan have changed a lot in the time it took to get Ibaraki Airport from the planning stages to its opening on March 11, 2010. It opened with much fanfare, assorted local and national officials, a "theme character", and one daily flight to Seoul, Korea.

 I have a friend who is a pastor in Ibaraki, not far from the airport in question, and even he said he can never foresee using the airport since he has no desire to go to Seoul and the airport can`t take him anywhere else. For those in Tokyo, the obvious question is why go to Seoul from Ibaraki when Narita is closer and more convenient. Traveling from Ibaraki Airport entails taking a bus to the nearest train station and express train service to Tokyo, a minimum of two hours from airport to Tokyo Station. Or one can take a bus directly from the airport to Tokyo Station but again you are looking at, at least 2 hours or more if traffic is bad (and in Tokyo, it always is).

 Worse still, the Hatoyama Administration has called for using the domestic airport at Haneda, just 20 to 30 minutes from downtown Tokyo, for international flights including to Seoul. If this comes to pass, as many Japanese and International travelers hope, the need to go all the way out to Ibaraki becomes zilch.

 Will Seoulites flood into Ibaraki? I kind of doubt it unless they love the fermented soy beans for which Ibaraki is famous. Will other lines open up? There is a plan to start daily service to Kobe next month. But Kobe is a relatively minor airport that can be reached more easily from Haneda already. Other plans? Several airlines have announced cancellation of plans to use the airport. In fact, a NHK survey of 40 major airlines found that none include Ibaraki in their future plans and many question why the airport was ever built.

 Still, if you visit Japan, you might want to set aside one day of Tokyo sightseeing for a day trip to the airport that no one loves, a massive, pristine monument to the hubris of a Japan that is no more. Just don`t try to fly anywhere.