Tokyo Haneda airport: Why this is really the best airport in the world

My favourite airport in the world doesn't feel like an airport. And that's the key. There are a few of the inevitable reminders there – the check-in process, the security queues, the requirement to get on a plane and fly somewhere – but for the bulk of the time you spend at this place, it's basically not an airport at all.

And it's not Singapore Changi, despite what you're probably thinking. It's not Seoul-Incheon either. My favourite airport in the world, hands down, is Tokyo Haneda.

Hear me out. Tokyo Haneda is obviously not the perfect airport. And my love for it just might be influenced by my hatred of its alternative, Tokyo's Narita airport, which is a million miles from the city, and fairly old and tired. Compared to that place, Haneda is heaven.

Admittedly, Haneda doesn't have the world's best facilities. It can't compete with Changi's rooftop pool and its butterfly garden, with its orchids and its koi pond. But how many of those things do you actually get to enjoy when you're transitting through Singapore? The flight connections at Changi are so efficient that you barely have time to scarf a plate of Hainanese chicken rice before you're being called to board.

Haneda, meanwhile, has just enough to keep you interested for a few hours, without making you feel as if you're missing out on a whole lot of good stuff you'll never get a chance to try. This is the world's fifth-busiest airport, and yet it doesn't feel crowded or rushed, or even that large. You can easily get to everything you need to. You can see all the things you want to see.

And, of course, it doesn't feel like an airport.

It doesn't feel like an airport – certainly not a Tokyo airport – when you're trying to get there from the city. To catch public transport from, say, Shibuya to Haneda takes about half an hour, and costs around $6. (Getting to Narita from there takes almost an hour and a half, and costs $30.)

Haneda doesn't feel much like an airport when you sail through the efficient check-in area and get rid of your bags.

And then comes this airport's true glory: the food. Some of the best food in Tokyo, served in proper restaurants that charge prices similar to their city counterparts. The food at Haneda is so good, in fact, that it's worth getting to the airport hours and hours too early just to enjoy it.

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Two of the best-known ramen bars in Tokyo, Setagaya and Rokurinsha, have outlets at Haneda. You'd have to queue for up to an hour or more to get into the original stores; often at Haneda you just wander right in. And the prices aren't jacked up by a single yen.

In the Edo Market, meanwhile – a faux traditional street market on a mezzanine level above Haneda's check-in area – you can also feast on kick-arse pork cutlets at Katsusen Tonkatsu, eat high-end beef at Champion Yakiniku (another off-shoot of a famous Tokyo store), dine on great sushi at Ariso, munch fried things on sticks at Kushinobo, and enjoy sukiyaki at Takafuku. And that's just the start of the legit, amazing dining options.

In fact, there are two major problems I've identified with Haneda: you can't stay the night; and you can't fit in three or four dinners.

The Edo Market also has a whole range of shops selling gastronomic specialties from across Japan, most of which are pretty unfriendly to Australia's customs regulations, but are definitely worth picking up if you're heading anywhere else.

Take the escalators up another level from the market and the greatness continues. There. you get to a few more shops and arcade parlours, and a huge open-air observation deck from which to watch all the action on the tarmac and get some fresh air. Why don't more airports have something like this? So simple, and yet so rare.

It doesn't feel like you're in an airport when you're strolling around in the great outdoors, trying to work off your dinner and make room for another one. Unfortunately, you then have to go through the whole security and passport control process, but over the other side you still have a few decent souvenir and duty-free shops to peruse, some more great food outlets, and a couple of places to grab a last, delicious Japanese beer.

Then your flight gets called – on time, of course, because this is Japan – and you're away.

As I said, Haneda is not the perfect airport. The customs queues are usually pretty long and slow on arrival. The international and domestic terminals are far apart and poorly connected.

But mostly, this is what I want from an airport: close to the city and well connected; amazing, well-priced local food; a place to get some fresh air; a few games or weird shops to amuse me; decent local souvenirs for panic present buying; friendliness, cleanliness, and efficiency.

Haneda has all of those things. Take me back there any time.

What's your favourite airport in the world? Why do you like it so much?

Email: b.groundwater@fairfaxmedia.com.au

Instagram: instagram.com/bengroundwater

​See also: World's best airport for 2018 named

​See also: The best stopover airports for flights from Australia to Europe

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