Once a super convenient portal for flying out of Tokyo, a lot of people forget the Tokyo City Air Terminal still exists.

Our Japanese-language reporter Mariko Ohanabatake has a thing for retro-style buildings in Tokyo. When she says retro, she doesn’t mean sliding shoji paper doors and tatami reed floors, though. No, what Mariko is drawn to are buildings from a more modern yet still bygone era, places that seem like they were frozen in time a few decades, or maybe even a generation, ago, and her most recent excursion to satisfy that urban exploring itch was the Tokyo City Air Terminal.

▼ Entrance to the Tokyo City Air Terminal (東京シティエアターミナル)

Since “Tokyo City Air Terminal” is a bit of a mouthful, the building is also called T-CAT, and so it naturally has a cute kitty mascot character, Matatabi-kun.

Located on the east side of downtown Tokyo, connected to Suitengumae Station on the Hanzomon subway line, T-CAT opened in 1972. It billed itself as Tokyo’s air travel gateway, with limousine bus (highway buses with reserved seating and luggage storage compartments) service to both Haneda and Narita Airport. You could even check in for your flight, have your boarding pass printed, and do your outbound immigration check before you got on the bus, saving you the trouble of having to wait in the longer lines for those procedures at the airport.

Unfortunately, stricter security measures following the 9-11 terrorist attack in New York put an end to boarding pass printing and immigration clearance at T-CAT, both being discontinued in 2002. However, T-CAT still operates as a bus station for the airport limousine buses, which can whisk you to/from Haneda in as little as 25 minutes and Narita in less than an hour. One-way fare is 900 yen (US$6.90) to/from Haneda and 2,800 yen to/from Narita (with children’s fares being half-priced).

▼ The airport limousine bus waiting room

▼ Buses for Haneda leave from the first floor, and the ones bound for Narita on the third.

Looking around the place, you’ll spot vestiges of its glory days. For example, on the lower floor are a pair of long moving walkways, which were once a welcome sight for travelers who didn’t want to lug their heavy suitcases up the stairs. Now, neither moves, though you can still walk up or down the slopes if you feel like it.

There’s also a cluster of now mostly empty payphone shelves, where people would say a quick “Goodbye!” or “I’m back!” to friends and family in the days before mobile phones.

In the days when you could get your boarding pass at T-CAT, all of the major airlines had check-in counters inside the building. Now that they’re gone, those spaces have been converted into shops and restaurants.

On the day of Mariko’s visit, there was a huge line outside of ramen chain Fukushin’s T-CAT branch. Looking at the clientele, though, they seemed to be primarily local office workers, not travelers flying in to/out of the Tokyo area.

Also in the building is a branch of apparel/lifestyle brand Keyuca and a showroom for hotel interior fixtures company Kawajun, who share the same parent company which has its headquarters nearby.

Keyuca even has an attached cafe, Keyuca Deli, where Mariko stopped in for an 800-yen double curry lunch set.

Other points of interest and convenience included an art display space with some seasonal wisteria

…a Can Do 100 yen store…

…coin-operated massage chairs and a massage parlor…

…and even a specialty shop selling goods from Tochigi Prefecture, such as its famously delicious strawberries.

T-CAT isn’t the only place in Tokyo where the airport limousine buses pick up/drop off passengers, as their routes also include a number of other bus stations and hotels. Though Mariko never visited the building in its heyday, she could see that it’s clearly lost some of its luster.

Still, there’s something that feels kind of special about these now half-forgotten places that are still hanging on, like the Shunjuku Subnade on the other side of downtown Tokyo, and Mariko’s happy she got to see T-CAT for herself.

Related: T-CAT official website
Photos © SoraNews24
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