Groove Getaway: Narita City
There are some airports with names synonymous to layover. Before you even look at your scheduled flight times you know you will be stuck for hours in transit. Some of these airports fuel ugly horror stories about hard plastic seating and overpriced bowls of noodles. But not Narita International. It can take up to three hours to get into Tokyo from here, but unbeknownst to many people who pass through, there is a day full of activities just 20 minutes away in Narita City. The city is an easily accessible destination that will leave you with good memories and a belly full of unagi (freshwater eel).
Narita International Airport is an important airport for flights arriving and departing from Asia due to its geographical location. Located in the Chiba prefecture, this airport, which also serves the greater Tokyo area, is a common layover for travelers throughout the year.
After stashing your bag in a rental locker, exchange some (and by some I mean a lot of) cash, then weigh your options. You can head to the escalators en route to the train platforms or ask a help desk where you might be able to catch the “loop bus.” The bus leaves from Narita Airport Terminal 2 seven times daily. If you have the time, opt for the bus as it is significantly cheaper than riding the train. Regardless of what time you arrive at Narita International there are feasible transportation options for your day trip.
A small disclaimer: I’ll be the first to admit that Narita City is a little touristy, but in my opinion it sure beats dawdling around in the airport. Get out, stretch your legs and explore. The main attraction in Narita City is the Naritasan Shinsho-ji Buddhist Temple. When you reach your destination, whether by train or bus, you’re going to want to find Omotesando Street, which is a main road in Narita. It is well known, so if you think you’re lost do not hesitate to ask. Omotesando is a long flowing boulevard lined with souvenir shops, restaurants and craft boutiques.
The street is also protected from traffic, which makes perusing all the more enjoyable. One of my favorite highlights of Omotesando Road is the sake brewery which offers a free sample of locally brewed sake, perfect during the humid season when served ice cold.
After making your way down Omotesando you’ll see the entrance to the extravagant Naritasan Shinsho-ji Temple, which is more than 1,000 years old. Once inside the compound, find a monk and ask whether there will be any special rituals going on that day; they can be quite fascinating. Once you’ve had your fill of Buddhist architecture, the enclosed gardens are a pleasant, shady retreat.
The temple grounds are quite large and can easily fill two hours, which may leave you feeling famished. Do not fret. Follow your nose to the sweet, smoky aroma of unagi, a dish comprised of eel fillets marinated in teriyaki sauce. Narita freshwater eel is prized as some of the finest in the world. Other Narita specialties for the culinary inquisitive include rakkasei, peanuts that are said to be especially flavorful in Narita and are often given to friends and family members as gifts, and a type of fire-baked, soy-flavored rice cracker called senbei.
There it is, a day’s worth of fun activities that will leave you wishing you had more time to spend in Japan. Don’t let hot, humid weather deter you from making this trip either, because when you get back to Narita International you can rent dayrooms or showers by the hour, which is heaven before a long flight.