When you fly to Tokyo, things to learn about the airports are not very well-known among first-time visitors. Learn them from a local here.
1: There are TWO international airports in Tokyo.
When you got a flight ticket to Tokyo, the first thing to do is to check out which airport you will land at, Narita (= Nrt) or Haneda.
2: Narita is bigger than Haneda as an international airport.
Narita is the biggest international airport in Japan. (Now there are also domestic flights from Narita for the convenience of travelers.)
Haneda had been a domestic airport for a long time. There are international flights today, but Haneda is still considered to be highly domestic by locals.
3: Narita is NOT in Tokyo City.
Narita is a town inside Chiba Prefecture next to Tokyo. It takes at least 36 minutes from Narita to Tokyo City by limited express. (To learn transportation to Tokyo City from Narita Airport, I summarized them here.)
It is boring to spend a day on a bench in Narita Airport until your flight.
Don’t waste your precious holiday. Going sightseeing in Narita town is your best choice.
What’s amazing is that it is NOT a compromise to kill time. Narita has been a popular place among Japanese locals for hundreds of years.
The trip to the town will be short because you have a flight ticket in your hand. So I’m making a fast guide to Narita town so that you’ll never miss the great things there!
Narita-san Shinshoji Temple
Did you know? Naritasan Shinshoji Temple is one of the biggest Buddhist temples in Japan. And it is one of the oldest, too; Shinshoji Temple was established in 810.
I suggest 3 things to see in the large temple that will satisfy you!
1: The Big Main Hall
When you arrive there from Narita Station, see its main hall first. The main thing is always a must-see.
Your feeling will be simple – Wow, big!
Then, I’d like to encourage you to turn right. The view is very temple-like.
You find a pagoda over there, right? That’s the next must-see.
2: The Colorful Pagoda
There is a pagoda in most temples in Japan. So it is not something rare, but I think, in Narita, it’s worth GETTING CLOSE to see the details. How vivid the colors are!!!
The carving is interesting, too.
Let’s look up.
The details are so beautiful, aren’t they?
In East Asia, Japanese people are known to prefer to pale colors. So it is quite rare in Japan to see such a colorful pagoda.
This pagoda was re-colored some years ago, so we are living in best time to see it.
When you see the main building and pagoda, turn left from the main building.
3: The Old Main Hall
There is Shaka-do Hall (Buddha Hall), which used to be the main building of Shinshoji Temple.
Shinshoji Temple is very large with many buildings and gardens.
In case you don’t have much time, or when you are enthusiastic moderately – you might be tired of the flight – you don’t miss anything important by seeing these three buildings.
These three are all registered as Important Cultural Properties by the government.
(Tip: Narita-san means Mt. Narita. San/zan = Mt. in Japanese. Mt. Fuji is Fuji-san and Mt. Takao is Takao-zan/Takao-san.)
The Street of Traditions
The views in the street to the temple are full of Narita’s long history. Old Japanese houses are beside you. Actually, there are few places like this in Japan today!
There are so many broiled eel (unagi in Japanese) restaurants in Narita that eel became a mascot of Narita Airport.
For example, this restaurant has a history of 100 years.
Unagi is popular and luxury food in Japan. It was so especially for people in old times. They relished unagi after their travel to a famous temple. It’s delicious for today’s people like me, too!
When you order soup in a unagi restaurant, you’ll find something in the bottom of the bowl. What do you think it is?
Actually, it’s a heart of eel! It sounds weird, but it doesn’t taste as strong as liver at all. That’s why I had it.
Even if it is not convenient for you to have a meal there, just seeing the experts cooking eel is very interesting.
Not only traditional restaurants, we can find very, very rare shops in the street.
What was the most amazing for me was this Chinese herbal medicine shop. I am a Japanese local, but I saw a shop like this for the first time in my life!
The street to Shinshoji Temple is highly original. You can experience things like these nowhere but in Narita.
I believe you want to add Narita on your travel schedule. Then, please read the practical guide on the bottom of this article first. And when you get off the train at Narita Station, this stone statue is the sign to the street towards the temple.
Souvenirs of Narita
I’ll talk about good souvenirs in the next post. But this is the quickest guide to Narita on the web, so I’d like to show you the very best thing to buy there. It’s peanuts.
You might shout, “WHAT?! Peanuts are SO BORING! I expected something special!”
But wait. Don’t you want an experience like locals?
Actually, peanuts are a special product in Chiba Prefecture where Narita is located inside. Japanese locals buy fresh peanuts for souvenirs whenever they visit Chiba.
In the street toward Shinshoji Temple, we can find many made-in-Chiba peanuts of many flavors (with Narita labels!).
I chose plain peanuts in husks. It’s fun to break them, pull out the nuts and bring them into my mouth with my memories!
You’ll be an expert if you have fresh peanuts on the plane back home with remembering your sweet memories in Japan.
Visiting Narita in early Februaly?
If you are visiting Narita on 3 or 4 Februaly (depends on the year), I have good news for you. Setsubun Festival at Narita-san Shinshoji Temple is one of the biggest and most famous in Japan. Some sumo wrestlers and actors are invited to scatter soybeans.
When I went to Setsubun Festival in Asakusa last year, I heard some people whispering that there were so many visitors in Narita-san that some people even got injured when they tried to catch soybeans… I don’t know it’s true or not, but it is definitely true that setsubun in Narita is so exciting.
Have a nice extra day trip to Narita!
Narita Visitor Information
How to Get to Narita-san Shinshoji Temple
(If you are looking for how to get to Narita Airport, go to Tokyo Direct Guide.)
The point is that the fastest trains SKIP Narita Station to reach to the airport faster.
The simplest way is the following.
Go to Narita Airport 2nd Terminal first. Catch Narita Express (N’EX) by JR at one of the major stations in Tokyo, or Keisei Sky Liner at Ueno or Nippori. It takes just 36 minutes from Nippori to Airport and costs 2,470 yen by Keisei Skyliner. Take JR Narita Line or Keisei Line from Narita Airport back to Narita. It takes just 10 minutes.
If you are planning a day trip from Tokyo, take JR Yokosuka/Sobu Line “Airport Narita” RAPID train, which is slower than Narita Express. From Tokyo Station, it takes 70 minutes and costs just 1,140 yen.
When you arrive at Narita Station, whichever it is JR or Keisei Railway, it is a 10 minutes walk to Naritasan Shinshoji Temple.
As I repeat on Tokyo Direct Guide, Narita is not a convenient place.
But if you need a hotel guestroom there because of your flight schedule, or you simply want to experience to stay in Narita as Japanese people in old times did, there are many hotels.