More than an airline hub, this Chiba Prefecture town has a lot to offer, whether you’re looking to kill time on a layover or escaping Tokyo for a regenerative day trip.
On the Green
The beauty of getting out of the city is to escape the concrete and asphalt and see some much-needed greenery. Part of the temple complex, Naritasan Park boasts tranquil lakes, peaceful waterfalls and gushing fountains, all within a vast green forest, making it an ideal location to admire spring blooms and fall foliage. If you want to really immerse yourself, get out of the city proper and enter the farmlands of Chiba which surround Narita – only Hokkaido produces more agricultural output than this area. For golf lovers, there’s an array of country clubs in the region, including top courses Taiheiyo, Hakuho, Kuno and Taiei, although be forewarned that some require invitations from members to play through.
If you enjoy unagi cooked kabayaki-style, you’ll be happy to know that it’s one of Narita’s specialties. Several restaurants on Omotesando, the town’s main street, serve up the skewered eel fillets broiled in a sweet soy sauce, and some, most notably Kawatoyo or Surugaya, do their prepping right on the street so you can be assured you’re getting fresh product. Witnessing the butchering of these slippery fish is not for the squeamish or vegetarian-leaning, but the sheer volume of work and the mastery on display is inherently impressive. For additional fish-related fun, you can also hit up the Narita Wholesale Market most mornings, where you can attend a tuna auction (by appointment only) or pick up fresh ingredients for a tasty lunch.
Temple of Swords
Founded in the year 940, Naritasan Shinsoji Temple is undoubtedly the main sightseeing draw in Narita, and is designated as one of Japan’s National Important Cultural Properties. This provincial Shingon Buddhist temple sits in a large complex of impressive buildings and lush grounds. Dedicated to one of five Buddhist Wisdom Kings of the Womb Realm, known in Japan as Fudo Myoo, the temple is adorned with many signs associated with this feisty deity, including fire, rope and massive decorative swords. Highlights of the site include two multi-level pagodas, the Niomon main gate and several open halls – all embellished with bright colors, detailed woodwork and and impressive dry-fit joinery.
Lead the Way
The main road in Narita is Omotesando. Unlike the other, more famous Omotesando in Tokyo, this one is less glitzy and more quaint. Roughly translating to “path that leads to the shrine,” Omotesando does just that, starting from central Narita and ending at Naritasan’s main gate. Along the way are more than 150 shops, restaurants and historic buildings. Here you can find traditional Buddhist daruma dolls in several shops, as well as several herbal pharmacies offering ancient remedies. If you’re looking for crafts, you won’t be disappointed. Amongst others, hit up Kyomasu for kimonos, textiles and wooden umbrellas, Sekar Bali Interior for woven baskets and artisanal home wares, or Yamada for handcrafted Japanese steel knives.
A Glut of Omiyage
No weekend getaway can stay secret from nosy coworkers, so you better prepare to have an omiyage, or edible souvenir, to present to your officemates on Monday. Luckily, Narita offers many delicious options. With a large store right on Omotesando, Nagomi has a wide selection of local confectionary treats, and not just your standard azuki or matcha flavored sweets. On a hot day, they also serve refreshing kakigori shaved ice. Amataro is one more shop worth visiting, this one dealing in sweet bean dorayaki. Peanuts are another Chiba specialty, and Kimuraya has them in heaps. While strolling, surely you’ll be drawn to Abe Shop by the smell of freshly cooked senbei rice crackers, so be generous and share the goods with your mates.