Airport cities are not always renowned for their sightseeing but Narita city itself is worth visiting, whether you’re just passing through or favor a day out. Narita International Airport, despite often being referred to as a Tokyo airport is actually located in Chiba Prefecture, which is east of the big metropolis. Because of its seclusion, downtown Narita is an excellent first or last stop for international travelers to get the most out of their trip.
In just a day in Narita — about 10 minutes by train from the airport or about an hour from Tokyo — you’ll get the Japan experience encapsulated, with 1,000 years of history to soak up, a chance to feast on eel dishes and opportunities to explore temples, pagodas, festivals and local shops.
Naritasan and Omotesando street
One of the biggest draws is Naritasan Shinsho-ji. The large Edo-style temple grounds has five buildings including the Komyodo which was built in 1701. A perennial favorite for photographers is the three-story pagoda, a colorful iconic emblem of the area. The temple grounds are home to ponds literally stacked with turtles as well as a small waterfall.
The landscaped grounds of Naritasan Park is beside the temple and features the Heiwa-no-Daito (Peace Pagoda). It’s also home to the Naritasan Museum of Calligraphy, a must for those who adore the intricacies of Japanese script. You can even try your hand at the brush strokes involved.
Make sure you peruse the Omotosando shopping street on the way to the temple. The street layout has the Edo period vibe and for foodies, the greatest attraction is its cuisine. The unagi (eel) is a specialty of the traditional restaurants here serving up eel rice bowls, sushi and more, and if you’ve never tried eel, this really, eely, is the place for it.
If you’re up for more cultural immersion, there’s a chance to dress up in kimono and yukata styles, too. Still on Omotosando, pop into the Machikado Fureaikan cultural center and for a small fee, they will kit you out with the delightful duds and threads that have paraded up and down the main street for centuries. You can show off your temporary haute couture while imbibing a cup of matcha tea at one of the nearby tea houses.
And if traditional shopping isn’t enough, take a trip to the Aeon Mall complex for some last-minute retail therapy. The mall is 15 minutes by the direct bus service from the airport and is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
Tours and seasonal events
Seasonally, Narita boasts a few major events. Come the end of December, there is an influx of chanting monks and thousands of people gathering for sunrise at Naritasan to welcome in the new year in a tradition called hatsumode. Or in spring, check out the annual taiko drum festival, which takes place for two days in April. More than 50 drum groups from all over Japan participate and the sound of taiko reverberates throughout the rowdy streets during the fest.
There are several free guided tours of Narita. At the airport, first floor, Terminal 1, go to the transit-and-stay counter. You can organize a local guide there. If you have luggage you can leave it in a locker for between ¥100 to ¥600, depending on size and amount. The guide will take you by train to the town and the tour lasts up to 3 hours. 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Alternatively, if you’re not coming from the airport, go to the information center in front of the three-story pagoda (at Naritasan) between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. for a tour.