Macrae’s last visit to Japan included a layover in Tokyo (Narita Airport) on his way back to Canada. The same day he was leaving, he found out his best friend had passed away. Across the country, with a long flight back and hours before he boarded, he ventured out into Narita to clear his head. While walking he stumbled upon the nearby temple and to his surprise, the grounds were extensive and beautiful and he found peace while sitting in a secluded spot near a waterfall. Since then, it has been a special place to him and it was this experience that encouraged us both to visit Narita as a day trip.
Narita. Not Just A Usual Layover In Tokyo…
Narita is popular for its international airport commonly used by incoming passengers to Tokyo and is a busy layover destination. It is approximately 1 1/2 hours outside of Tokyo proper however, making a visit to Tokyo inconvenient during shorter layovers. Fortunately, Narita is only a train stop away from Narita Airport (terminal 2) and has some great things to do and see while you wait for your next flight.
As we found out, it’s not just a place to go during a layover – it also makes for a great day trip even if you’re already in the city. We decided to take the train from Tokyo to Narita to explore the area and had a great day visiting one of the most beautiful temple grounds we’ve seen and enjoying the charm of the surrounding town while immersing ourselves in a unique tourist setting that still has a traditional Japanese feel.
Whether you have a short amount of time, or a full day to sightsee, there are a few key things to see and do.
Sights in Narita
Narita-san Shinshoji Temple
From the street, this 1000 year-old temple doesn’t look much different from other temples, but once you climb the stairs and pass through the main gate, you enter a gorgeous oasis of cultural significance and natural beauty. There are several temple buildings on the expensive grounds, some built in different eras and each retain the architectural style of their period.
You’ll want to designate some time to explore. The main entrance gives way to a vast property and much of the area is gardens, walkways, forests and parks and walking through can take hours depending on how much you want to see, and how fast you want to walk.
We took our time once we reached the forested area, walking the paths, crossing bridges over streams and sitting in a quiet lushly-vegetated area near the waterfall. It was incredibly peaceful and serene and it was easy to forget we had just come from the hectic streets and transit system of Tokyo.
The nature around the buildings add to the reverent feel and pretty much transported us to another time and place. It was obvious how a place like this could have such a calming effect as it had on Macrae several years ago and is undoubtedly a memorable place to visit.
Unfortunately, we didn’t make it to see any of the Buddhist ceremonial prayers and rituals but there a several, performed daily, and are open to the public.
If you have a chance, whether you are already visiting the country or can only catch a quick glimpse while passing through, Narita-san Shinshoji temple is definitely worth visiting and is admission-free!
Simply taking a walk down the main street, Omotesando, is an experience in itself. The winding, hilly road leads from Narita station to the temple and is filled, on both sides of the street, with unique stores and shops and various restaurants and bars. You can take your time strolling, stepping into the souvenir shops and pastry stores or taking a break at a coffee shop or restaurant and enjoy classic Japan for whatever length of time you have available. If you have time, wander off the main road and you’ll find some interesting hidden gems away from the more popular tourist area.
Sega World & The Batting Cages
While not necessarily a way to take in Japanese culture, if you’re looking to kill some time, or have some younger ones with you, Sega World may be a great place to enjoy some arcade games and try and win some prices. open from 10am to midnight, you’ll have a chance to visit no matter what time you make your way to Narita. Not too far from the train station, or the temple, you’ll find both Sega World and some batting cages.
The Azura Batting Cages are located beside Sega World and, as baseball is Japan’s favourite sport, a popular place to spend some time. It’s a great place for all ages and is open from 9am to 9:45pm making it another place that’s readily available no matter what time your layover takes you to Narita.
There are several festivals that are held throughout the year, including a monthly market, so be sure to see if there are any going on during your visit!
Food in Narita
Unagi is apparently the specialty but you can find many sushi shops, ramen, and other traditional Japanese cuisine. There are also a few international restaurants, including a couple burger joints we passed along the way. We opted for a ramen shop as we were there later in the day and wanted to grab something quick on our way out but the number of restaurant options available is sure to satisfy any food craving and offer a taste of Japanese cuisine if a layover is all the time you have.
We stopped by a café that Macrae had stopped at during his previous visit and enjoyed some of their homemade gingerale and a gingerale/vodka cocktail. We also decided on a homemade tiramisu and both the drinks and the dessert were delicious and memorable.
5.2.4. Garage Cafe is a quaint little shop that is warm and inviting and a comfortable place to relax before (and after) a flight. They also offer free WiFi and outlets to charge your phone or computer batteries.
If you are in the area before they close at 8, we’d recommend stopping by for a drink and dessert and if you make it there before 5pm, you can also grab some food (they serve hot dogs, sandwiches and the like).
Sleep Off Some of That Jetlag
Depending on how much time you have, you may have the need to rent a room for the night. There are several options right around the airport, including a pay-by-the-hour capsule hotel right in terminal 2. Nine Hours Narita Airport offers you the option of taking a nap, in the event you only want to sleep a few hours before your next flight.
There are pay-by-the-night hotels nearby as well but if the timing is right, and you are able, there are also some decent hotels off Omotesando street which will offer you the ability to really explore the Narita area, either the afternoon/evening before, or the morning/day after.
Whether you have a full day at your leisure or only several hours to kill during a layover in Tokyo, Narita is a great place to go to tap into Japanese culture and enjoy a day amongst the sights, smells and sounds of traditional Japan.
You Can Do It Too!
Getting to Narita depends completely on where you are. If you are coming from the airport, hop on the train and take it to the first stop after Terminal 2 (Narita Station), it should only cost about 260 Yen, or $2.60 USD.
If you are coming from Tokyo however, it gets a bit more tricky. It will depend on what line you are closest to, whether you are riding JR or main lines and whether you have a train pass. Ultimately, you’ll want to make your way to the Kesei Main Line and ride it to Keiseinarita Station (from Shibuya to Narita, it costs approximately 1300 Yen and about 1 hour, 30 min to 1 hour, 45 min).
If you’ve used the Tokyo transit system before, you know that there are different trains (limited express, express) that will take you to different stops and get you there faster than a local train that stops at every stop. This will also impact your time and route.
Have you been able to explore during a layover? Where was your favourite layover destination and how did you get around? Comment below and let us know!
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