When it comes to airport names they can often be a little misleading…take London for example, there are 6 airports with ‘London’ in the name and yet only one is actually in the city! Tokyo has 2 airports, Narita and Haneda. Haneda Airport is the closest to the city, however unless you’re driving, it’s still an hour away using public transport. Narita is even further away and I’m guilty of searching for ‘how to get to Tokyo from Narita Airport’ when deciding how to spend a spare 7 hours between flights. I honestly think the town of Narita is hideously overlooked, it’s just 10 minutes away from the airport! Here are a few ideas for things to do in Narita, especially during an airport layover!
Things To Do In Narita
Narita Airport Luggage Storage
Depending on your situation, you may have luggage, and lets face it, sightseeing while dragging all your bags around isn’t exactly fun. However! I would recommend hunting down the Narita Airport luggage storage area and offload anything you don’t want to carry around. The best place to go is to the Narita Airport arrivals area (we used Terminal 1). Hidden in the back corner, past the trains, past all the information desks, you’ll find some self service lockers.
The largest locker costs 500 yen ($4.50) for the day. To give you an idea of the size, we could fit 2 cabin baggage sized suitcases as well as a backpack. It works via an easy to use touchscreen that has an English language option. There’s no key for the locker, it prints off a receipt that has a numerical passcode on which you use to unlock it on return. So DON’T LOSE THE RECEIPT! Lockers take both card and cash and they do give change.
If all the lockers are full, there are a couple of other luggage storage options at Narita Airport.
How To Get From Narita Airport to Narita
There are 2 train lines out of Narita Airport, the Narita line and the Keisei line. We were told that the Keisei line is the quickest option to Narita. The lines do have separate ticket counters but they are easy to tell apart. A single ticket to Narita costs 260 yen ($2.30) for the 10 minute journey and trains run roughly every 30 minutes. The customer service agent told us what platform the train left from (platform 2) so it was all very simple.
The tickets are teeny tiny and you’ll need to validate them in the ticket barriers. It’ll punch a hole in it and then return it back to you when you first enter the station. When you exit at the destination station, the barrier will swallow the ticket.
Narita town then has 2 separate train stations, so make a note of the one you exit from! As far as we could see, there were no ticket counters at Narita station, we had to use a machine. Just like the luggage storage, there was an English option. The ticket back to the airport was listed on the short cut button as ‘260 yen Narita Airport 1’ (or alternatively Narita Airport 2,3).
If you feel like you may be overwhelmed with navigating through Japan alone, you could always join a FREE tour with the Narita Airport Transit and Stay Program. There are several different options where you’ll join a local English speaking volunteer guide. They are free however you are expected to pay your own transport and food costs etc, but as you can see, the cost is pretty minimal. The tours are around 3 hours long and are designed so they can be taken during a smallish layover. If you would rather do things ‘self guided’ their ’50 Things To Do In Narita’ leaflet is handy!
Narita Things To Do
Naritasan Shinshoji Temple
Naritasan Shinshoji Temple is just a 10 minute walk away from Narita train station. Including the grounds, Naritasan Temple is actually one of the largest Buddhist temples in Japan! It’s completely free to visit which is amazing. I would recommend arriving early if possible. We arrived at 8am and the atmosphere was very different compared to when we left over 3 hours later!
The detail and architecture of the temple at Naritasan are incredible. Niomon Gate is an impressive entrance way. Before you enter, there is a tsukubai washbasin with ladles for visitors to ‘purify’ themselves by washing their hands. The water comes out of a fancy dragon statue. As you pass under a giant paper lantern, you are greeted by water features and a very steep set of stairs which leads to the Great Main Hall and a 3 Story Pagoda. You’ll also find a giant incense fire which smells AMAZING. There are several different temples at Naritasan, the oldest was built in 1701.
Entrance to Naritasan Temple
There is an English guide leaflet that gives a little bit of information about the different temples but for the most part everything is written in Japanese which was a bit of a shame because I couldn’t really get absorbed in the whole experience as I didn’t always know what was going on!
For example, you can take part in a Sutra copying experience which is a written form of meditation, similar to chanting but instead, copying it down peacefully or you can copy prayers onto prayer sticks. However there are no translations for the different prayers, so I was unable to join in because I didn’t understand and would have felt a little silly asking *full tourist mode*! What little I could understand about the rituals and processes was what I had researched prior to visiting!
Entrance to Naritasan Temple is free but I came across a lot of donation boxes and other ways you were expected to pay money. For example, a pinch of incense into the fire was a donation, I lit a candle which was 100 yen ($1), if you entered the temple and prayed to the Buddha you were expected to donate, I paid 100 yen for my ‘Good Luck’ lucky dip fortune (which wasn’t great so I wanted to give it back for a refund…”Travel – Should Reschedule” – this was a week before I was due to travel to the Caribbean, FYI other than 2 flight delays and almost a diverted plane, the trip was fine!).
Goma Fire Ritual
The Goma Fire Ritual takes place several times a day, taking around 20 minutes and anyone can be a part of it. If you don’t want to go right into the temple, it is possible to watch through the window. It was fascinating to see. The monks throw people’s prayers into the fire, offering them to the Buddha, while chanting and playing large taiko drums. The wishes and prayers are then said to be granted by the Buddha as he burns away the suffering. If you don’t have a written prayer to throw in, it’s said to be good luck to hover personal belongings such as purses or wallets over the fire.
There were then a whole range of different amulets and charms that were for sale, anything from around 500 yen ($5) up to around 10,000 yen ($100). These did have the English translations. The charms cover everything from general good luck, traffic safety, health, study, successful pregnancies etc.
I couldn’t quite work out if these were expected to be burnt during the Goma fire ritual or not! They looked too pretty to burn! I bought one for safe air travel and a second that has the Japanese for Narita followed by ‘Good Luck’. Apparently it’s traditional to have the temple where it came from written on the charm.
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Naritasan Park is well worth a wander around during your visit to Naritasan Temple. There are several ponds with large koi carp and there’s even a waterfall tucked away in a hidden corner! Even when the temple areas were filled with tourists the gardens remained peaceful. It was quite a shock to see how busy it had become while we were tucked away in the woods! The restaurant next door advertised that it sold fish food but it was shut during my visit. Koi are always really fun to feed so I wish it had been available somewhere!
Omostesando Narita is everything I was hoping to experience during my visit to Japan as it felt very traditional. This narrow historic street is full of little shops and restaurants…mainly unagi (eel) restaurants! Pilgrims used to walk from Tokyo city to Naritasan Temple, with the last section of the route being Omostesando street. Unagi, freshwater eel, which was found and caught locally was grilled and served with rice, was a popular choice with the pilgrims as eel is good for nutrition and stamina, which was welcomed after their long pilgrimage. This traditional dish still stands today, with some of the restaurants preparing the eel in the open for people passing by to watch. The whole street smells like grilled food!
I went to Kawatoyo (right opposite the tourist information centre) to try grilled eel. It’s been in business for over 100 years! Grilled eel doesn’t come cheap. A small box with rice and 4 slices of eel (slices of eel? is a slice of eel a thing?!) was 2700 yen ($27). As we hadn’t tried eel before, we decided to share rather than order 2 portions. Ironically, I don’t like fishy tasting things, I eat cod (because it tastes like water) and that’s it, plus I caught an eel on a crabbing line once so now have a bit of a phobia of them and snakes. But eel wasn’t bad actually, definitely better than the shark I had in Slovenia!
I loved how traditional it all was. We had to take our shoes off and we sat on cushions at a communal table that was sunken in the ground, so essentially we were sat on the floor. Every place setting had a cold towel and there were flasks of hot tea. We placed our order at the counter when we first walked in, but after that the wait staff would kneel down on a cushion to serve us. I even attempted to use chop sticks! Although I wasn’t very successful at trying to pick up rice, I kinda used the chopsticks like a flat spoon!
If eel isn’t your thing, I also tried matcha green tea ice cream…veryyy strange eating ice cream that doesn’t exactly have a sweet taste! If you’ve had matcha green tea before then you can probably imagine the taste! You can also buy bags of rice crackers…not going to lie, I got a little sick of these as we were served them a lot on the flights and I wasn’t really a fan of the taste! They are OK in small quantities!
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Things To Do At Narita Airport
If you don’t have time to leave the airport, there are still fun things to do at Narita Airport! One of my favourite things is the ‘Introduction to Japanese Culture Events’ program. This happens across all the terminals but the main area is in Terminal 1 departures near gates 51+. You can check the Narita Airport website for the events schedule.
I was able to take part in traditional Ukiyo-e printing before my flight. A type of art form that uses pictures carved into blocks of wood. Ink is brushed onto the wood, a piece of paper is laid over the top, you rub the surface of the paper to transfer the ink and then repeat using different colours to gradually build the image into the completed picture. It was a completely free experience and I got to take home my finished art work at the end of it! It worked on a ‘take a ticket and wait’ rotation so you do have to make sure your have enough time before your flight starts to board!
If you are unable to join in one of the cultural events, you could always enjoy some last minute Japanese food! I was obsessed with the vending machines, partly because I couldn’t understand a thing they said, but you can’t go wrong if it blatantly has ice cream inside! Otherwise the gift shops have interesting sweets you can buy including unique flavours of KitKats! Like typical airport shops you can buy ‘family sized’ versions, but if you hunt around, I recommend buying the smaller individual servings (120yen/$1.20) because then you can try several different flavours! I bought melon, grape and strawberry flavoured KitKats…you can also get matcha green tea along with several other flavours!
As sad as it sounds, the Japanese style toilets were a novelty that still hadn’t worn off for me! I wasn’t brave enough to try the bum wash (even my plane had one!!) in case it squirted so hard it soaked my clothes, but I found all the buttons fascinating. The first time I used one of the Japanese toilets it automatically started playing waterfall and bird noises…I thought the sound of water was to help you ‘go’ but other toilets had a ‘privacy’ button which started this noise, so I guess it was more to cover up what you were doing! Child Kylie that went through a stage of hating public toilets and made someone stand outside and start the hand dryer, would have been in her element!
For those that are a little more mature than me, Narita Airport has a couple of outdoor observation decks that overlook the runway. They even have telescopes so you can get an up-close look at the planes!
Haneda to Narita
Some connection flights may require an airport change, on the way from Chicago to Sydney with ANA our flight arrived and departed from Haneda Airport. However our return flight landed in Haneda and then departed from Narita. We purposely chose this particular route though as we knew it’d give us some time to explore Narita. But getting between Haneda Airport to Narita Airport is pretty simple and pain free.
The fastest and easiest way to get between Haneda and Narita airports, is to use the shuttle bus. They leave roughly every 20 minutes (less often at quieter times). The bus ticket counter is right opposite the international arrivals exit. The timetable is completely in Japanese (unlike some signage which will flash up in English too), but the ticket counter staff are very helpful and speak good English. Simply ask for a ticket to Narita airport and they’ll tell you the bus stop and even give you a map if you think you’ll get stuck. Tickets cost 3100 yen ($31) and the journey from between Haneda Airport to Narita airport is just over 1 hour. The Haneda to Narita Limousine Bus website is really handy.
Luggage is sorted by destination terminal so make sure you have an idea where you’ll want to get off. For example I knew my flight went from Terminal 1 but there’s a North or South wing that has 2 separate drop off points! Your bag gets a colour coded tag and you are given a ticket with the same number. You’ll need this ticket to collect your bag when you disembark! The bus has free WiFi too and is really comfortable!
Narita is a great place to get a little taste of the Japanese Culture! I extended my layover with ANA (All Nippon Airways) on my flights between Sydney, Australia and Chicago, USA. Chicago O’hare have 2 flights a day to Tokyo Narita airport and 1 into Tokyo Haneda.
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