A Walking of Tour of Narita, Japan

Eight Hour Layover in Narita

On my way from Palau to Bangkok, I had an 8 hour layover in Narita, Japan, so I took the opportunity to check out the city, a 10 minute train ride from the airport, as many mentioned on TripAdvisor it was worth a visit. Despite the reviews, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect of the city. Would it be close enough to the airport, that with all the visitors, English would be prominent or would it be so small that Japanese would be the only language?

I was quickly finding out, that even in the airport, English was broken at best. I asked the volunteer to point me in the direction of the ATM. She responded, “ATM Machine?…I don’t speak English”, reaches for her binder, turns toward the page with the ATM machine question, and points at the answer. I could only wonder how I was going to make it on the train and around the city given the extra data plan I had paid for with AT&T and Asia wasn’t working on my smart phone…so much for a map!

Luckily the information desk at the airport had a map, and I was smart enough to ask the ticket lady what stop Narita was on the Keisei Line since there wasn’t a map or announcements on the train! It was the second stop. My next challenge quickly presented to me when I exited the station. I didn’t know whether I was facing north, south, east, or west and I couldn’t read any of the street signs, so my paper map versus the interactive map I expected to have rendered useless. I turned toward a young lady, sitting on her suitcase and engrossed in her smart phone, and asked which way is the temple. She couldn’t explain the directions, but she grabbed her suitcase, waved for me to follow her, walked me to the stoplight and pointed to down the street to the right and said, “That way.”


The Streets of Narita

Well, that was easy enough. I followed the quaint street lined with small shops selling dresses, souvenirs, kids clothing, purses which were intermingled with several restaurant choices. I picked a restaurant filled with several locals. I figured I couldn’t go wrong. Unagi Restaurant was open to the street with chefs seated at tables in the front trimming sea creatures, which turned out to be eel…eel was the only option on the menu! So I had broiled eel with rice and sat in the front room in a chair at a table and kept my shoes on. If I really wanted to be authentic, I could have removed my shoes and sat on the floor in the back room, but I’m sure they appreciated the tourists leaving them alone!

Naritasan Kongo-oin Shinshoji Temple

From the restaurant, I continued on to the temple which turned out to be a giant complex of buildings. As I walked up the stairs, I skipped past a water fountain and “trough” to the right that a family was standing around. The mom waved me down and pointed me toward the fountain. Evidently I was supposed to rinse my hands in the water and then drink from it…similar to the Catholics making a cross with Holy Water. I washed my hands, but refrained from drinking it, and then proceeded wander through the temple complex.

The image of Fudomyoo is the main deity of the Naritasan Kongo-oin Shinshoji Temple and belongs to the Chisan Sect of Shingon. The image is considered extremely valuable because Kobou Daishi, the founder of Shingon, himself carved, consecrated, and conducted a Goma rite upon the direct order of Emperor Saga. The image was originally enshrined at the Takaosan Jingoji Temple in Kyoto, but during a revolt in 939, the great monk Kancho carried the image to the Kanto region. At Narita, in the Shimousa region, Kancho offered a Goma rite prayer for peace lasting 21 days. On the final day of the prayer, the revolt suppressed and after this Naritasan was founded and named Shinshoji. If that sounded as greek (or Japanese) to you as it sounds to me, well I basically paraphrased an English pamphlet I received at the information desk at the temple.


I could continue with tidbits like this about several of the ornate buildings situated around the complex, but I suspect a search engine called “google” or Wikipedia could offer more information on the additional buildings I visited in the precinct: Korinkaku Hall, Shoro (Bell Tower), Issaikyozo (All Scriptures House), Shotokutaishido Hall, Three-storied Pagoda, Komyodo Hall, Shakado Hall, Niomon Gate, Gakudo Hall, and the Great Pagoda of Peace. In addition to all these worshipping places, the complex includes lovely gardens with paths that wend beneath the cover of trees and past statues and even a waterfall.

After I wandered through the gardens, following the signs in Japanese, I ended up on the other side of the complex where a Goma (sacred fire rite) was taking place. Through the ceremony, the head monk burns earthy passions represented by wood sticks called Goma in the fire of Fudomyoo’s wisdom, and prays with the devotees for their wish to be ennobled and purified for fulfillment. The ceremony is a daily service at Naritasan. It was neat to be a bystander!

From the temple, I decided to follow the street back toward the train station. Unfortunately, I wasn’t sure if the international terminal was terminal 1 or 2, as when we were directed off the flight the signs pointed us toward the domestic terminal. I meant to ask before I left the airport, but forgot. So, I thought maybe the ladies that worked at the information desk at the temple, given they encounter several tourists, might understand enough English to help me…not so. Oddly, I found a tourist information office as I was walking back, as I went to enter, the door was locked. A young man quickly responded, “It’s closed”. An English phrase…I’ll ask him…nope…as soon as a question is asked, all English disappears! There was another information center by the JR rail station which was two blocks from the Keisei station, so I stopped there. Luckily, the woman working the booth spoke English and told me from which terminal United flew…it didn’t matter whether it was domestic or international. I took the JR train back, it was slightly cheaper and took a few minutes longer. The woman told me I could just purchase a ticket from the automated machine…yeah, right…it was in Japanese! I had to ask the ticket taker at the station to tap the screen for me to get the ticket. At least this train had announcements in English. It was a nice afternoon in Narita. Now I’m preparing myself for busy Bangkok! ETB

PS…I was slightly entertained by the large difference of toilets…the stand-over urinal pit at the temple to a toilet complete with a bidet at the airport! Oh, and I was in Japan, so they shouldn’t have to know English, but they are so smart, I thought they probably would!

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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned travel photographer and blogger.

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