The funny thing about flying into Narita International Airport is that you aren’t even arriving in Tokyo. Narita Airport is located in Chiba Prefecture, which is right next to Tokyo to the east, way out in the countryside. As a result, most people land in Narita and immediately jump on the airport express trains to head into Tokyo, without ever seeing what Narita has to offer.
Lucky for me, because The Hubby was there for work and had a free hotel in Narita, I was able to stay for two nights to recover from the horror of a 14 hour flight and take advantage of this chance to explore this lovely city and its historic sites. Narita truly is the perfect introduction to Japan and much more than just an airport. In fact it’s the perfect place to spend your first (or last) night in Japan.
24 Hours in Narita
If you only have 24 hours or less in Narita, at the top of your list should be the Naritasan Shinshoji Temple complex and Naritasan Park. It’s an easy walk from either Narita Station or from Narita’s other top sight, the AEON Mall, both of which the hotels typically offer free shuttle rides to.
However it’s better to go from Narita Station because that allows direction you to wander the beautiful Omotesando Street, which is about a 10 minute walk from the station. Omotesando prospered when Narita was a popular temple town in the Edo era and still maintains its historic charm. It’s a great area to buy souvenirs, take in the local life, sample yummy treats and take pictures.
Once you reach the impressive brown Somon Gate in the picture above (at right), you’ve arrived at the entrance to the Naritsasan Shinshoji Temple complex area, which is massive and requires a bit of walking, and lots of stairs. Hey, the path to enlightenment was never easy, right?
This very popular Buddhist temple was built in the year 940 and has a number of iconic buildings, which I’ll attempt to properly label in the photos below:
If you have time, walk around the Naritasan Park and try to find the beautiful hidden waterfall! There are lots of winding paths through the gardens and statues and it’s quite peaceful.
Narita with Kids
After exploring Omotesando and Naritasan, I’d recommend heading to Narita’s other big attraction – the AEON Mall. Insanely popular with cabin crew and pilots who have layovers in Narita, AEON is a great place to hit up Daiso, UNIQLO and other popular Japanese brands. The mall also has a ton of food choices and fun things to do with kids like spend coins at the gatcha-gatcha toy capsule vending machines, visit the INSANE arcade to play the Taiko Drum game, or waste money on the impossible claw games. I swear these kids arcades are training them for a future of pachinko addiction.
If you have too many coins in your pocket and you’re leaving Japan, gatcha-gatcha is the best way to use it. These toy capsules are amazing and weird and cute and fun and full of uniquely Japanesey things. The cheapest is 200 yen and the most expensive is 500 yen. My kid was obsessed with these while we were in Japan! Why are they called “gatcha-gatcha”? Simple – that’s the noise it makes when you turn the coin handle and the capsule rolls down. Japanese love onomatopoeia.
The other thing to look out for in Narita is your friendly mall robot which zooms around and gives directions! It has a motion sensor so if you step in front of it the robot will stop. Kids were following it all around the mall!
Just don’t try to change the operating language – I pressed “Language” and then chose “English” to try to find a map or directions to the Daiso and I think I broke it because I got an error message that wouldn’t go away. Oops!
What to Eat in Narita
Omotesando has tons of food stalls and restaurants, and the most famous cuisine on the street is definitely unagi which is grilled eel. If you like Japanese unagi you’ll be in heaven because you can see the vendors actually cleaning, skinning and preparing the unagi right there on the side of the street. Dipped in sweet tare sauce and grilled right before your eyes, it’s quite a delicacy.
AEON Mall has all kinds of things to eat – Japanese, Indian, Italian, fast food like Burger King, cafes and coffee shops, Baskin Robins, whatever you like. Easy peasey.
I however recommend walking across the road (just two minutes) to the Kura Sushi opposite the mall to enjoy conveyor belt sushi train. Never had it? Here’s how it works: you order your yummies on the iPad menu at your table, and within a minute or two a bunch of little plates come flying down the conveyor belt and stop at your table. If you see things fly past you, they are not for you! They’re on their way to their final destination. Don’t touch!
What kids love about Kura Sushi – other than the mini Hamburger sushi and tempura squid – is that after you are done eating, you push the plates into this slot (the plates get sent to the kitchen for cleaning), and for every five plates that you push in a game pops up on the tablet and you could win a gatcha-gatcha prize! We won two (sushi keychains, very fitting).
This post is getting long, but here’s one more fun thing in Narita – right outside the bus terminal and near to the entrance to Omotesando you’ll notice a big wooden clock tower. At every hour on the hour, this tower opens up and a robotic puppet show takes place! The kids passing by were super fascinated by this, as a kabuki actor puppet comes out and does a dance. Check it out!
All in all, Narita is a town with lots to see and do so take the time to explore it if you can!