Narita International Airport is a place that needs no introduction. Located in Chiba Prefecture, it is the major gateway for international travellers to Japan. Even so, many people might not realize that Narita, after which the airport is named, is actually a city with interesting attractions worth checking out. It is only 10 minutes by train from the airport via the JR Narita Line or Keisei Main Line, meaning you can visit the city during a long layover or as a day trip especially on your first/last day in Japan.
In this article, let’s find out some of the popular things to do in Narita.
1. Naritasan Shinshoji 成田山新勝寺
Founded in 940, Naritasan Shinshoji was a landmark of Narita long before there was Narita Airport. Dedicated to Buddhist deity Fudo Myoo, it still is one of the most visited temples in the Kanto region, attracting millions of pilgrims and visitors yearly especially during the New Year period when people go for hatsumode.
Enshrined in the Main Hall is the statue of Fudo Myoo. An important cultural property of Japan, it is said to be carved by prominent Buddhist monk Kukai in the Heian period. The temple is also known for its Goma ceremony which it has been performing for over 1,000 years and still does several times a day at the main hall.
Image: Pascal Vuylsteker on Flickr.
There are a number of buildings standing on Naritasan’s spacious temple grounds. Among the highlights are Komyodo Hall, Three-story Pagoda, Niomon Gate, Shakado Hall, and Gakudo Hall. Dating back to the Edo period, these architecturally impressive buildings are also designated important cultural properties of Japan.
While you can always explore the compound on your own, one good idea to learn about the temple is sign up for a free guided walk and let a volunteer guide show you around sharing his/her knowledge about the temple. For more details, check out the temple’s website.
Access: 10 minute walk from JR Narita or Keisei Narita station.
2. Naritasan Park 成田山公園
Also within the temple compound is Naritasan Park, a massive 165,000 square metres lush green space with Japanese style and Western style gardens, ponds and a small waterfall. Walk along the paths that wind through the forest, the park is a lovely place to enjoy nature and a couple of serene, peaceful moments.
The park is also a famous spot for viewing gorgeous autumn colours, and plum blossoms which bloom from February to March before the cherry blossoms. There is also the Calligraphy Museum (admission: 500 yen) which exhibits calligraphy works and materials from the late Edo period to the present day.
3. Naritasan Omotesando 成田山表参道
Image: Kunitaka NIIDATE on Flickr.
Stretching from JR or Keisei Narita Station all the way to Shinshoji, Naritasan Omotesando is an 800m long street lined with more than 150 shops and restaurants. Some of the businesses here have been operating since the Edo period, offering local delicacies and products such as sake, pickles and handicrafts.
If you are a fan of unagi (grilled eel), be sure to stop by one of the restaurants that specialise in this famous dish of Narita! The sando is also a good place to stock up on souvenirs, with popular choices include yokan jelly, peanut sweets and rice crackers.
4. Boso no Mura 房総のむら
If you have more time to spare, why not head to Boso no Mura, an open-air historical museum established by Chiba Prefecture. Introducing the lifestyle of the Boso area (present-day Chiba) from 150 years ago, its main attraction is the reproduction of an old town encompassing of samurai residences, farmhouses with garden area and rice paddies, and an atmospheric street that has become a popular filming location for dramas and movies.
Visitors can enter the buildings and have a look at the displays or watch demonstrations by the artisans. There are also a range of workshops, activities and events that offer first hand Japanese cultural experiences. You can learn traditional skills and techniques such as weaving, rice planting and soba making, even walk the street wearing a kimono or samurai costume for a more authentic experience!
Image: __U___ on Flickr.
History buffs should not miss the surrounding Fudoki no Oka area, where dozens of ancient burial mounds (kofun) dating back to the 6th and 7th centuries were found. There is also the Fudoki no Oka museum which displays artefacts unearthed from various archaeological sites throughout Chiba Prefecture, such as tools and earthenware of the Jomon and Kofun periods.
Hours: 9 AM – 4:30 PM
Admission: 300 yen (children and senior citizens – free)
Access: From JR Narita Station, take a train to Ajiki Station, then catch any bus bound for “Ryukakujidai Shako” and get off at “Boso no Mura” stop, walk for 8 minutes. You can also take the same bus from the West Exit of JR Narita Station, alight at “Ryukakujidai 2-Chome” stop and walk for 10 minutes.
5. Museum of Aeronautical Sciences 航空科学博物館
Image: Alec Wilson on Flickr.
A must-see for aviation enthusiasts and plane spotters, a great place to visit with kids, too! The first aviation museum in Japan features exhibits on aviation history and aircraft technology, with a variety of aeroplanes, life-sized models and actual aircraft components on display, for example, the engine of a Boeing 747, cross-section of a fuselage, full-scale cabin mockup and so on.
Visitors can enter some of the aircraft, sit in the cockpits, or try out the flight simulators and experience the thrill of piloting a plane. Furthermore, the museum has observation areas offering good views of the jets taking off and landing at Narita Airport. They are located on the third floor (outdoor viewing platform), fourth floor (restaurant with a view) and fifth floor (modelled after an air traffic control room) respectively.
Hours: 10 AM – 5 PM (closed Mondays, open every day in Aug)
Admission: 700 yen
Access: From Narita Airport, take a bus bound for JR Narita Station at the bus stand no. 30 (Terminal 1) or bus stand no. 28 (Terminal 2), get off at “Kouku Kagaku Hakubutsukan” stop. Alternatively, take a bus bound for “Kouku Kagaku Hakubutsukan” from the East Exit of JR Narita Station and get off at “Kouku Hakubutsukan-mae” stop.
6. Sakura no Yama さくらの山
Sitting atop a hill just to the north of Narita Airport’s runway, Sakura no Yama is a park where you can see the landings and takeoffs of aeroplanes right up close. A nice place to unwind and enjoy a picnic, it is also a popular filming location for TV dramas. A shop selling fresh local produce and souvenirs can also be found here.
As the name suggests, Sakura no Yama is a famous hanami spot in Narita, planted with 350 cherry trees as well as flower beds that come into bloom in spring. Plane spot while being surrounded by a sea of pink? Yes, please!
Hours: 6 AM – 11 PM
Access: From the East Exit of Keisei Narita Station, take a Narita community bus (Tsubuura route) and get off at “Sakuranoyama” stop. You can also take a bus from the East Exit of JR Narita Station (bound for Kouku Kagaku Hakubutsukan) and alight at “Sakuranoyama” stop.