Our time in Narita is that of a story of ups and downs, lefts and rights, good and bad. It is the story of something terrible happening followed by something that saved our whole trip. Our completely unexpected and short-lived trip to the airport city outside of Tokyo was one we will remember forever for several reasons. Little did we know, there were a lot of things to do in Narita, Japan that we would enjoy.
Things to Do in Narita, Japan
- After an emergency landing and having to stay a night in Narita Airport, we were ready to see what we could do with three to four hours on our hand.
- We found the Narita Transit Program.
- The tour included: Trying on Kimonos and Joining in a Tea Ceremony, Naritasan Shinshoji Temple, and enjoying an eel lunch.
- Arrived back in the airport.
Our Experience in Narita
Narita is more than just an airport city outside of Tokyo. There is a lot to offer in this significantly less populated city. It emits a more relaxed feel. From what we saw of it, it offers cultural experiences for tourists, a specialty cuisine of eel, and a quaint temple. It is worth the time spent here, before or after moving on to Tokyo. It would provide a nice way to ease you into the Japanese culture before moving on to Tokyo or relieve you of the continuity of action within Tokyo.
The visit to Narita was completely unexpected. It began with a flight from Seoul to Sapporo where we transferred to another flight from Sapporo to Honolulu. It was on this flight that the incident occurred. We wont dive into the incident in detail here, but if you want to read about it in detail then check out our post sleeping overnight in an airport. Basically, there was a hydraulic fluid leak about two hours into our flight that caused the plane to turn around and land in Narita. Due to the high volume of tourists in the area at the time, there were literally no hotel rooms available. None. Zero. I even tried to call our go to hotel website, hotels.com, and asked them to find us a hotel. After remaining patiently on the phone for 15 minutes, we were told the unfortunate news that no hotel was available. We slept in the airport overnight with the seventy others that could not find hotels that night.
So, how does one recover from such a horrible start to a vacation? Optimism. And lots of it. I must thank Natalie for taking the situation and making the most out of it. After a three hour sleep, we were up and moving around the now opened airport. We got some breakfast and did some souvenir shopping. Our next decision was should we spend our remaining four hours to take a taxi into Tokyo or should we take a train into Narita. Fortunately for us, after talking to a couple of different information desks, we were told of a free tour program in the airport and directed to the Narita Transit Program desk.
It was here that we found the solution to our problem and a way to improve our horrible 12 hours since our departure. They offered three free tours, leaving us only to pay for the expenses from the trip including the train tickets and lunch. We chose a tour that suited what we wanted to see in Narita, and waited for our tour guides. Less than ten minutes later, two English-speaking tour guides arrived and we began our tour.
The kimono is a traditional Japanese garment worn during formal events, such as the Japanese tea ceremony that we went to afterwards. Our tour guides took us to a small building that housed the volunteers that fitted us with the kimono. For us, it was an enjoyable experience to try on the kimono. For the volunteers that had to deal with my stench from a full day of traveling and having to sleep in my clothing in an airport without a shower, it was probably not so enjoyable.
The Japanese tea ceremony that followed was an informative ceremony of a cultural aspect within Japan. It taught us about the distinctive tea drinking culture within the country and the hundreds of years of tradition behind such an intricate ceremony. After being directed through the many movements that are incorporated within the ceremony, it was time to take our kimono back and move onto the temple at the end of the road.
The Naritasan Shinshoji Temple provided us with a calming environment to unwind from a hectic 24 hours. The Japanese architecture combined with the nature-friendly aspects of the surrounding environment creates a relaxing place to ease yourself and forget about where you are at the moment. The walk around the temple grounds lasted less than an hour and we did not get to see all of it. However, anytime wandering the temple grounds is a beautiful experience.
Our three hour tour with the Narita Transit Program concluded with lunch. We got to see the chefs prepare the eel from scratch. After finding a restaurant, the four of us sat down for one last talk and a nice meal of eel. Food is always an excellent way of wrapping up a day of travel, especially with the company of two amazing tour guides. Our discussion was primarily about Narita and their experiences living within the airport city all of their lives. Though overshadowed by Tokyo in regards to tourism, this city has so much to offer culturally for anyone visiting.
Looking back at our situation in Narita, Japan, we could have easily sat back and watched the minutes tick off the clock while sitting in an airport chair. The time would be gone forever, never to be reclaimed again. Fortunately for me, Natalie saw an opportunity to make something out of our misfortune. If it was not for her, our time in Narita would have been spent much differently. Not only that, but also our perception would have been negatively affected because of our negative experience. Thankfully both of these aspects of our trip was saved, and we made many memories in the process. This is the thing about travel: it never happens exactly the way you want it, but make sure you take advantage of every opportunity before it slips through your grasp. It also helps to have a travel partner that possesses the qualities you may lack. Thanks Natalie!
Should you be staying in Japan for longer than we did, you should check out this 14 day Japan itinerary for places to visit and things to do.
Narita Travel Guide
Attractions in Narita
What We Did
We visited the Narita Tourist Pavilion to start our tour and tried on some traditional Kimonos. From there we walked with our guides and joined in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. It was a lovely glance at the traditional culture.
It is always nice to see a temple in each country you visit. This one was extremely peaceful. It is definitely one of our favorite temples we have visited for its serene grounds and gardens and lovely architecture. Nature intertwined with spiritual.
Probably the most interesting part was just walking the streets and seeing what was going on. We were able to see an eel get served up from being grabbed live out of a bucket to coming off of the grill. There were various shops and restaurants on the street leading up to Naritasan Shinshoji Temple that we enjoyed strolling by and walking in and out of.
What We Missed
Shimosa Ichinomiya Katori Shrine
Naritasan Museum of Calligraphy, Shibayama Kofun Haniwa Museum, and Museum of Aeronautical Science
After going through what we went through with the emergency landing and having to sleep in an airport, it may have been nice to visit a park and watched the planes come and go.
We got to see a wonderful temple. The next thing that could have followed that up would have been a shrine, and this would be the one to see while in Narita.
There are a few museums to choose from in Narita. The calligraphy museum caught my eye as I find that skill to be visually appealing and would love to see a museum dedicated to it. The Shibayama Kofun Haniwa Museum is dedicated to artifacts and archaelogical excavations of tombs which would be nice for any history buffs out there. It just makes sense that an airport city like Narita would have its own museum dedicated to aeronautical science. This seems to be the most visited museum including flight simulators and more. Unfortunately we are not museum people unless something really strikes our fancy, so we did not mind missing these.
Restaurants in Narita
What We Did
A Restaurant that Served Eel
We do not quite recall the name of the restaurant that we ate at. But the street leading up to the Naritasan Shinshoji Temple is lined with shops and restaurants that serve eel. Being that eel is the food that Narita is known for, it only makes sense to indulge in this while you are there.
Our tour was free with the Narita Transit Program. The train cost us 500 Yen each round trip, renting the kimono cost us 500 Yen each, and lunch cost us 1500 Yen each. In total, our trip cost us each 2500 Yen (the equivalent to $25 USD).
Getting Around Narita
Is there a more efficient and cost-effective way to get around Japan? The subway is the best way to get around by far. It cost us the equivalent to $5 USD for a round trip to and from the airport. You just cannot beat the price, especially when you are in a city for such a short amount of time.
We took the subway right from the airport and walked no more than one kilometer to get to the temple and various attractions we saw while in Narita.
Where to Stay in Narita
- We stayed in the airport. On the floor. Underneath the check-in counter. But we would not recommend this. When we arrived late at night we tried to find a place to stay, but they were all booked up. There was one place right near the airport where there was one room, or more so a pod, available for the night, but the air conditioning was not working at the time so we opted against it.
Sometimes your stay at a destination has less to do about the destination itself and more about the city. We found more than enough things to do in Narita, Japan, but it was more so about talking with our local tour guides that made our trip so memorable.
Going on a tour is not normally our thing to do when traveling, but the Narita Transit Program made it so easy and made it very personal for us as we were the only two on the tour with our two tour guides. We could not have asked for anything more from the program and our guides.
Traditions are an interesting part of a country’s culture. A strong enough tradition can become ingrained into the life of those it touches. With the help of the younger generations that follow, the hope is that these traditions will remain a piece of unforgotten history that gives the country its identity. During our impromptu trip to Narita, Japan, we were fortunate enough to partake in one of these traditions of Japanese culture. We learned proper Japanese tea ceremony etiquette.
Japanese Tea Ceremony Etiquette
Experience: Japanese Tea Ceremony
Where: Narita, Japan
Type: Traditional / Cultural
How: We were in Narita International Airport when we found Narita Transit Program, a free tour of certain areas in Narita. One of the options included a traditional tea ceremony.
Cost: The tea ceremony was free through the Narita Transit Program.
Duration: The tea ceremony itself lasted roughly 15 minutes.
Summary: While in Narita, Japan, we were fortunate enough to be able to be involved in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony.
The Japanese tea ceremony (‘Sado’ or ‘Canoyu’) is a particular way of drinking tea. The ceremony was first introduced to Japan by China. The tea ceremony first involved Buddhist priests, then Samurai, and finally spread to others around the country. Since its establishment in the sixteenth ceremony, the art of the tea ceremony has remained unchanged.
There is proper Japanese tea ceremony etiquette that must be learned and performed throughout the ceremony. Every motion is carefully completed. The number of steps, bringing out each piece one at a time, folding of the handkerchief, scooping of the hot water, pouring the water on the tea and stirring, handing out the tea, drinking, everything is a small piece to the tea ceremony.
We walked in to the small room where there were red mats on the ground where we should sit. Wearing our kimonos that we had just been fitted with, we were ready for the tea ceremony. However, I got told by the hostesses that my sword that was given to my by the people who fitted the kimono onto me was not allowed in the tea house. The tea house, I was told, is a place of peace. Off of the main room was a smaller room where the hostesses waited for us to sit. One hostess sat across from us, while our two tour guides sat next to us. The hostess explained what would happen as we watched the tea ceremony begin. The other two hostesses were moving around in the back room.
Out came one of them with a small cube of something red. It was explained to us as a small concentrated piece of bean paste that was meant to give us some sweetened taste in our mouths before having the bland taste of the green tea.
While slowly eating this cube, the hostess that was described as the teacher began bringing out each piece required to serve the tea, one at a time. Each foot step from the back room to the water being heated is counted, making sure the hostess only takes six steps. With all the required parts to serve the tea, the hostess begins her ceremony. She folds the handkerchief neatly in her hand and begins to ladle the hot water into the teacup or bowl (chawan) with the powdered green tea. She takes two ladles of the hot water and whips the ladle with the handkerchief. She then stirs the water and tea together, at which time the second hostess hands the tea cup or bowl to each guest.
When the bowl is handed, it is then important for the guest to know to bow to the hostess and how to properly drink the tea. The bow begins with your two hands making a triangle shape and bowing to the person giving you the drink. You then need to accept the teacup with your right hand and place it in the palm of your left hand. The teacup should then be rotated to show the design of the cup away from yourself, after which time you may begin to drink the tea. After drinking the tea, you then must whip the part of the teacup that your lips touched with the right hand and place it on the ground for the hostess.
From this point, you can inspect the cup without touching it to see the design. This is done by not touching the teacup because generally these are valuable cups and should be handled delicately. After the hostess takes the cup from you, you bow and the tea ceremony has been completed. Proper Japanese tea ceremony etiquette has been taught to us.
Our guides told us that in the past, the tea ceremony was not a place for a woman. Especially during the times when the Samurai warriors dominated the ceremony. Over time, the host became more common to be hostesses as it was the duty of a woman to serve the tea. In fact, being able to properly be a hostess in the tea ceremony is regarded as necessary in preparation for marriage. The tea house, as previously states, is a place of peace.
It is up to the new generation to hold on to the traditions of the previous generation. Hopefully these traditions, that are what we have come from and is a part of who we are, will never disappear from existence. We should hold on to them so we do not let them escape us. They are part of our culture and a sliver of history that can be kept alive, so long as we are willing to. The tea ceremony in Narita, Japan that we were fortunate enough to participate in is one of those traditions that have not disappeared. A short insight into the history and culture of Japan and learning proper Japanese tea ceremony etiquette was a great way to spend our short trip to the city.
To be able to participate in another people’s culture is very humbling. To be accepted as one in the same and to allow you to show you their customs is one of the main reasons we travel. We love to see the lives of others around the world, how they live, and to get to understand their ways of life. When we unexpectedly landed in Narita, Japan, our goal was to use the time we had to see as much of the city as we could. This led us to wearing a kimono, a traditional Japanese garment, while in Narita.
Wearing a Kimono
Experience: Wearing a Kimono in Narita, Japan
Where: Narita, Japan
How: We were in Narita International Airport when we found Narita Transit Program, a free tour of certain areas in Narita. One of the options included was wearing a kimono.
Cost: The cost of this was 500 Yen (approximately $5 USD) to donate towards the cleaning of the kimonos after being worn.
Duration: The tour lasted approximately 4 hours. Trying on the kimono and going to the Japanese tea ceremony took about 1.5 hours.
Summary: While in Narita, Japan, we took the opportunity to try on traditional Japanese outfits and enjoy a Japanese tea ceremony.
We were fortunate enough to find the perfect tour with a small group of volunteers that operated out of the airport. We chose a tour out of three options and within minutes, we set out with our two tour guides. The guided tour was free, though you are required to pay for the subway fare and lunch.
The first stop on our tour was a place where we could try on a Japanese kimono for a donation of 500 Yen (equivalent to about $5 USD). Unwilling to pass at an opportunity to really immerse ourselves in a culture, we accepted the offer to try on the kimono.
What is a kimono?
A kimono is a formal garment in Japan. They are long robes that fall to the ankles and are secured by a belt that is tied at the back. Kimono are worn to formal events including weddings and tea ceremonies.
We were led to the fitting room together where there were several different styles of kimono hanging up for us to choose from. After browsing through the different colors, we ultimately settled on the ones in the pictures. Having been forced to sleep in the airport the night before, it was evident that I was extremely smelly. The putrid smell of body odor from a full day and night’s sleep overwhelmed even me as I changed into the kimono. I was pleased with the ladies that fitted me and tied the belt around my waist that they were able to keep a smile on their face.
My belt was tied and I was handed a fake samurai sword to go with my outfit. Natalie was nearly prepared with two other ladies helping her get ready. When the process was complete, she was handed an umbrella to complete the look. We were ready for our photo shoot. While we had our tour guides snapping photos of us, many other people came by and complimented our look. We were thrilled with the way the kimonos fit and were ready to take part in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony.
If you are ever in Narita, Japan for some time, check out the Narita Transit Program booth in the airport for a free tour of the city. Spend some time and immerse yourself in the culture of Japan. Try wearing a kimono. This is what traveling is all about. Take your time to appreciate the little things and enjoy the moments while they last. Do not turn down an opportunity or let something slip through your hands.
Attraction: Naritasan Shinshoji Temple
Where: Narita, Japan
Type: Culture / Architecture
How: We went on a tour through the Narita Transit Program which is in the Narita airport. You can take a subway from the Narita train station to Keisei-Narita station. From there it is about a 5-10 minute walk.
Cost: Free entry onto the grounds of the temple.
Hours: 8AM – 4PM
Duration: Walking the grounds of the temple can easily consume 2 to 4 hours of your day depending on how many pictures you take and how long you look at things.
Summary: Our tour of Narita was concluded with a short walk through the grounds of the Naritasan Shinshoji Temple. The marvelous architecture of the structures throughout the temple grounds, and the natural feel of the temple, provide both a calming and relaxing environment.
Our tour of Narita, Japan had been highlighted by some unique experiences including sleeping overnight in an airport, trying on a kimono and going to a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. Our unplanned trip to the city began with an unexpected turn around mid-flight to Hawaii. It ended with us participating in a personal tour of a small section of the city and understanding what it is like to live within it. From great food to wonderful architecture, we were honored to be apart of something so special. Our tour was a culmination of Japanese culture which concluded with a tour of the temple grounds of Naritasan Shinshoji Temple.
After returning our kimono to the rental place, we walked further down the road past all of the souvenir and food vendors that line the street. We came to So-mon, The Main Gate. From here we entered the temple grounds. After the gate, we continued down a long rock path lined with sculpted pillars and lots of people. We came to a small man-made stream of water where people cleanse themselves using scoops of the water. The process included take a scoop of water using the ladle, pouring some of the water on your hands one at a time, and then tilting the ladle upright so it falls down the handle and back into the fountain.
Continuing to the stairs that brought us to the main temple, we realized a recurring theme with these temple grounds. The combination of Japanese architecture and nature was apparent throughout the grounds. From the small pools of water littered with turtles to the gardens behind the temple, there was no lack of nature throughout our time there. This nature friendly aspect creating a calming environment for visitors and locals alike. The presence of these creates a balance between building structures in an urban environment and preserving the land and natural life.
The ascent led us to a bridge where the small pools of water with the turtles were, as well as several shrines and tombstone-like stones protruded from the ground leading up the hills on either side of the next staircase. These, we were told, were dedicated to the people who helped build the temple. Finally after climbing the last and most steep set of stairs, we were met with the main temple grounds. With the temple in the background, we saw the three-storied pagoda, the burning incense, and all of the different Japanese temple structures.
After an uncertain and less than amusing beginning to our day, the temple grounds provided us with the relaxing environment that we needed to calm our nerves and prepare us for our continuing journey to the next country. The beautiful, complex, nature-friendly area was a genuinely nice place to ease our minds. It did help that after the entrance gate, there were much less people roaming the grounds. We followed our tour guides through the maze of buildings and to the entrance of the garden behind the temple. However, with a lack of time and needing to eat lunch before we left for the airport, we needed to move on from the temple. Still, we did not leave without having felt like we saw everything we needed to see.
The Naritisan Shinshoji Temple wrapped up our tour with the Narita Transit Program. After lunch in the city, we took the train back to the airport to catch our flight to Hawaii. We said our goodbyes to our incredibly warm and welcoming tour guides and resumed our next adventure on the Big Island.