Narita – not just an airport…

Well readers, I have almost caught up with writing about my final Tokyo-area trip. On April 21st, I woke up with a heavy heart because it was my last full day in Japan. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

Due to flight times, and worrying about earthquakes/blackouts etc, I decided it was probably best if I spent the day based in Narita. So I headed over to my airport hotel first. I was staying at Toyoko Inn Narita Kuko, which wasn’t too hard to get to (once I’d found my way out of the airport!). They actually have a free shuttle bus, but it was the wrong time of the day to use it, so I took a taxi. When I got to the hotel I got the impression that people don’t usually leave their bags there and go back out again, as the staff seemed quite surprised when I said that was what I intended to do.

I had heard many times about Narita-san Shinsho-ji, a famous temple in Narita, and I decided it would be a fitting end to my time in Japan to squeeze in just one more temple…

I went back to the airport to catch the train to Narita. It wasn’t the best weather, but I was determined to have a good day and see as much as I could. When I reached Narita and the approach to Narita-san, I was surprised to find it was really quiet. There didn’t seem to be any tourists there at all.

Narita

The approach to Narita-san is lined with interesting shops and restaurants, and I spotted a few curious statues along the way…

Statues

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Indian restaurant

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Takajo Mitsuhashi, Haiku poet

This last one is Takajo Mitsuhashiย โ€“ a fellow female haiku poet, who was born in Narita City!

The nearer you get to Narita-san, the more old-fashioned everything becomes. I love these traditional temple approaches.

Narita

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Maneki Neko

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Souvenir shop

The entrance to the temple is marked with this huge gate:

Narita-san Shinsho-ji

Once you pass through the gate, you can see rows of stone lanterns, which lead towards another gate:

Narita-san Shinsho-ji

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Narita-san Shinsho-ji

There are a lot of statues and things to look at as you pass through this gate and beyond, so don’t rush. Have a good look around before you go up to the main temple buildings.

Narita-san Shinsho-ji

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Narita-san Shinsho-ji

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Narita-san Shinsho-ji

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Narita-san Shinsho-ji

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Narita-san Shinsho-ji

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Narita-san Shinsho-ji

The main temple building is in a large space:

Narita-san Shinsho-ji
One of the main attractions at Narita-san is this three-storied pagoda, built in 1712:

Narita-san Shinsho-ji

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Narita-san Shinsho-ji

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Narita-san Shinsho-ji
Isn’t it beautiful?

Narita-san Shinsho-ji

Just as I was beginning to look around, I struck it lucky. I was approached by one of the temple’s free English-speaking tour guides, and he offered me a free tour. He seemed to be delighted to see a tourist, and said he hadn’t been very busy recently.

Free English tour guide at Narita-san Shinsho-ji

He was such a nice, friendly guy, and very informative. His English was great, and we also spoke a little Japanese for fun. He was so enthusiastic about his job, and seemed genuinely pleased to explain things to me. He showed me that some of the areas of the temple were closed off because of earthquake damage…

Narita-san Shinsho-ji
…and I asked him why the pagoda hadn’t fallen down. He explained about the amazing way pagodas are built, using a technique which is also used when building towers like the Tokyo Sky Tree. I found this interesting article which explains it all much better than I could, but basically it’s all down to the “shinbashira” or “central pillar”. Fascinating!

I wish I could remember all the interesting things the tour guide told me as we walked around the temple grounds, but it was over a month ago now and I didn’t take any notes. You’ll just have to go there and ask him for a free tour yourself! ๐Ÿ˜‰

One of the great things about having a solo guided tour was that the guide let me take photos where I probably shouldn’t have. When I explained how much I wanted to encourage people to visit Narita-san, and asked if I might be allowed to take some photos of the ornate statues inside buildings, he said “there’s no one looking, why not”. Of course, taking photos outside is always allowed.

Narita-san Shinsho-ji

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Narita-san Shinsho-ji

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Narita-san Shinsho-ji

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Narita-san Shinsho-ji

You can see that this next building, the Great Pagoda of Peace, was under construction. This was due to earthquake damage, but everything inside seemed fine.

Narita-san Shinsho-ji

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Narita-san Shinsho-ji

(Of course, I shouldn’t have even taken this photo, so I wasn’t as cheeky as to use a flash.)

Narita-san Shinsho-ji

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Narita-san Shinsho-ji

This building, Shotokutaishido Hall, was built in 1992 with the hope of realising world peace:

Narita-san Shinsho-ji

Around the grounds of Narita-san there are a lot of really interesting statues. I could have spent hours there, but it was difficult to stop for too long when being guided. I did hang around a bit after my tour, but it was getting close to closing time and I got the feeling I was pretty much the only tourist there!

Narita-san Shinsho-ji

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Narita-san Shinsho-ji

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Narita-san Shinsho-ji

Can you spot all the statues hidden up there? I almost didn’t at first!

As we came back around to the front of the main hall, we were lucky enough to see a procession of important monks entering the temple.

Narita-san Shinsho-ji

At Narita-san, there is a daily “goma” (sacred fire rite), and that is what the head monk was on his way to do. You can see more information about “goma” on the official Narita-san website (in English). In the ceremony, votive offerings are written on and dedicated to Fudomyoo. These wooden sticks are then burnt, and this is supposed to extinguish earthly passions. According to the website, “Fudomyoo, one of the popular Buddhist deities, is fierce-looking and wreathed in flames with a sword and a rope in his hands. The sword cuts away hindrances of passion and false knowledge, and the rope is used to draw in beings to Enlightenment. To demons he is terror, but to the faithful he is the remover of anxieties, banisher of evil and savior from oppression.“.

After one more lap around the temple on my own, I managed to catch the procession of monks on their way out:

Narita-san Shinsho-ji

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Narita-san Shinsho-ji

When I exited the temple grounds, I did a stupid thing which turned out to be quite fortunate – I went the wrong way.

Narita-san Shinsho-ji

I’ve never had a particularly good sense of direction, and I just forgot which way I’d come and started walking in the opposite direction. I got really excited when I spotted a takoyaki shop which I, a-hem, hadn’t seen on the way to the temple…

Takoyaki!

I almost never stop at these kind of places on my own, but I decided it was time I treated myself to a “last supper”, and takoyaki is something I can never resist.

Takoyaki!

Once the guy in the shop realised I could speak some Japanese, he was so nice to me and we chatted for a while. He told me how bad business had been since the earthquake, and how some shop-keepers were thinking about closing up. Even though he was about to close for the day, he stayed open to serve me, and even gave me some snacks to take home as a souvenir. I told him I would tell everyone who visited Narita-san to check out his shop – so please do! The takoyaki was delicious, and the service excellent! (Just exit the temple by the big gate at the beginning of this post, and walk away from the station.)

It was only around 4pm as I eventually found my way (thanks to the takoyaki guy!) and started to walk back to the station, but the town was dead. There were no tourists to be seen, and the shops were all closing up. I know the weather might have been partly to blame, and it was a weekday, but I think the main reason why it was so quiet was earthquake-related.

Well, hopefully enough time has passed now and people are starting to visit again. But if you’re reading this and hesitating, listen up. Narita is perfectly safe, and a wonderful place to visit if you have a little time in the Narita area. Maybe you have a stop-over or, like me, you just want to get to the airport a bit early. Whatever your situation is, if you have time, pay a visit to Narita-san and buy a few souvenirs along the way. People’s livelihoods depend on it.

You can see all the photos I took that day on Flickr as usual.

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This post is an entry to this week’s Show Me Japan. Don’t forget to check out all the other entries! ๐Ÿ™‚

9 thoughts on “Narita – not just an airport…

  1. Pingback: Mandarin Reflections - Asia Part 10: Last Day in Japan

  2. I remember taking the train from Narita Airport to Tokyo, if Iโ€™m not mistaken it was the Keisei Main Line and I transferred at Aoto Station because I had to go to my hostel in Asakusabashi.
    Anyway, I was sitting on the train soon after we left the airport, the happiest Iโ€™ve ever been to finally be in Japan, and suddenly I saw a brilliant pagoda zooming past the window. That was the first temple Iโ€™d ever seen! The image of the pagoda is stuck in my mind.
    Now that Iโ€™m going to Japan again I might be lucky enough to have some spare hours before catching my flight to Hiroshima Airport so I hope to go to Narita and see that pagoda I love so much.
    Thanks for writing this!

    Like

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