Narita Airport is the gateway to Japan, handling more international passenger traffic than any other airport in the country. It’s popular for its convenience, offering a host of domestic flight connections as well as public transport links (rail, bus etc) to Tokyo and other destinations in the capital area.
But take a closer look and you’ll find there are also many places in and around the Narita area where you can enjoy an authentic local historical or cultural experience, so it seems a pity just to pass through on your way to or from the airport.
In this article, we look at six destinations in three areas around Narita Airport, where you can try out special activities. Whether you decide to check into a hotel in Narita City and see them all, or take in just one on your way to the airport at the end of your tour of Japan, they are all easy to do as a day trip, by train or hired car.
Experience Japanese spirituality in Narita City
Highly recommended in the Narita area is Naritasan Shinshoji, one of Japan’s most visited places of worship. This historic Buddhist temple, popularly known just as “Naritasan”, was built in 940, but the daily Goma fire ritual still attracts a steady stream of worshippers from all over Japan.
The Goma ritual involves worshippers casting special sticks known as gomagi into a consecrated fire, so that their prayers may be granted. The ceremony is held five times daily on weekdays (or six times daily in May and September) and eight times or more daily at weekends (the exact number varies according to the time of year). As one of the most important Buddhist temples in Japan, where worshippers can pray for protection in the home and while travelling, among other things, and being so close to Narita Airport, Naritasan is a must-see. You should also make a point of visiting the main hall, which is designated as a National Treasure.
Situated just outside Narita Airport’s southeast perimeter, the Museum of Aeronautical Sciences is Japan’s first aviation museum, with something for everyone from plane enthusiasts to families with children. A key attraction is the opportunity to try out flight simulators once used in actual pilot training programmes. Choose from three routes, to Tokyo, Fukuoka or Shizuoka and back, and experience the thrill of being a pilot!
Other fascinating exhibits using parts of actual aircraft include a cross-section of a fuselage and a display of an engine showing its internal structure.
* Please note that, as of late March 2019, some parts of the museum are closed for renovation. Work is due to be completed around August 2019.
Enjoy a serene boat ride or ninja cosplay near Narita
Northeast of Narita is Katori, the “City of Water”, where you can enjoy a boat trip on the River Ono, whose banks are the first site in the Kanto region, including Tokyo, to have been designated as an Important Preservation District for Groups of Traditional Buildings. Enjoy the serenity of riding in a traditional sappa-sen boat, gazing up at a historic townscape that still recalls the days when goods and people travelled by water.
Sakae, west of Katori, offers the opportunity to create unique memories. At the Cosplay no Yakata (Cosplay Annex) in Boso no Mura theme park, which recreates a townscape of the Edo period, you can enjoy dressing up in ninja and samurai costumes. Specialist staff will help you put on the costumes, so you can have fun without the fuss!
A special attraction of the Sakae cosplay experience is that it isn’t limited to dressing up: you can also wear the costumes as you stroll around streets that feel as if you have stepped back into the days of the shoguns.
Savour dishes made with sake by-products, and walk in the footsteps of the samurai
Finally, we come to the area southwest of Narita City. Shisui Magariya is a café and restaurant in the town of Shisui operated by the Iinumahonke sake brewery, which was established more than 300 years ago. The menu offers a variety of dishes made with sake lees, rice malt and other by-products of the sake brewing process. Japanese sake is delicious on its own, but as it is created with food pairings in mind, why not enjoy it with a meal?
Around 30 minutes by train from Narita Airport, the castle town of Sakura is famed for its townscape, which retains a strong flavour of the Edo period and in 2016 was registered as a Japan Heritage site, under the title “An Edo Travelogue through Four Hokuso Cities — Reliving Edo in Hokuso’s Historical Districts”. Historic buildings including Sakura Castle and samurai houses, and streets of the Edo period can be seen around town.
One attraction of Sakura is the Samurai Walk experience. Visitors can enjoy dressing up as samurai, in haori jacket and hakama trousers, take a class in samurai etiquette or martial arts, and stroll around town in samurai costume. The path through the bamboo forest at Hiyokozaka is particularly evocative of the samurai era.
So as you can see, though Narita Airport is Japan’s biggest gateway to the world, it’s really a pity only to pass through the area on your way in or out of the country, as it’s filled with mementos of Japan’s historical and cultural heritage.
You can find information on other attractions on the Travel Guide Around Narita International Airport tourist information website. Whether you make it the purpose of your journey, or are just looking for somewhere to spend your transit time pleasantly, why not take a look around the Narita area?