Traveling Japan: Narita Omotesando and Shinsho-ji

When they built the Narita International Airport out in the Chiba Prefecture back in the 70s, the idea was to decongest the main Haneda airport in Tokyo and establish a more spacious, higher capacity, and cost efficient alternative to flying into the main Tokyo city area itself. Since then, it has become the primary gateway to Japan for most visitors, with convenient trains that take you right into the heart of Tokyo or wherever in Japan you might be aiming to go.

As a result of its positioning, this international hub is located out in a rather remote area of Japan’s main Honshu island, which means surrounding it are rather quaint countryside and suburban destinations. Everyone knows about Narita Airport, but few think about the Narita City housing said airport that has many quintessential traditional Japanese experiences just a short 20 minute train ride away.

This makes Narita City the perfect place to get a taste of authentic Japan during a long layover or as the relaxing start or end to your Japan adventures.

From either the Narita Airport Terminal 1 or Terminal 2/3, you can easily hop on a train heading towards either the Keisei-Narita Station or Narita Station. On foot, you can follow the path of the Naritasan Omotesando Street that is lined with shops, restaurants, and cafes for your shopping and snacking pleasure.

Though of course smaller in scale, it does offer a similar experience to that of wandering the streets of Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka in Kyoto near Kiyomizudera. In fact, I found a few of the same shops on this modest street that I had seen in Kyoto. A benefit that’s often not afforded in the more popular tourist streets is some peace and quiet. The Omotesando path here is usually not crowded, especially since a lot of travelers generally don’t know about this hidden gem.

Your destination at the end of this pleasant 10-15 minute stroll is the Naritasan Shinsho-ji, a thousand year old Buddhist temple embedded within the Naritasan Park. The sights at this surprisingly substantial compound is reminiscent of many great destinations around Japan.

The Three Story Pagoda is just as grand as similar structures in Kyoto’s Kiyomizudera and Fushimi Inari.

The front gate and main temple building has vibes very similar to the famed Nara Todaiji Temple.

The surrounding park area offers a full forest hike experience where you can immerse yourself in greenery, fresh air, and the sounds of leaves rustling and running water as you make your way from admiring one traditional temple structure to another. The ancient moss covered trees towering around can at times feel like the infamous yet mystical Aokigahara Forest at the foot of Mt. Fuji.

You can even enjoy the famed and iconic views of Japanese seasons here, including some splashes of sakura blossoms if you’re there for the hanami (flower viewing) spring season.

Aside from an optimal layover experience, there are many ways to really take advantage of this wonderful little destination so close to the major airport.

After a long flight, taking a moment to relax and recoup may be a preference for some, and there are plenty of hotel options right by the airport where you can settle for a moment and ease into all that Japan has to offer. Let me introduce a few that I’ve stayed at.

A bang-for-your-buck low cost lodgings option and unique Japan experience is a stay in the 9hrs Capsule Hotel right inside of Terminal 2 of Narita Airport itself. Though I would say the design is a little sparse and cold compared to some other capsule hotels I’ve been at, it simply does the job at a very affordable price for the extreme convenience of the location. The capsule bed itself is comfortable and spacious, and the facilities are very clean and functionally designed.

There’s plenty of helpful storage for your luggage. No eating or loud noises are allowed inside, so if you plan on catching up on some work on your laptop or need to eat a meal, drop off your stuff here and go out to browse the airport shopping mall.

Finding the place is a little tricky, but easy general directions include heading to the Terminal 2 train station and then go past it, following the 9hrs signs to a dedicated escalators up to the entrance–ask information desk for help if you need it.

The Narita Hilton is a basic mid to upper tier stay, a place of some old grandeur but definitely past its heyday. Nevertheless, it’s comfortable and convenient with a 7-Eleven inside, gym and pool with exercise equipment for rent, and in-hotel dining available. It is outside of the airport grounds, but there is an hourly tram that takes people back and forth from the hotel to all the terminals.

The Narita Airport Rest House is definitely an older establishment that hasn’t been updated and may be too worn down for many visitors, giving off a bit of an old motel vibe, but it is clean and rather spacious considering it is right on the airport grounds itself. There is a restaurant on site with pretty basic fare and plenty of vending machines for snacks, drinks, and ice cream. This is a good option for those who want the convenience of being right at the airport but having a full room instead of a capsule to settle in for the night. 9hrs capsules would probably be hard for a family, so the Narita Airport Rest House may be the best option.

More often than not, people who come for a vacation in Japan probably want to hit the ground running and get to those big attractions right away. For these travelers, Narita City might be a perfect way to end the trip on a relax-and-recovery note, conveniently near the airport so that there’s not the stress of trying to make your flight from a long commute (take it from someone who took the wrong train once on the day of a flight out of Narita).

Check into the nearby hotel of your choice the day before your flight and train over to that Narita old town shopping street for a meal, then walk off those calories with a refreshing stroll through the temple and park grounds. Any spare time you have can be spent shopping like a local at the Aeon Mall by the train station or enjoy browsing the wide variety of international shops in Narita Airpot itself–it’s a great mini-vacation to top off your Japan experience before heading back home.

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