If you have 2-3 hours before leaving from Tokyo or when you enjoy city living in Tokyo but miss green parks and nature or at least want to see an old Japanese town, Naritasan Park would fit in to such a short visit. Travellers coming to Narita International Airport should know that there is plenty more to see and experience just outside of the airport. Here’s a guide to visiting the Naritasan Park to ensure you don’t miss anything.
Naritasan Park covers a vast site (165,000 ㎡) and it is 3.5 times as big as the Tokyo Dome baseball stadium. You can enjoy nature in all seasons, but spring and autumn are recommended. If you are fed up crowds of worshipers and visitors to Naritasan Shinshoji Temple, you can simply step into deep Naritasan Park which is an incredibly peaceful place that is picturesque, laced with walking paths, trees, ponds and small waterfalls. This place is famous for flower viewing with plum and cherry blossom blooms in the spring. In autumn, the park is equally beautiful, with hundreds of different shades of yellow, orange and red.
Naritasan Shinshoji Temple
Naritasan Shinshoji Temple is located in the Naritasan Park. It was constructed in 940 and the present main temple was rebuilt in 1967. It has enshrined Fudomyo god carved by Kukai, one of the most important figures in Japan’s religious history. Kukai started one of the Buddhist sects in the early 9th century.During the Edo period, Shinshoji Temple held show events called unveiling of Fudomyo. The Fudomyo statue was carried to Edo city from Naritasan Shinshoji Temple and many people gathered to see it. Around the same era, the most popular Kabuki actor, Ichikawa Danjuro, played a role of Fudomyo at a play and the family has prospered with a strong devotion to the Shinshoji Temple up to the present day. You might have already visited Sensoji Temple and Zojoji Temple in Tokyo or are planning to visit and wonder why we should visit the Shinshoji Temple. Me too. I also had the same question. Shinshoji Temple is one of the most popular temples in Japan for lifetime events and ceremonies such as a wedding and Shichigosan, celebrations of the growth of children with milestones at ages of 3, 5 and 7 years. As it gets closer to New Year’s eve we hear lots of stories to promote Naritasan Shinshoji Temple. However, I had never visited there before. In early autumn, my family insisted on eating roasted chestnuts, so we visited Naritasan Park for the first time and I became convinced Naritasan Shinshoji Temple was the best experience near Narita International Airport. Temples, gardens, gift shops, Japanese traditional restaurants – all these are only minutes away from Narita International Airport.
Main Gate to The Main Hall
The main gate of the Shinshoji Temple is beautifully decorated. From the main gate there is a pathway lined with stone lanterns and a set of steep stairs up to the second gate. In front of you, you will see a large central wooden building and a wooden triple tower. I have visited several temples and shrines in Japan and compared to them, Naritasan Shinshoji Temple has an architecturally impressive main hall and a beautiful pagoda.My recommendation is to visit “Dakinitendo” called “Shusse” Inari Shrine (maps) located on the left side of the Shinshoji Temple. “Shusse” means moving up the career ladder. From the “Shusse” Inari Shrine, you can look out over the huge site of the Shinshoji Temple. Many of the temple and shrine traditions are passed down from the Kyoto area, so those who have already travelled to neighboring Kyoto will draw a number of similarities. Naritasan Shinshoji Temple is in contrast less busy and chaotic, with much of the site occupied by lower buildings. This is a great opportunity to travel to the countryside and enjoy a temple town at a slower pace.
A ten-minute stroll from the Main Hall is the Gakudo House, built in 1861, where people have dedicated a votive picture. People used to dedicate live stocks but later people have come to dedicate a wooden picture to wish for their good health and wealth. Kabuki actor Ichikawa Danjuro (the seventh) dedicated a stone statue and it has been placed in the Gakudo House.
My most favorite building is Komyo-do Hall, built in 1701, which enshrines three principal images of Buddhism. You can enter the building and worship them. Each statue and the building itself has intricate carving and peaceful expressions.
Omotesando main approach to Naritasan
Naritasan area has prospered as a temple town and one of attractions of the Naritasan area is the main approach to the Shinshoji Temple. It still has old and nostalgic landscaping and architecture that make the town beautiful. Take a stroll along the Omotesando street, extending about one kilometer, which is lined with restaurants and stores, selling traditional crafts and local specialties like roasted chestnuts, You can see Tsukudani pickles and souvenirs, many of which have been sold to temple worshipers and tourists for centuries.
The Narita area is a major residential town next to Tokyo, so there are various choices for sweet shops and Izakayas…Japanese style bars. The town scale is not large, which means that strolling is the best way to see around.
Kawatoyo: Unagi Eel Rice Bowl
Alongside the main approach there are a number of long-established unagi eel restaurants operated by local families. People used to catch eels at Inbanuma Swamp located near Mount Narita and they offered eel rice bowl as a local speciality to visitors. The landmark eel house, Kawatoyo Honten, is a popular stop for those eager to try grilled eel with its special sauce made from a secret recipe passed down through the generations. I have a strong prejudice and believe a myth: well known restaurants are sometimes disappointing as they serve only a small portion of Unagi eel at an expensive price. However, Kawatoyo serves a very decent amount at reasonable cost for its Unagi eel rice bowl. You can watch the chefs carving up the eels at the front table. In Japan, there is the expression, ”for the chefs to gain the skill, three years are needed for the skewering, eight years for the stripping, the whole life time for the broiling”. This saying figuratively describes the long training in order to acquire the cooking skills to make broiled eel. Especially, eel is difficult to grill with its fatty skin.
How to get there
It’s 10 minutes from Narita International Airport to the JR Narita and Keisei Narita Stations and from both stations it will take about 20 minutes on foot on Omotesando Street to the Naritasan Shinshoji Temple. You can deposit your heavy baggage at Narita International Airport or you can even choose to stay near the Narita Station more reasonably than staying in Tokyo. Naritasan Shinshoji Temple is open from 8:00 to 16:00, but you can enter to Naritasan Park after 16:00.
How long to stay
A visit to the Naritasan area is perfect for travelers with a long layover between flights, or for those who arrive at the airport in the evening who have 3-4 hours on hand and do not wish to make the hour-long journey into Tokyo straight after their flight.
The temple and the surrounding Omotesando Street is packed with crowds during festivals, events and in the autumn leaf and Cherry Blossom seasons. The rest of the year it remains more peaceful.
Chiba Prefecture flourished as a commune area and through supplying fresh produce such as meats, fish, vegetables, flowers and dairy products and now it has become a major economic area while retaining lots of nature. I sometimes enjoy meals at fancy restaurants and stay at luxury hotels with my family but don’t need to spend a lot of money. It requires only half of the budget as compared to visiting Kyoto.
The good places are sometimes unknown in Chiba Prefecture. It’s not as popular with visitors, as it really isn’t in a touristy area, but there is plenty of access to Chiba Prefecture by train and car. It’s also possible to take a ferry to and from Tokyo and from the other side of Tokyo Bay in Kanagawa Prefecture.