On a recent trip to Asia, I decided to have a 12 hours layover in Narita to explore the city. Narita Airport is at least 40 minutes on a train from Tokyo while Narita city is only a 10 minutes train ride away. Narita city is not about the sights as there are few things to see. However the city boast an abundance of charm and a good way to observe everyday Japanese’s lives for a short duration. Narita is known for grilled eel or unagi and that is where my senses led me. I was fortunate to have a friend residing in Japan meet me in Narita for a short sight seeing break. This is the breakdown of my adventure in Narita.
I had Japan Airlines’ Sakura Lounge access so I was able to freshen up after a red eye flight and grab a quick bite in the lounge. I stored my luggage at the lounge but there are locker options at the arrival hall as well. You can inquire about the locker option at the information desk. Make sure you have your passport with you as you will need it to re-enter the airport. You will need to go through customs and exit the international airport. If you have a premium ticket, you will get to go through an expedited custom and passport line which makes the process much easier.
First, I withdrew some Japanese Yen as the train kiosk only accepts cash and most small vendors do not accept cards. I exchanged my USD currency at the kisok below on my way to the train terminal.
The best way to get to to Narita is to take the train. I looked for the signage for the Keisei Main Line and followed the signs.
I had some trouble buying my ticket at the machine for Narita but I was able to figure it out eventually. Tip: Look at the sign for Narita stop on the Keisei line and it will tell you how many Yen you need to put in the machine for the ticket. Japanese train ticket prices go by distance. The folks below are demonstrating that if all else fail, ask a fellow Japanese.
After I bought the ticket, I headed toward the gates which led to the train platform.
Once I arrived at the Keisei Narita station and met up with my friend, Joe, we made our way to Omotesando Street (the main street that runs through the town and takes you to the Naritasan temple).
It was a pleasant stroll down Omotesando Street and passing by local shops and people going about their day.
We passed numerous shops with mouthwatering snacks that tempted us to stop and sample the delicacies.
At the end of Omotesando, we arrived at the 1,000-year-old Naritasan temple. The temple complex is large but not unmanageable. We strolled around the temple, bought some prayers for our families as souvenirs and enjoyed the beautiful weather. Next to the temple is is Naritsan Park that would generally be filled with cherry blossoms or falling leaves.
Even around the temple, there were street food vendors that offered a variety of snacks.
After exploring the temple, we made our way back to Omotesando and toward the famous eel place. There are a few well known unagi places and you can see the preparation and grilling of the eel right on the street. You can not get eel fresher than that.
There were huge lines at the two famous unagi places. We ended up at Surugaya and had a 1.5 hour wait. We got a ticket for our place in line and headed to a nearby sushi place for the appetizers.
We made our way back to Surugaya after an hour only to miss our number. Apparently the wait was much shorter than what was indicated. Luckily for us, the hostess sat us anyway. As we made our way to the table, the smell of unagi started to make us hungry again.
After having the best unagi ever, we made our way back to the train station with 3 hours left before my flight departs for the US.
I was very happy to have a few hours in Narita and to sample a slice of Japanese life. If you have a few hours to spare while in Narita Airport, I highly recommend venturing into Narita city. Sometimes you just need a taste of fresh air and good Japanese food to get you through the next 14 hours on the plane.
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Author: Chau Hoang
Featured photo: The Long Trip Home blog