Giant lantern (chochin) at the Niomon gate

Japan: Narita City

When you say Narita, most people outside of Japan will tell you that it is an airport in Japan, and this is partially true given that NRT is the arrival point for a majority of the foreign visitors to Japan.  However, the city of Narita has a far more interesting history than merely being the site of Japan’s major airport.

There is evidence that the area around present-day Narita has been inhabited since the Japanese Paleolithic period. Archaeologists have found stone tools dating back to 30,000 years ago on the site of Narita Airport.  Subsequently, Narita’s location  half way between the Pacific Ocean and Tokyo Bay, contributed to its development as a natural political and commercial center, gaining importance as a pilgrimage destination with the foundation of the famous of Shinshoji temple in 940 AD.

The Allied air raids destroyed portions of Narita in 1945 and it wasn’t until 1966 after the plans were laid out for the Narita International Airport that growth of the town began in earnest. The development of the airport and accompanying access to central Tokyo led to widespread residential, commercial and industrial development in the city. However, construction of the airport was widely opposed, and violent demonstrations occurred through the end of the 1960s and early 1970s, which delayed the opening of the airport until May 20, 1978.

Today, the town of Narita  is a major congregation point for airline staff with its  quaint winding old streets lined with old wooden shops. The pace of life here is dramatically different than that of nearby Tokyo and much more relaxed.

Naritasan Sando, street leading to temple

Naritasan Sando, street leading to temple

Naritasan Sando, street leading to temple-2

One of the many shops lining the streets of Narita City

One of the many shops lining the streets of Narita City

Naritasan-4

The maneki-neko ('beckoning cat') is a  Japanese lucky charm usually displayed at the entrance of shops, restaurants, pachinko parlors, and other businesses.

The maneki-neko (‘beckoning cat’) is a Japanese lucky charm usually displayed at the entrance of shops, restaurants, pachinko parlors, and other businesses.

It is common for restaurants in Japan to display models of the dishes they serve outside of their establishments.

It is common for restaurants in Japan to display models of the dishes they serve outside of their establishments.

Carp cooked in miso and sugar soup base

Carp cooked in miso and sugar soup base

Preparing unagi (eel) for cooking

Preparing unagi (eel) for cooking

Japanese restaurants and bars offer their patrons an oshibori ( hot or cold wet hand towel) before the meal is served.

Japanese restaurants and bars offer their patrons an oshibori ( hot or cold wet hand towel) before the meal is served.

Grilled unagi (eel)

Grilled unagi (eel)

The easiest way to access Narita City from Narita Airport is by using the Narita City Loop Bus (Retro Bus), the tourist bus service operated by Narita City. There are seven daily trips from JR Narita station, stopping at major locations within the city (including the International Cultural Center, AEON Narita Shopping Center and Shinsoji Temple), as well as both terminals of Narita Airport.

Narita-san Shinshoji, founded in 940 AD, is one of the best-known temples in the Kanto region.   The temple was established to commemorate the victory of the forces over the rebellious Kanto region samurai. The temple’s  Main Hall houses the image of the Fudomyo-o (the fire god) which legend states was carried into battle by the forces dispatched to crush the samurai.  Thus the temple was named, “Shinshoji” which translates to “New Victory Temple.”

The temple is the site for many large annual celebrations throughout the year and attracts over 10 million visitors a year.  On January 7th, for instance, students preparing for entrance examination go to Naritasan to get a stamp of the Fudomyo-o on their foreheads. The stamp is said to bring intellectual success and good health.

As the name Naritasan (meaning mountain) implies, the Naritasan Shinshoji temple is located on top of the hill.  The woodland area behind the Main Hall is known as Naritasan koen (Naritasan park).  Opened in  1928 the park covers an area of 165,000 sq. meters and offers various walking paths and ponds surrounded by plum and cherry trees. Also within and near the park are the Naritasan calligraphy museum (Naritasan shodo bijutsukan), the Naritasan Reiko-kan museum (Naritasan Reiko-kan) and the Naritasan Library of Buddhism (Naritasan bukkyo toshokan).

Temple entrance

Temple entrance

Entrance-2

Entrance-1

Entrance-3

Temple gate guardians

Temple gate guardians

Temple-18

Main Hall

Main Hall

Inside the temple

Inside the temple

Temple-9

Temple-8

Temple-16

The three-storied pagoda designated as a National Treasure

The three-storied pagoda designated as a National Treasure

Three-storied pagoda, a national treasure-3

Temple-22

Temple-23

Temple-4

Pond where turtles rest atop a turtle shaped rock

Pond where turtles rest atop a turtle shaped rock

Turtles on rocks shaped like a turtle

The Issai-kyodo

The Issai-kyodo

Niomon Gate

Niomon Gate

Giant lantern (chochin) at the Niomon gate

Giant lantern (chochin) at the Niomon gate

Niomon Gate, looking up from the Entrance

One of the many shops lining the streets leading to the temple

One of the many shops lining the streets leading to the temple

Temple souvenir shop

Temple souvenir shop

Giant waraji (shoes woven from the rice plant)

Giant waraji (shoes woven from the rice plant)

Rather than spending your long layover inside of the airport, venture out to Narita City and enjoy all that it has to offer.

Photo credits: Shoichi Ogiwara

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s