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.
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).
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