The town of Narita is probably best known for its airport, Narita International, where the majority of international flights arrive. However, that’s usually where the familiarity ends. Most travelers get on a train and head straight into bigger cities like Tokyo, without giving a second thought to the somewhat sleepy little town of Narita. But those travelers are missing out.
From relaxing local onsen and the peaceful grounds of Narita-san temple to a nationally renowned airplane museum and delicious international food, Narita has so much to offer.
Narita is the Gateway to Japan.
Narita is special to me because it was my first experience with Japan. I’ll admit that I first stayed there as a matter of practicality – to get over my jet lag – but I fell in love with the little town. Now I stay in Narita for a couple of nights on every trip (usually 2 nights, leaving on the 3rd day). I recommend Narita to travelers (particularly first-time travelers), because not only is Narita like the gateway to Japan (because it’s where you first enter the country), it is more traditional (and less westernized) than large cities like Tokyo, making it a more authentic introduction to Japanese culture.
One of the main features of Narita is the temple of Narita-san. This Shingon Buddhist temple was established in the year 940 (!!) and is well-known for its tranquil grounds. The temple is a great place to visit (especially when you’re jet lagged) because you can set your own pace. Be sure not to miss the gorgeous waterfall behind the main temple building (to me, the waterfall looks like something you would find in Lord of the Rings or some other fantasy world). There is also usually an outdoor market set up, where locals sell souvenirs, produce and hand-crafted goods (and you can find more shops and restaurants on the small but scenic shopping street located outside the main temple entrance).
If you just want to relax after your long journey, an onsen is a great choice. Onsen are public baths naturally heated by geothermal heat (in this case, volcanoes). The waters are rich with minerals and are believed to have healing powers. One of the most famous onsen in Narita is Yamato no Yu Spa. Despite its reputation, the onsen is usually not crowded (at least in my experience). Massages and facials are also available, making this a great place to unwind and get over jet lag.
Museum of Aeronautical Sciences
If low-key is not your style, head to Narita’s Museum of Aeronautical Science. Even if you’re not an aviation enthusiast, the museum is still worth a visit. They have cool interactive exhibits (like a flight simulator and a mock control tower) and a huge assortment of vintage planes, including Mitsubishi zeroes like the ones that kamikaze pilots used in WWII. The museum also features an observation deck that overlooks Narita Airport’s runways, providing great photo ops. (As a bonus, there is a shuttle bus that runs from Narita Airport Terminal 1 to the museum, which is a much cheaper option than a taxi).
Narita Has Great Local and International Food.
One of my favorite things to do while traveling internationally is to experience the food. While it may be a smaller town, Narita is no slouch when it comes to delicious cuisine (and it’s not all Japanese either – there are excellent international restaurants as well). Here are some of the best eateries Narita has to offer:
Hashira Deli and Cafe – More well-known for its incredible coffee (a must-try) and friendly atmosphere (making it an experience in itself), Hashira also has tasty lunch sets and delicious dessert options. As a bonus, meals are cheap.
Kawatoyo – If you want authentic Japanese fare, Kawatoyo is the place to go. This well-known spot serves unagi (eel) in a beautiful Japanese building surrounded by lush gardens. This spot is a little more pricey, but the experience is about as Japanese as it gets and the quality is excellent.
Ramen Bayashi – A great spot to get the famous Japanese dish, ramen. Ramen Bayashi is well-known for its delicious broth, perfectly steamed dumplings and cheap prices, so this spot is usually busy (especially with flight crews), but the wait is usually less than 10 minutes in my experience. The quirky decor is a bonus.
Sushi Kyotatsu – While this location is in Narita Airport, don’t let that deter you (because if you know Japan, you know that even train station food is usually excellent). At Sushi Kyotatsu, the sushi is extremely fresh and the service friendly. As a bonus, the sake menu is pretty extensive and prices are reasonable (with lunch being cheaper than dinner).
Teco Teco – If you want to try something other than Japanese food, try Teco Teco. They serve delicious Brazilian food in a low-key, comfortable atmosphere. While Teco Teco has other menu options, this is a great place to go if you’re craving steak.
Tonkatsu Tonkyu Narita Town – This popular spot serves another famous Japanese dish called tonkatsu, or, fried pork cutlet. The meat is cooked to perfection (in other words, crispy and not greasy) and portions are huge. They also have other menu options like curry rice or donburi (essentially a rice bowl with meat, egg and sauce).
Check out Narita on Your Next Trip.
So next time you head to Japan, instead of just passing through Narita, spend a couple of days. For a relaxing, low-key experience, check out Narita-san temple or Yamato no Yu Spa onsen. For a more lively experience, head to the Museum of Aeronautical Sciences and try some international food with a Japanese flair. Whatever your travel preferences, Narita is a great spot to fall in love with Japan.