Just Me in Japan – Narita


Wednesday 28 November 2012


This morning I’m back on the Narita Express, heading back towards the airport ready for my departure tomorrow morning. But rather than just stay the night, I thought I might head to Narita early so I can check out some of the sights, namely the Naritasan Temple and Park.

I arrive at the Narita Hilton, and although check in is not until 3pm, my room is ready, which is great because it gives me a chance to drop off my stuff and freshen up.  The room is large and looks really nice – and the bed looks super comfy.  I can’t wait to stretch out in it tonight.  But for now, there’s Narita to explore, so I head downstairs and board the shuttle bus to Narita.




Hilton Narita



The guide books don’t say much about Narita. I guess many people don’t bother spending time here, rather using it as a transit point for incoming and outgoing flights. And to be honest it’s not really a pretty town, until you get to the temple grounds.

It’s a miserable day today, extremely cold – 7.6 degrees upon arrival at Narita, and just as I board the shuttle bus, it starts to rain and pretty much doesn’t stop for the rest of the afternoon.  It’s amazing how rain can make a day feel miserable and set the tone for your first impressions of a place.  I recall on my last trip to Japan, arriving in Kyoto in the rain, trailing my luggage behind me, arriving at the hotel like a soaked rat – our hotel and the city itself felt crappy and grey.  Yet, I’m sure if I had arrived in the sunshine, I would have got a totally different impression.  So I’m really glad I got the opportunity to give Kyoto another go!

The town’s centrepiece is the impressive temple. The temple was founded in the 10th century. A broad variety of temple buildings stand on the spacious grounds of Naritasan, including the temple’s new and former main halls, a three storied pagoda and a huge Tahoto style pagoda, named the Great Pagoda of Peace.

Look how hard it’s raining!
The Goma rite is the most important of the services conducted in Naritasan Shinshoji Temple, a temple of Shingon Esoteric Buddhism. It is conducted several times every day and anybody can attend. The Goma rite is a mysterious temple service in which we pray to Fudomyoo, the main deity of Naritasan Temple, for the fulfillment of our wishes.  A chief priest burns Goma sticks with various burnt offerings, The fire, a symbol of the wisdom of Fudomyoo, extinguishes our earthly passions, which are symbolized by the sticks, and brings us to a higher state of mind to win the virtues and favors of Fudomyoo.  Fudomyoo, one of the popular Buddhist deities, is fierce-looking and wreathed in flames with a sword and a rope in his hands. The sword cuts away hindrances of passion and false knowledge, and the rope is used to draw in beings to Enlightenment. To demons he is terror, but to the faithful he is the remover of anxieties, banisher of evil and savior from oppression. Fudomyoo of Naritasan Temple has been worshiped by numerous people from all over the country for a long time.

Temple fairs are held on the 1st, 15th, and 28th of each month – but it looks like todays fair has been rained out, which is a shame. It would have made for a more lively visit.

On the grounds, is a stunning park – Naritasan Park. The park grounds are at the base of a Calligraphy Museum.  At present, the gardens are bathed in autumn colours and there are vibrant splashes of red, orange and yellow all over the place. Kyoto may have had more red koyo (autumn leaves) but Narita wins for orange!   The garden incorporates both traditional Japanese and European elements. It’s a shame it’s raining, but I still couldn’t think of a nicer place to spend the afternoon.  Though it would have been nice to spend longer here, the rain kind of takes the enjoyment out of it.  I take as many photos as I can (not more photos of leaves Michelle, I hear you scream!), but it’s difficult tryinig to hold the umbrella under my chin and take photos which are straight and not get my camera wet.  I’m obviously not the multi-tasking pro I thought I was!    


Heading down the steps of the temple grounds, my umbrella flies out of my hands and races off down the steps, narrowly missing a mother and her small child – oops!  I grab the umbrella back into my control and regain my dignity before leaving the temple grounds.




Part of the fun of visiting Naritasan is its store lined approach, the Omotesando. Stretching over the entire one kilometer distance from the railway stations to the temple, Naritasan’s Omotesando is a lively street lined by numerous restaurants and stores, that have been selling traditional crafts, foods and souvenirs to pilgrims and tourists for centuries.






I buy a couple of local snacks to try. One is called Taiyaki. It’s a delicious snack that is shaped like a cute little fish and filled with sweet Azuki red bean paste. It is very sweet, but the pastry breaks up the sweetness a little. Another is a peanut shaped sweet, called Peanuts Monaka, which is made from Chiba’s renowed peanuts, ground into a sweeet paste and in the shape of a peanut. This is also nice. But nicest of all is a ganache/cake type chocolate bar which is divine.

Unagi (eel) is the speciality dish of Narita and it would have been great to have a bowl of it with some rice, but I was full and looking forward to dinner tonight.  Besides I have tried Unagi before anyway, so there was no challenge there!

There doesn’t seem to be much more to do here in Narita for the limited time I have left this afternoon. If I had another day, there are quite a few things to do around the area, but I’ll leave Narita with the memory of those beautiful colours.

I grab the shuttle bus back to the hotel and settle in for an evening of room service and blogging. I’m going to be sad to leave Japan. I’ve seen so much more of it this time, but it’s just made me realise there’s soooo much of it left to see. One thing is for sure, I will be back – definitely.

Surrounded by Sakura

I last visited Japan in April 2010 to fulfil my birthday wish of “wanting to be surrounded by cherry blossoms” (oh, dear Aries child!). Thankfully my Mum indulged me and luckily she had always wanted to visit Japan.

All the reports indicated it was going to be an early cherry blossom season that year. Meaning March. Meaning they would be gone when I got there in around the 9th of April. As we flew into Narita, there were a few cherry blossom trees dotting the landscape, and I thought to myself, well at least you’ve seen a few from the plane, but that’s probably all you’ll see. Oh well, you’ll still have a fantastic time.

But as the train rushed toward Tokyo, there were more trees dotting the landscape, and we could even see them outside our hotel window. How lucky!

Our first day there though, we decided to take a train ride to Yanaka for a quick wander around. And I can’t describe what I felt when we got there and the place was just covered with cherry blossom trees. Yanaka cemetary could only be described as exactly the kind of place I would want to be buried -the place was not only covered by cherry blossom trees, with their petals gently wafting down through the breeze, but there flower beds filled with pansies, cats and dogs running around and people picnicking! It was such a happy place!  We ended up spending a lot more time here than we thought we would.

The cherry blossoms were everywhere, but that wasn’t all this trip had in store for us. When we arrived in Takayama, it was cold. No, actually it was freezing. We had on about four or five layers of clothing on! And the next morning, we found out why. I woke up on my birthday to see out my window, not cherry blossoms, but snow! I had never seen snow in my life and certainly wasn’t expecting it in ‘light jacket wearing’ spring!

The trip was awesome. We saw Tokyo, Kyoto, Takayama, Nagoya and Osaka. We saw snow, cherry blossoms, the Spring Matsuri and perfectly packaged strawberries and apples. We saw strawberry shortcake in Harajuku and geisha in Gion. But we didn’t see Mt Fuji (we tried, but she was hiding in 10 degree cold, rain and fog). We ate sakura flavoured icecream and octopus balls. We went white water rafting in Arashiyama. The experience was awesome. The people were so friendly and helpful.

And it was this experience that makes me think, yep, I can do this trip. by myself. And if I can’t do it in Japan, then there’s no hope for me!

Shinkansen, Geisha & Me

Flights? Check! Accommodation in Narita for my first night? Check! Accommodation in Kyoto?  Check!  Accommodation in Tokyo? Check (red light district seems suitable for a single female traveller – right???).

It’s all coming together. I know what I want to do and where I want to stay.  But I’ve never travelled by myself and I am freaking out!

I will arrive in Japan on the late afternoon of 21 November, so I’m not even going to chance getting on the trains. Instead I’ve opted to spend the night in Narita near the airport at the Holiday Inn Tobu Narita. Next morning I’ll go back to the airport, sort out my trains and head to Kyoto.

In Kyoto I’ll stay as near to Gion as possible (or rather as I can afford!).  I’ll be there for three nights and was thinking about doing a day trip to Hiroshima and Miyajima, but there seems to be so much in town I didn’t see on my last trip that I might just hang around Kyoto and explore it properly. I’d like to do an afternoon trip to Nara though, and would love to head back to Arashiyama to see what flavour ice cream is on the menu for Autumn (in Spring it was Sakura which was DIVINE!).

Then I’ll get back on the train and spend three nights in Tokyo. I’m booked in at the Best Western Astina Shinjuku, which is where I stayed with Mum on my last visit in April 2010.  Even though it’s in Kabukicho, it’s not too far from Shinjuku Station, there was lots of shopping and dining, and the hotel itself was wonderful. So it’ll be familiar to say the least…I’ll just have to keep away from the hustlers!

I didn’t get to visit Golden Gai either on my last trip, so I’ve found a tour company that does a night time tour of Tokyo, taking in Shibuya and Shinjuku, and of course Golden Gai.  I also want to do a day trip out to Nikko, which I believe is gorgeous in Autumn.  I’ve also booked a “Dynamic Tokyo Tour” that visits quite a few sights (some which I did see last time, but most that I didn’t get around to) and includes a barbecue lunch and a boat ride along the Sumida River. Apart from that, I want to do more shopping, hopefully pick up some of those divine, individually packaged strawberries from Isetan again and hopefully get to Yoyogi Park to do some people watching.

Then back on the train to stay another night in Narita. I’ll have about half a day to explore Narita, which a lot of people probably bypass.  There’s a lovely temple and park there, which will be interesting to check out.  Then I’ll be hopping on a plane home!  Easy!  Surely!

So 8 months to go, and I am so excited…