Gateway to Japan ~ Narita
Many years ago I lived in Narita City, famous for its centuries-old Naritasan Shinshoji Temple and narrow streets that are lined with traditional shops and restaurants in the style of Japan's Edo Period. Unfortunately most tourists arrive into Japan at Narita International Airport and transfer straight to Tokyo without even a sideways glance at Narita. However, schools on a budget need go no further than simply combining a visit to both traditional Narita and modern Tokyo. Naritasan Temple can be visited in an afternoon with buses and trains departing from Narita Airport. Better still, stay a few days in Narita and visit the many sights of Narita and the nearby towns. So, let me tell you about ‘My Narita’............
Narita International Airport has two train lines, JR Line and Keisei Line, with both stopping at Narita City - take care, however, as some of the express trains do not stop at Narita Station. Both train stations are close to the entrance of Omotesando Dori (表参道), with a large McDonalds Restaurant on the opposite corner of the street entrance. There are also airport buses to Narita plus most Narita Airport hotels offer regular, complimentary shuttle buses from their hotel to the Narita Station area.
Omotesando Dori is a wonderful, shop-filled, long and winding road that runs from the Narita Station area to Naritasan Temple. Omotesando is a common Japanese word for a path that leads to a temple or shrine and therefore the street leading to Naritasan is appropriately named. This Edo-period street is a walk back in time with a variety of traditional shops and restaurants. The most popular of these include unagi restaurants (grilled freshwater eel), yōkan (jellied Japanese dessert made of red bean paste), senbei rice crackers, sake and various pickled vegetables. Of course there is also a variety of traditional souvenir shops selling items such as fans, chopsticks, woven goods, happy coats and cotton yukata.
NARITA TOURIST PAVILION
Narita Tourist Pavilion (Narita Kankokan ~ 成田観光館) is approximately a 10-minute walk from the station area, situated on the left side of Omotosando Dori. The tourist information section is on the 1st floor with information available on the many tourist spots in Narita City and surrounding towns. The 2nd floor showcases a few of the magnificent floats used during the 300-year old Narita Gion Festival, celebrated each year in July. There is also an exhibition room on the 3rd floor displaying various traditional and historical exhibits.
A tea ceremony is held at the Tourist Pavilion each Thursday and tourist can experience this free of charge. Tel: 0476-24-3232
NARITA SHINSHŌJI TEMPLE
Located at the end of Omotesando Dori, Narita Shinshōji Temple is a Shingon Buddhist temple, known by locals as Naritasan. The temple deity is the Fire God, Fudo Myo-o, and the temple serves as a major centre of the Fudo religion. At New Year, from January 1st to January 3rd, approximately 3 million people visit the temple for the first New Year worship (Hatsumōde ~ 初詣). During the Setsubun Festival in February the temple is famous for sumo wrestlers and popular actors to appear and toss setusbun beans to the worshippers who come to the temple to pray and celebrate setsubun.
Naritasan was first established in the year 900. For over 600 years it was a humble temple until Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu moved Japan's capital to Edo (Tokyo) in 1603. The temple grew and buildings were gradually added. The first hall was built in 1701, the three-storied pagoda in 1712, the main gate in 1830 and more halls and pagodas followed over the years. Naritasan's buildings are now designated National Important Culture Buildings.
Naritasan Park was opened in 1928. The park is a sprawling woodland with winding paths, statues, a pagoda, a large ornamental lake, fountains and many other water features. The park holds a special place for me as this was my son’s favourite ‘playground’. On weekends we would ride our bicycles to the temple, bring dried rice to feed the pigeons and explore the park and temple buildings.
A daily tradition held since Narita-san Shinshoji Temple was founded is the Goma Fire ritual. Prayers are offered to call upon the temple’s main deity, the God of Fire, to grant worshipper’s wishes and protect them from bad luck. This ritual is held several times per day, lasts 20–30 minutes, and is free. Reservations are not required. The priests are dressed in colourful robes and can be photographed as they parade through the temple grounds and enter the main hall. Photography is not permitted during the ceremony in the Main Hall.
If required we can organise voluntary tour guides for our school groups.
NARITA MUSEUM OF AERONAUTICAL SCIENCES
Situated next to Narita Airport is the Museum of Aeronautical Sciences (Koku Kagaku Hakubutsukan 航空科学博物館). The museum offers a fun, hands-on experience providing a huge range of aircraft related experiences and airline realia.
There are exhibits both inside and outside. On the lawn in front of the museum are 15 small planes and helicopters where it is possible to climb aboard and enter the inside of many of these. Inside the exhibition halls are full size flight simulators, a library, an exhibition of uniforms, flight games and miniature models.
There is indoor observation deck on the fifth floor where you can watch the planes arriving and departing at Narita Airport in relative comfort. Another observation deck is outside, on the third floor, offering the full experience of powered flight, with planes roaring overhead just a few hundred metres away.
From the East Exit of JR Narita Station: Board a JR bus bound for the Museum of Aeronautical Sciences.
From inside Narita Airport:
Terminal 1: Take the bus from Bus Stop Number 30 on the First Floor.
Terminal 2: Take the bus from Bus Stop Number 5 or 14 on the Third Floor.
10 am - 5 pm (last entry at 4:30 pm)
Closed Mondays, except public holidays and mid-July to the end of August when the Museum is open every day.
Adults - 500 yen, Students - 300 yen, 4 years or younger - 200 yen.
NATIONAL MUSEUM OF JAPANESE HISTORY
The National Museum of Japanese History is commonly known in Japan as the Rekihaku (国立歴史民俗博物館), Another favourite of mine that I visited regularly with my children and then years later with Australian school groups. The museum is a modern museum divided into a number of levels and six galleries. Many of the exhibits have English explanations and hands on activities. The museum is situated in the grounds of the Sakura Castle Ruins Park. Only the footings of the castle remain however the grounds are vast and students can eat a picnic lunch in the grounds before or after visiting the museum. There is an authentic teahouse on the grounds where we can organise group participation in a tea ceremony.
Gallery One covers ancient times from when humans first appeared on the Japanese archipelago to the Jomon Period and on to the tenth century, when rice cultivation and aspects of medieval Japan were first seen.
Gallery Two explores Japanese culture and daily life between the late 8th and 16th centuries, spanning the Heian, Kamakura, Muromachi, and Azuchi-Momoyama periods. It focuses on the graceful aristocratic culture of the Heian court, the everyday lives of military families in the vicinities of Kamakura and Ichijodani and the world of commoners in which occupations of all kinds flourished. The gallery also gives attention to international relations with East Asia and to Japan's first encounter with the West.
Gallery Three showcases history from the late 1500s to mid 1800s. These centuries are known as the Edo Period because they coincide roughly with the rise of the military government of the Tokugawa Shogunate, which moved its headquarters, or bakufu, to Edo (modern-day Tokyo).
Gallery Four has exhibitions held under the theme of "Folk Cultures of the Japanese Archipelago". Exhibitions include food, religion, celebrations, festivals and nature throughout the centuries and throughout Japan from Hokkaido to the Okinawan Islands.
Gallery Five highlights the Meiji Period and Japan’s industrial age and modern development. The Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923 is featured as well as the immersion of modern entertainment and entertainment districts.
Gallery Six focuses on the period between the 1930s to the 1970s , including the significant changes that occurred in Japan during WW1 and WW2, post-war occupation and Japan’s emerging post-war lifestyle.