by Bryce Marley
It's most famous for being home of Japan's largest airport, although most visitors only see it through the airport, however Narita is a great place to escape the hustle and bustle of Tokyo for a day filled with history, temples, and culture, there is more to see in Narita than just the departure lounge or arrival hall.
Located just 60 kilometres out of central Tokyo, Narita is just a short train out of the city, but far enough out to feel like you have escaped the metropolis. Bonus, if you have a Japan Rail Pass you can take the Narita Express out to the airport and transfer to a local into Narita, fast and free.
Narita has a rich history dating back to 1408, due to it being located an equal distance from the pacific ocean and Tokyo bay, which made it the political and commercial center for the region. After the Meiji Restoration, the area was organised as a town under Inba District on April 1, 1889. The town become world known when the international airport was opened in 1978, taking the crown from Haneda airport as the busiest airport in Japan.
Now that we have that bit of history out of the way, let's look at what are the must-see's of Narita.
This buddhist temple is one of the larger in Japan and extremely popular, especially with its close proximity to the airport. It is one of the biggest attractions for people on a 4 or 5-hour stopover in Narita to escape the airport and catch a glimpse of Japan.
Naritasan Temple was founded back in 940AD (Yes, you can see some of the oldest temples you will ever see just minutes from the airport -- Japan is soaked in history). The temple grounds has a large complex of buildings that have expanded over the centuries. For buddhists, the main statue of the deity Fudo Myoo, known as the Unmovable Wisdom King, is who they worship at Nartiasan. It is said that the founder of the Shingon Sect, Kobo Dashi, carved the statue.
In the Naritasan Complex you will find many worship areas and historic buildings, it's a great place to come if you only have a few hours to see a traditional Japanese Buddhist Temple, and a must stop on a day trip to Narita. Here, you will find a three-story pagoda, the Great Pagoda of Peace, and the grounds also have a peaceful park with many Japanese elements, a tranquil space to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.
On the lead up to the temple grounds, you will find the Omotesando, the bustling street is filled with restaurants, and shops selling traditional foods and souvenirs, the street has been there for centuries now.
To get to Naritasan Temple from the Airport just take a train to Nartia Station from Narita Airport Terminal 2, it's the next stop. From there it's just a 15 minute walk. The Temple grounds are never closed and have no admission fee. For more information visit the official website of the temple here.
Boso no Mura is a unique open air museum that is like stepping back in time and seeing old Japan.
The museum has a variety of buildings from the Edo and Meiji periods of Japan, some of them have been moved there, preserved or recreated to the exact designs of the time, creating a life-size traditional Japanese village for you to explore.
The main attraction at Boso no Mura is the main street of the village, which is filled with traditional stores and buildings you would find back in the Edo and Meiji periods, however the huge site has more than just the main street. Explore farmhouses and see how they maintained crops and farmed animals back then. You can see a traditional kabuki stage, old schoolhouses and much more.
Many hands-on experiences can be tried at the museum, from taking a class on weaving traditional tatami mats, or perhaps a set of straw sandles. Learn to create traditional hairpins and beads, see how an ancient Japanese blacksmiths worked, even get in on some candle making, or a traditional Japanese ceramic class. If food is more your thing, you can learn how to make soba noodles here too.
Boso no Mura is easily a half day activity, and you may still not experience everything they have to offer. It's one of the most accurate representations of the Edo and Meiji periods, so much so that many Japanese television studios film Samurai dramas here due to the accuracy of the museum.
Boso no Mura is located about a 14km drive from Narita airport, and is accessible by train. Disembark at Ajiki Station then take the Chiba Kotsu bus to Bosa no Mura, where it will drop you off at the entrance. The museum is open daily from 9am to 4:30pm, and entrance is 300¥. for more information, visit their English website here.
This museum is government operated, and shows visitors the history of Japan and its people. The main exhibit, which is covered by your admission, spans over six galleries and covers all periods in Japan's rich history. From prehistoric times through Meiji and Edo, to modern Japan.
The displays show ancient artifacts and reproductions of various items throughout the times, all with English descriptions, and you can also grab a free audio guide in English from the front desk. The museum is a great digest of Japanese history condensed into one location, a literal walk through time.
Beyond the main exhibition is a seventh gallery that hosts revolving temporary exhibits. These require an additional admission fee, and usually aren't in English, so be sure to check if you will be able to understand the temporary exhibit before laying down some extra yen.
The Rekihaku is a great stop for anyone who loves a detailed historic museum, the museum prides itself on the depth of information they hold on all periods of Japan, and its fascinating collection of artifacts and artwork from the ages.
To get to the Rekihaku you can take the Keisei line from Narita Airport to Keisei Sakura Station, about 20 minutes. After disembarking at the station the museum is a 15 minute bus ride away. Admission to the museum is 420¥, and open every day except Monday and the new year holidays. For more information, visit their English website here.
Museum of Aeronautical Sciences
Being the nation's busiest and largest airport, it makes sense that this fascinating museum into flight is located in Narita!
The Museum of Aeronautical Sciences is located on the edge of Narita International Airport, just at the southern end of the main runway. Here you will find real aircraft on display, simulators to test your flying chops, and many other hands-on exhibitions.
Inside the main building of the museum, when you first enter, you will find it almost seems like a circular airplane hanger, due to its height. You will find historic planes, and larger components of modern aircraft, hanging from the room, you can even see how you measure up to the size of the landing gear of a 747 inside. Here is also where you will find the flight simulators where you can try to skill at piloting and landing many real life planes.
Once you have been through the inside section of the museum (it spans 5 floors), you can head out to the open yard and will find many more airplanes on display. Many of them can be entered, and a couple even have simulator experience built inside.
Throughout the museum you will find many observation decks that look out over the main runway to get right up close to the taking off and landing of the worlds biggest airplanes, the outdoor observation decks you will find filled with photography enthusiasts getting that sort after shot of an A380 or the latest 787 taking off. If you're also a fan of the many Japanese anime franchises, or Disneyland in Tokyo, this is the spot to get a great shot for the many Japanese airlines with decorated planes to Tokyo Disney Resort, Pokemon, Hello Kitty and more.
The Museum of Aeronautical Sciences is a must do for an aviation fan, or even anyone who is fascinated with flying in general. With many interactive exhibits and real aircraft to explore, it's a unique museum that looks at the more commercial side of aviation, where most aviation museums focus on the military around the world.
The Museum of Aeronautical Sciences is located right by Narita Airport, and has a bus shuttle that departs directly from the terminals. From terminal one, head to the first floor, bus stop 30, and from terminal two head to the third floor bus stop 5. The bus costs 200¥ and takes about 15 minutes to get you there. The museum is open everyday except Monday, and the new year holiday. Admission is 500¥. For more information visit the city of Narita's english website here.
Narita is a fantastic day trip to take from Tokyo, being just 90-minutes by train. Here whether your passion be history, technical, spiritual or cultural, you will find many attractions and temples that will fascinate you give you an experience you won't soon forget. All of the above attractions are also great for anyone who has a long stopover at Narita International Airport, who want to escape the airport, but not risk the time to get into Tokyo.