Imagine you’ve just arrived at Narita Airport. You may be craving a rest, just a slice of the exotic and traditional side of Japan, before heading to the center of Tokyo to experience the headrush that is modern Japan. If that describes you, there’s no better place to satisfy your craving than Narita-san (literally, “Narita Mountain”). Narita-san is conveniently located at the Narita Station train stop—it’s not as confusing as it sounds and is very close to the airport! After arriving at the station, just follow the crowd of tourists up the gradually-sloping road—and enter another world.
Autumn leaves at Narita-sanphoto by doronko on Flickr
Japan’s greatest temples and parks are said to be in Kyoto, but having lived in Kyoto myself, I can safely say that Narita-san Park should also be in the running. As you can see, the grounds are incredible. Make sure to take a picture at the gazebo if you get a chance—It’ll be your personal “Memoirs of a Geisha” moment.
Narita-san park stairway to coolnessPhoto by shizuka42sama on Flickr
Narita-san park (gazebo) view, aka picture-taker’s paradisephoto by shizuka42sama on Flickr
Aside from scenic views, the park is filled with little delights (Ha! See what I did there?) that will pop into view if you know what to look for. I would recommend scouting for lanterns, which can be seen hanging from ceilings and walls in myriad shapes and sizes.
A single awesome lantern inside…photo by Ruth and Dave on Flickr
And many more Lanterns outside!photo by jeremydeades on Flickr
The Great Peace Pagoda
Caught up in the wonder of the grounds themselves, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that Narita-san’s temples are still places of worship. If you’re interested in Japan’s Buddhist roots, you should definitely check out the Great Peace Pagoda for yourself! While there, guests are welcome to partake in many of the common rituals, such as washing your hands in purifying water, or even hanging a “prayer plaque” on the temple wall in hopes that the local deities will make your wish come true! I’ve seen some prayers written in English, so I guess the gods really aren’t picky about language. Whoever you are, though, be aware that prayer plaques do cost a bit of money. Maybe it’s worth it just to make yourself heard on the ancient Japanese version of Facebook.
Great Peace Pagoda wide viewphoto by shizuka42sama on Flickr
Peace-pagoda holy-water/purification platformphoto by shizuka42sama on Flickr
Prayer Plaquesphoto by Ruth and Dave on Flickr
For old architecture fiends, there are nooks and crannies galore, including a three-story pagoda with a very, very modern looking antenna-thing at the top. My friends all assure me that the monks aren’t gorging on cable TV up there, but I’m still skeptical. Moving closer to the pagoda, you can see the awesome attention to detail that makes it a magnet for tourists, devotees, and shutterbugs alike.
Three-story pagoda, full viewphoto by shizuka42sama on Flickr
Three-story pagoda, pillar detailphoto by shizuka42sama on Flickr
Three-story pagoda, roof and ceiling detailphoto by shizuka42sama on Flickr
There is much more to see and do in Narita-san, including eating, souvenir-hunting, and participating in the many traditional year-round festivals held there. See my blog on unagi, or eel, to learn about Narita-san’s most famous delicacy.