Recently on my way back from the Philippines I had a layover in Tokyo/Narita (NRT) for about 6 hours or so. Having been sitting for the past 4 hours from Guam and anticipating the 10.5 hour flight from NRT to DEN the last thing I wanted to do was sit in the airport for 6 hours. Come to find out, there are some cool things to do that are pretty close to the airport and easy to get to!
Although the airport bears the name of the country’s capital city, Tokyo is about an hour away by train. That was way too far for me to be comfortable leaving the airport. Maybe if I knew my way around, but blindly traveling an hour from and back to the airport was not something I was comfortable with.
Fortunately, the other city attributed to this airport is Narita and Narita City is only a 15 minute train ride away. The train station is on the lower level of the airport too which made it very simple to visit this adorable Japanese town.
I exchanged US$40 into Yen, put my heavier carry-on things in a locker at the airport, bought my train ticket (for US$2.60) and I was off!
It was a beautiful sunny day and it was so nice to breathe some fresh, clean air after being in airports and in planes for the past countless hours…. and in Manila for the past 10 days, let’s be honest, not the cleanest air on the planet!
After the super short train ride into Narita City, I stepped out of the station to see the most adorable town! It resembled a cute European mountain town in a way… except for the Japanese pagoda style architecture, of course. The narrow street that lead down to the famous Naritasan Temple was lined with cute shops and restaurants. I stepped into a few shops to look at items from t-shirts translated into English that made no logical sense, to a fancy chopstick shop, but my favorite place was an antique shop with a very antique little woman running it. I didn’t buy anything, but I did get a photo of her which I think was worth more than any little trinket.
I kept walking down the road and taking my time as I looked at everything and snapped a few selfies here and there. And then I came upon the unmistakable Naritasan Temple. With its grand entrance structure and steps upward toward grounds where the main temple was situated. Surrounding the main temple were various other temples commemorating different deities, Buddhist scriptures, or prominent historical figures. The grounds were beautiful.
I took my time looking at the smaller temples that were boasting vibrant colors hand painted on their hand carved wooden structures. The attention to detail was awe-inspiring!
I almost didn’t even go to the main temple as it has a less flashy architecture style than the other smaller temples. Also, keep in mind I really had no idea what this temple was. The lady at the information booth told me I could take a train to famous temple and that was basically it.
I did walk up the steps to the main temple, threw some coins into the slatted donation box, said a prayer, and moved on…. I noticed that people were sitting inside the temple and the doors were open. I get a bit high on being in large religious structures whether it’s a cathedral or a temple or a synagogue. To me, the energy in these places is infectious and resonates with such frequency that you can’t help but feel it.
I read the sign “No Street Shoes” before stepping in, thank goodness. I removed my shoes and quietly tip-toed over to an empty space on the floor. The inside was gorgeous with giant golden lantern-type structures hanging from the ceiling. There were two cylindrical ones on the side and then a square shaped one in the middle with a sort of alter area below it. Beyond that, on the back wall was the huge shrine to Fudō myō-ō , the”Unmovable Wisdom King.”
I wasn’t sitting on the floor for 2 minutes when I heard a gong just outside the doors of the temple. Then a line of about 10 monks came out in brightly colored robes and lined up behind the alter area. Then, the Shingon priest (learned that later too) came out and sat right at the offering area. Other monks brought out certain props that were used in the ceremony. I couldn’t believe how perfect my timing was to be here right as the service was starting! I later learned this is called the Goma (Homa) Ritual.
One monk read some prayers and the rest started chanting while the Shingon priest started a fire on the alter and then all of a sudden I jumped as another monk struck the huge drum at the side of the room startling me and a few other unsuspecting first-timers. At the alter in the fire they burned special wooden goma sticks. Only the Shingon priests who have been instructed in the secret rituals can perform this rite. The fire of the goma rite symbolizes the wisdom of Fudō myō-ō, and the wooden goma sticks represent the afflictions of human beings. By burning the goma sticks which have been inscribed with the human afflictions in the fire of Fudō myō-ō’s wisdom, the officiating priest prays with the devotees that their afflictions might be removed.
The ceremony was in full swing and at one point people who were seated closer to the action started getting up and handing their personal handbags to monks on either side of the room. The monks would bring them to the fire and hold them over it as a blessing. I considered jumping up with mine, but I already stuck out as the only western whitey in the room and I wasn’t sure if that would have been in poor taste, so I just continued to watch.
After the blessing of the bags, they made some offering up to the shrine itself, continued with a beautiful chant, and then the ceremony came to an end after about 20 minutes. What a beautiful experience!!
I put my shoes back on once outside and started hoofing it back up the hill toward the train station.
I wanted to get some Japanese noodles before I left so I popped into a restaurant, sat down and asked for noodles. They didn’t have them so I moved on. I stepped into another restaurant and they only served unagi, which is amazing, but I wasn’t in an unagi mood, so again I kept walking. I finally found Noddle Shop! It was right before the train station and had exactly what I wanted. I ordered some pot stickers and a veggie noodle bowl. I only ate a few hot bites before I had to get the rest packed up to go so I could catch the train back to the airport in time to get my stuff from the lockers and get through security again.
I was right on time and able to finish my delicious meal at the airport with a cold, bubbly beer! The perfect treat before boarding the 787 Dreamliner to Denver!!
Life is a Trip!