If you have a short layover in Tokyo during your travels you were probably planning on getting a glimpse of Tokyo, one of the biggest metropolis in the world. But what if I told you that you had a much better option if you wanted to experience real Japanese culture much closer to the airport.
As you might know (or not), Tokyo Narita Airport is located 60 km away from the center of Tokyo and it would take you roughly one hour to get into the city at a cost of roughly 2500 Yen (depending on what train or bus you take). If you are on a tight budget you might opt to take a cheaper option but that would take you even longer to get to any site within Tokyo. If you have around 24 hours or more until your connecting flight, feel free to take one of the options and explore a bit of Tokyo. For a first real taste of Japan, I recommend the Shibuya, Harajuku area, where you will not only experience modern Japan but also have the chance to visit the Meiji Jingu Shrine one of the biggest and most important shrines in Japan for a bit of tradition. The food (especially the sweets) in Harajuku are fantastic and will definitely fulfill all your foody dreams.
You could also have a look around my neighborhood Ningyocho where you will find delicious food and a lot of history in the center of Tokyo.
But if you have only a short time between your flights anything from 6 to 24 hours I recommend you leave the airport and explore Narita, the closest city to the Airport. This post will give you all the information you need on what you can experience there during a short layover.
Let’s dive right in.
The area around Narita has been inhabited for a very long time. Tools have been found that are 30.000 years old. During the newer history Narita gained importance as a pilgrimage site after the construction of the Shinsho-ji Temple around 940 AD.
The close-by Tokyo Narita International Airport was opened in 1078 and since then the Narita region has gained in importance. Today it is most famous for its airport, the biggest in Japan, but that doesn’t mean that is all Narita has to offer.
The main highlight of Narita city is Naritasan Shinsho-ji Temple only 15 minutes walk away from the JR Narita Station. The temple is more than 1000 years old and has a long history of being a popular pilgrimage site. Aside from the main temple complex the area of the temple is quite spacious with a beautiful pagoda (the Pagoda of Peace) one of the highlights.
As a souvenir from your short layover in Japan, I suggest you buy an Omamori a protection charm from the temple. Or you can also find out about your fortune by buying a Omikuji (a sheet that tells you your fortune).
The Park surrounding the area of Naritasan is quite vast and I strongly recommend taking a stroll if you have a bit more time. The moss covered old stone monuments stand tall like watchers throughout the park and give the whole park a quality as if one was thrown into a Ghibli movie. There is also a pond where you can feed the Koi fish from a beautiful little stone pagoda in the middle of the pond. As well as plum and cherry blossom trees that bloom in the spring.
The way from the station to Naritasan is called Omotesando and is lined with shops and restaurants. Some of them housed in beautiful old Japanese wooden buildings with century old tradition. Just strolling along the street roughly one kilometer long street will give you a unique glimpse into Japanese culture.
There are many delicious looking restaurants along Omotesando street leading to the temple. Many of the restaurants sell eel and I highly recommend you try it for your visit. You can not only taste it but also see first-hand how eel is prepared.
How they slice it open, take out the organs and get rid of the bones. The whole process takes only a couple of seconds and is really interesting to look at. The eel is then cut into 3 parts put on a skewer and grilled from both sides over an open fire.
When the eel is grilled, it is dipped into a thick and sweet sauce made from soy sauce and other ingredients and served on rice with some pickles. The sweet and savoury flavor is an increadible experience for everyone but it will especially make for a good first impression of real Japanese food.
Take the JR line from Narita Airport to JR Narita Station. Buy a ticket for 200 Yen at the ticket machine and put it into the gate slow, it will come out on the other side of the machine, so don’t forget to take it. When you arrive at JR Narita Station and go to the gates, you will have to input the ticket again, this time it won’t come out again. The train ride to Narita Station is a short one, it will only take about 12 minutes.
I suggest you only do a trip outside the airport if you have more than 6 hours between your flight.
That would be 2 hours to get out of the airport because of passport controls The controls can sometimes take quite a while especially during peak seasons in spring, summer and fall.
The next 2 hours are to explore Narita city, it’s temple and shops along Omotesando and even maybe to try some food.
The last 2 hours to get back through the airport, again with passport controls and security check.
I know it probably won’t take so long to get in and out but I would rather have some time left over than miss my connection flight, I don’t know about you.