Several years ago, when my son first entered college, I strongly suggested that he find a language that interested him and pursue study abroad opportunities. Encouraging students to study abroad is one of my pet projects, but that’s another story! Anyhoo, brilliant guy that he is ; ), he listened, found a language, and pursued it. Initially, it was Chinese (Mandarin, I think??), but there weren’t a lot of classes available in our university system, so he moved over to Japanese and found a near perfect match for both his interests and temperament.
Fast forward to his sophomore year, and he signed up for his first study abroad experience- a quick 1 month session in Kyoto, Japan. After ‘ace-ing’ that assignment, he went back to study for a full semester in Kagoshima. He came back a changed man, with wonderful stories of bullet trains, onsens, great food and a courteous and welcoming culture. Ever since then, we have looked forward to visiting Japan, with him in tow, to experience the sights and sounds of a journey that made a profound change in his thinking.
So imagine my delight, when the opportunity to visit Hong Kong, brought the added bonus of an overnight layover in one of Tokyo’s airports- Narita.
Seems like Japan was happy to have Devin return based on the rainbow outside our plane window! A very auspicious sign : )
I can’t express how tickled we were to be in Japan, and to see how happy our son was to be back in Japan! And his smile says it all!
After circling a few times due to rain and cloudy conditions, we finally touched down at Tokyo’s Narita Airport. Through one of Devin’s many friends in Tokyo, Mari and her friend met us at the airport, and whisked us off for a lovely evening in Narita. Mari had planned a wonderful evening for us, but unfortunately, all of our in-the-air circling got us into Narita much later than planned. We were still ecstatic to visit one of the temples located just down the street from our hotel, and enjoy dinner at a neighborhood izakaya, or pub.
It was amazing to have a hostess and guide who was so knowledgeable and caring to show us around the temple grounds. Wandering through the buildings and adjacent garden was almost magical at night.
Luck is highly regarded in Japanese culture, so for a small donation you can receive your fortune or O-mikuji from a vending machine at the temple. I thought semi-good luck was a good thing, but apparently not! Cedric and Devin made out MUCH better with good and excellent luck and did not have to leave their fortunes at the temple.
My inauspicious fortune remains at the temple- flapping in the wind. When the prediction is bad, it is custom to fold up the strip of paper and attach it to a pine tree or a wall of metal wires alongside other bad fortunes in the temple or shrine grounds. The reason for this custom is a play on the Japanese word for pine tree (松 matsu) and the verb meaning ‘to wait’ (待つ matsu). The idea is that the bad luck would remain waiting by the pine tree instead of attaching itself to the bearer. If the fortune is good, the bearer has two options: they can either tie it to the tree or wires so that the fortune has a better effect, or they can keep it for luck.
After we left the shrine, Mari took us out to dinner at an izakaya, or pub. Located in the 2nd floor of a building next to our hotel, we would never have figured out the delights within without the help from our gracious hostess. Like most pubs, it has a loyal following among locals. Upon entering, we were directed to the lockers purpose built for our shoes. After removing our shoes, we were directed to a small enclosed area with a sliding door for privacy, and a table inset into the floor. The food that followed was absolutely wonderful!
Mari was a magician with the chopsticks- deftly removing the entire fish skeleton in one swift move!
Between the seemingly endless parade of food, and smooth, yet powerful sake, we were very happy we had such a short walk next door for a great night’s sleep at the Mercure Narita.
The Mercure Narita
Okay, so maybe not the most scenic view we’ve ever had, but the train station back to the airport is just outside our hotel- it doesn’t get much more convenient than that!
We were all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed the next morning and had a lovely walk to see the temple we’d viewed the previous evening.
We got caught in the morning rush of little commuters on the way to school.
The Naritasan Shinshoji Temple was even more beautiful by day than it was by night.
This is the Niomon Gate which was built in 1830. The enormous paper lantern says ‘fish market’.
The Three-story Pagoda, built in 1712, is beautifully painted and typical of other structures
built during the Edo period.
The Carter men capturing our visit…
As we head back to the hotel, many restaurants and shops are beginning to start the day.
Breakfast of champions! We found amazing matcha ice cream at the Narita Sando Fusanoeki, who says ice cream has to be for dessert LOL!?!
A quick stop at Lawson’s carryout (anyone remember Lawson’s from back-in-the-day?) provided some tasty snacks to take on the plane, and then we were off to catch our train to the plane.
Check out was simple and efficient, and we were out the door for the quick walk to the train station.
Trains in Japan are clean, comfortable and PROMPT! Important information is prominently displayed in multiple languages, including English.
During our brief stay in Narita, we enjoyed excellent food, beautiful and inspiring sites and a great night’s sleep. If you should ever find your way to Tokyo, and have time to spend in Narita, I highly recommend getting out of the airport. There’s so much to experience and see, there are even free tours available, through the Narita Transit Program! What’s not to love about that? Can’t wait for a MUCH longer visit!