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Layover at Narita Airport? Experience Traditional Japan at Naritasan Shinsho-ji Temple, Just 10 Minutes Away!

Layover at Narita Airport? Experience Traditional Japan at Naritasan Shinsho-ji Temple, Just 10 Minutes Away!

Update: 7 June 2018

Did you know that the charms of traditional Japan are just a 10-minute train ride away from Narita Airport? Instead of directly jetting to Tokyo, why not make a little detour to Narita City in Chiba Prefecture?

The magnificent Narita-san Shinsho-ji Temple stands there, a beautiful complex of the Buddhist Shingon sect. The street approaching this historical hot spot is called “omotesando,” home to numerous shops and stalls offering local delicacies and delights. From Narita’s specialty unaji, broiled eel served on rice in a lacquered box, to homemade rice cakes and dumplings. Look forward to an authentic Japanese gourmet, shopping, and sightseeing experience!

Narita Station is a mere 10-minute train ride away from Narita Airport. The way to Narita-san Shinsho-ji Temple is about a kilometer long and the latter half, a gentle downhill slope, is particularly lively. If you have a long layover at Narita Airport or are staying at a hotel in the area, do make use of the free guided tours of the Narita Airport Transit & Stay Program!

From top left: 1) The twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac line the approach to the temple as stone statues. 2) The only sake brewery along the temple approach, “Chomeisen.” 3) The “Ofudosama no ido” well behind the traditional sweets shop “Nagomi no Yoneya.” 4) Statues of turtles are scattered around the area as symbols of longevity.
From top left: 1) The downhill slope of Narita-san Shinsho-ji Temple’s approach. 2) Atmospheric souvenir shops and restaurants line the lively street. 3) The eel shop “Kawatoyo,” famous for grilling the eel right in front of your eyes. 4) A narrow alley leading to the tea house “Miyoshiya” and its tranquil zen garden.
From top left: 1) The wooden 3-story inn “Onoya,” built in 1935. 2) and 3) Mitsuhashi Pharmacy, a 2-story building that is designated as a tangible cultural property of Japan. 4) The main gate of Narita-san Shinsho-ji Temple.

Kawatoyo: Tasting Traditional Japanese Eel with a Secret Sauce!

Kawatoyo: Tasting Traditional Japanese Eel with a Secret Sauce!
Unaju

Narita’s specialty called unaju, broiled eel on rice in a lacquered box, has been made popular by the countless worshipers coming to the temple since ancient times. Even today, it is said that there are about 60 different shops serving unagi along omotesando, as the road approaching the temple is called. Among them – and arguably the most famous one – is Kawatoyo, founded in 1910 as a freshwater fish specialty store.

The freshly caught eel is prepared with a sharp kitchen knife and skewered, then carefully grilled while being covered in the shop’s special, secret sauce. This gives the eel an especially puffy texture. Continuously adding the secret sauce is a technique Kawatoyo uses since its founding – it causes the eel extract to be drawn out of the fish, making for a wonderfully mellow taste.

Three types of grilled eel are on Kawatoyo’s menu: unaju for 2,500 yen, jo-unaju (more eel) for 3,100 yen, and tokujo-unaju (even MORE eel!) for 4,100 yen. Among these options, jo-unaju is by far the most popular one. Enjoying this traditional eel dish in a 100-year old building steeped in history only adds to the delicious flavor!

From top left: 1) Kawatoyo’s wooden 3-story building was opened as an inn in 1917. 2) The chef (right), a true eel veteran, has 50 years of experience. 3) Eel being grilled and selling mouthwateringly delicious. 4) The tatami room on the second floor, overlooking the temple approach.
  • Kawatoyo
    川豊
    • Address 386 Nakamachi, Narita-City, Chiba Prefecture, 286-0027
    • Nearest Station Narita Station
    • Phone Number 0476-22-2711

    Hours: 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (last order)
    Closed: always open (irregular holidays)
    Access: Narita Station (both JR and Keisei), 8 minutes on foot

Goto Dangoya: the Tastiest Dumplings in the Entire Town

Goto Dangoya: the Tastiest Dumplings in the Entire Town
Yaki-dango with a sweet sauce. Three on a plate for 450 yen.

Goto Dangoya is a long-established dango (dumpling) store that first opened its doors in 1845. The current shopkeeper operates this Edo-period store in the family’s 7th generation!

The two most famous specialties of Goto Dangoya are yaki-dango, grilled dumplings, and an-dango, dumplings covered with sweet bean paste. Three dumplings of either type cost 450 yen. Goto Dangoya’s secret lies with the flour used for their little delicacies. Making use of mortar and pestle, probably the most traditional of techniques, the flour is grinded every day early in the morning, giving the dumplings a wonderfully soft, yet firm-to-the-bite texture. Of course, the sweet bean paste for the an-dango is handmade by the shopkeeper themselves as well.

Another recommendation is the “cream anmitsu” for 700 yen, a dessert of agar jelly, fresh fruits, rice cakes, and said red bean paste. During the summer months, shaved ice cream called “kakigori” isn’t just loved by travelers and worshipers for its nostalgic taste but also for being wonderfully refreshing.

From top left: 1) and 2) The historic building has been restored and renovated in recent years. 3) Goto Dangoya offers both tables and tatami seating. 4) One plate of an-dango costs 450 yen. The three rice cakes aren’t skewered like they usually are.
  • Goto dangoya
    後藤だんご屋
    • Address 499 Kamicho, Narita-City, Chiba Prefecture, 286-0032
    • Nearest Station Narita Station
    • Phone Number 0476-22-2560

    Hours: 10:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
    Closed: irregularly
    Access: Narita Station (both JR and Keisei), 7 minutes on foot

Miyoshiya: a Beautiful Journey to the World of Japanese Sweets

Miyoshiya: a Beautiful Journey to the World of Japanese Sweets
“Shiratama azuki” - a dessert of mochi rice cakes and sweet red beans (800 yen)

If you stray from the broad, lively temple approach called omotesando and enter a tiny, narrow alley, you’ll find Miyoshiya. This atmospheric Japanese café is one of the many hidden gems of Narita, surrounded by lush nature, flowers of all seasons, and a relaxingly gurgling stream. This calm, beautiful atmosphere emits the essence of Japanese harmony.

The center of the green garden is dominated by a glass house, while semi-open-air and counter seats invite you to rest your feet as well. Miyoshiya’s menu is all about traditional Japanese sweets and the shop is committed to using the finest ingredients for its delicious treats. One example is “oshiruko,” red bean soup that is available either hot or cold for 650 yen. The red beans that this all-time favorite is made of come straight from Hokkaido and are especially rich in flavor. Another recommendation is “shiratama azuki,” a dessert of mochi rice cakes and sweet red beans for 800 yen.

In general, the homemade rice cakes called mochi, available from 750 yen, are an absolute must-try if you decide to stop by Miyoshiya. Upgrade your sweet menu for 350 yen to get a hot cup of either coffee or matcha tea after your journey into Japan’s wonderful world of sweets and desserts.

From top left: 1) The narrow alley leading to Miyoshiya. 2) A red umbrella and a stone lantern hint at the enigmatic and thoroughly Japanese atmosphere that awaits. 3) The semi-open terrace seats. 4) The glass house that overlooks the lush garden.
  • Miyoshiya
    三芳家
    • Address 386-2 Nakamachi, Narita-City, Chiba Prefecture, 286-0027
    • Nearest Station Narita Station
    • Phone Number 0476-22-2147

    Hours: 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
    Closed: Wednesdays (open during January, May, and September)
    Access: Narita Station (both JR and Keisei), 8 minutes on foot

Edokko Sushi: Enjoying Authentic Sushi like the Japanese of Old

Edokko Sushi: Enjoying Authentic Sushi like the Japanese of Old
Tokyo Thukigi - a set (3,564 yen) that's especially popular with foreign visitors

Edokko Sushi’s main store on the temple approach is an authentic sushi shop popular with both locals and tourists. Serving authentic Edo-style sushi, this place is Narita’s premier sushi restaurant. Not just the taste and ingredients of the many dishes convey the authentic spirit of Old Edo, so does the shop itself. The long counter is reminiscent of sushi restaurants of the past, inviting you to sit down and enjoy the many fresh seafood varieties like the Japanese of old.

The secret to Edokko Sushi’s popularity lies with the extreme freshness of their ingredients and the massive size of the toppings. Called “neta,” these sushi toppings tend to be twice the size of the rice underneath, making for both excellent photos and excellent taste. Next to the classic nigiri, especially the gunkan-maki, “battleship roll” is recommended. They are generously topped with a variety of different, fresh seafood choices – sea urchin and salmon roe being only two examples. Everything can be ordered by the plate, two pieces each, and the entire menu is available in English as well, making Edokko Sushi particularly tourist-friendly. Three kinds of sushi sets are also available: “take” for 1728 yen, “jo” for 1376 yen, and “tokujo” for 2808 yen.

From top left: 1) Edokko Sushi’s main store at Narita’s omotesando. 2) Crab roasted in its shell for 840 yen, including two gunkan-maki. 3) Sea urchin, prawn, salmon roe, and tuna – a variety of fresh sushi. 4) The English menu.
  • Narita Edokko Sushi Sando Honten
    成田江戸っ子寿司 参道本店
    • Address 536-10 Hanazakicho, Narita-City, Chiba Prefecture, 286-0033
    • Nearest Station Narita Station
    • Phone Number 0476-22-0530

    Hours: 11:00 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. (last order at 2:00 p.m.)
    5:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. (last order at 9:30 p.m.)
    Closed: Mondays
    Access: Narita Station (both JR and Keisei), 3 minutes on foot

Nagomi no Yoneya: Tasting Yokan and the Sweet Side of Chiba

Nagomi no Yoneya: Tasting Yokan and the Sweet Side of Chiba
Kurimushi yokan, a treat of steamed bean jelly and chestnut.

Nagomi no Yoneya was founded in 1899 and is famous for what has become the staple souvenir of a Narita pilgrimage: kurimushi yokan, a treat of steamed bean jelly and chestnut. This now famous delicacy has its roots in the vegetarian cuisine of Narita-san Shinsho-ji Temple itself and is loved for its gentle sweetness and whole, plump chestnuts. The second must-try of Nagomi no Yoneya is called dainagon-yokan, a yokan variety made with coarse red bean paste. The coarseness of the steamed jelly makes for an especially rich bean flavor and a sweet treat that is firm to the bite.

The store is filled with all sorts of traditional Japanese confectionery using Chiba’s – and especially Narita’s – local produce. All of them make for excellent souvenirs, conveying both the spirit and the taste of Japan. A particularly fun choice is the “peanut monaka,” crunchy wafers filled with sweet bean paste in the shape of a peanut. Nagomi no Yoneya also is home to the Narita Yokan Museum (10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.) that showcases the history of the store itself and its famous yokan.

From top left: 1) A little restaurant and café are also in the shop. 2) Peanut monaka, 108 for one piece. A box of 8 is available for 1080 yen. 3) Nagomi Dorayaki filled with coarse red bean paste for 152 yen, filled with mochi for 162 yen, and filled with chestnut for 172 yen. 4) The entrance to the Narita Yokan Museum.
  • NAGOMI-YONEYA
    なごみの米屋 總本店
    • Address 500 Kamicho, Narita-City, Chiba Prefecture, 286-0032
    • Nearest Station Narita Station
    • Phone Number 0476-22-1661

    Hours: 8:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. (may vary)
    Closed: always open
    Access: Narita Station (both JR and Keisei), 7 minutes on foot

Sabon-sama: Narita’s Mysterious “Drops of Purification”

Sabon-sama: Narita’s Mysterious “Drops of Purification”
Six types of “Okiyome no Tama” soaps from 1728 yen.

From tradition to trend: the facial soaps of Narita’s soap shop “Naritasan Omotesando Sabon-sama” is the latest craze in the world of skin care. The jelly-like soap orb contains tamarind, a fruit lauded for its moisturizing effect. Called “Okiyome no Tama,” literally Drop of Purification, this fun, interesting soap comes in six different varieties – kohaku (amber), smelling wonderfully of fragrant olive, and edomurasaki (royal purple) with an aroma of lily of the valley. They all are created with different needs and types of skin in mind, such as a beautification effect, for dry skin, or with a particularly strong moisturizing effect.

The most popular among the jelly-like soap orbs is “kinrenge,” or golden lotus. This soap is blended with gold and has a rich aroma of sandalwood. Additionally, the vivid soaps are closely connected to Japan’s culture of color, so the soaps’ boxes indicate things like the safety of one’s home, marriage, the fulfillment of a wish, and so on. Unless you’re looking for a product that fulfils a specific need, feel free to choose based on aroma and color alone. Sabon-sama also offers various basins to try the many different soaps, so do take your time and find what suits you best.

From top left: 1) Sabon-sama opened on Narita’s omotesando in 2015. 2) Try out the different soaps. 3) The shop’s new series “Kaiun no En,” Orb of Good Fortune, available from 1,350 yen. 4) The beautifully packaged box of 4 makes for a wonderful souvenir.
  • Sabonsama
    成田山表参道さぼんさま
    • Address 387 Nakamachi, Narita-City, Chiba Prefecture, 286-0027
    • Nearest Station Narita Station
    • Phone Number 0476-29-4447

    Hours: 9:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (until 5:30 p.m. on Saturdays, Sundays, and national holidays)
    Closed: always open
    Access: Narita Station (both JR and Keisei), 8 minutes on foot

Chomeisen Sake: “Source of Long Life”

Chomeisen Sake: “Source of Long Life”
Chomeisen Bizen Omachi 720 ml for 2,201 yen (left) and Narita Reisui 720 ml for 1,458 yen (right)

Our next stop is at Narita omotesando’s only sake brewery, Chomeisen. Operating since 1872, it’s a long- and well-established brand that makes its sake with water from a well that is rumored to cure illnesses. This is where its name comes from – “chomei” means “long life.”

Chomeisen’s most-loved product is a dry, easy-to-drink sake called “Narita Reisui,” made with brewer’s rice from Chiba Prefecture. For those who like it sweet and with a strong aroma, we recommend the “Chomeisen Ginjo Junmai Bizen Omachi.” Smaller-sized bottles – 180 ml and 300 ml – are also available, ready to be picked up and gifted to your sake-loving friends and family at home.

From top left: 1) The brewery’s shop at the temple approach. 2) Sake barrels decorating the store front. 3) Junmai Green Bottle 180 ml for 515 yen, and other products. 4) Junmai Daiginjo (pasteurized once) 720 ml for 3,302 yen.
  • Chomeisen
    長命泉蔵元 滝沢本店
    • Address 540 Kamicho, Narita-City, Chiba Prefecture, 286-0032
    • Nearest Station Narita Station
    • Phone Number 0476-22-8417

    Hours: 10:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. (opens at 9:00 a.m. on Sundays)
    Closed: always open
    Access: Narita Station (both JR and Keisei), 5 minutes on foot

Narita-san Shinsho-ji Temple: Celebrating the Buddhist God of Fire with Ancient Ceremonies

Narita-san Shinsho-ji Temple: Celebrating the Buddhist God of Fire with Ancient Ceremonies
The temple’s Niomon Gate, reconstructed in 1831.

Narita-san Shinsho-ji Temple was founded in 940 as a temple of the Buddhist Shingon Sect. It also is one of the greater Tokyo area’s most popular spots for hatsumode, the Japanese custom of visiting a shrine or temple on New Year’s Day. Three million people journey to Shinsho-ji each year for this occasion.

The spacious precincts of the temple are dotted with various buildings, such as the Niomon Gate constructed in the Edo period (1603 – 1868), the Three-story Pagoda, Shakado Hall, Gakudo Hall, or the Komyodo Hall – those five buildings are all designated as important cultural properties of Japan. The main hall is home to the main statue of Fudo Miyo-o (Acala), an important Buddhist guardian deity. Here is also where the “goma prayer” takes place, a custom that has been taken place between five to eight times every single day, faithfully continued for almost 1080 years. Worshipers and visitors are both welcome to witness this ritual, as long as you make an effort to be respectful and quiet.

Komyodo Hall, between the Great Main Hall and the Great Peace Pagoda, is dedicated to Aizen Myo-o (Ragaraja), a Buddhist deity of love. Thus, it is a popular spot for couples coming to worship, said to be a power spot for fortune in marriage.

From top left: 1) The main gate connecting the temple approach with the temple grounds. 2) Stone lanterns lining the way to the temple. 3) The massive paper lantern at Niomon Gate. It says “fish market.” 4) Sandals, sneakers, and wooden clogs are prayer offerings for being a good walker.
From top left: 5) The Great Main Hall 6) Beautiful carvings adorn the underside of the Three-story Pagoda. 7) Wooden plaques called “ema” in front of the Shotokutaishido Hall. 8) The Great Main Hall and the Three-story Pagoda
From top left: 9) Komyodo Hall 10) The Great Peace Pagoda and the Seiryu-Gongen-do Hall, seen from Komyodo Hall. 11) and 12) Gakudo Hall. Built in 1861, it is decorated with votive tablets and plaques.
  • Naritasan Shinshouji
    成田山 新勝寺
    • Address 1 Narita, Narita-City, Chiba Prefecture, 286-0023
    • Nearest Station Narita Station
    • Phone Number 0476-22-2111

    Admission: free
    Hours: 24h
    Closed: always open
    Access: Narita Station (both JR and Keisei), 10 minutes on foot

Spots showcased in the article

  1. Kawatoyo
    川豊
  2. Goto dangoya
    後藤だんご屋
  3. Miyoshiya
    三芳家
  4. Narita Edokko Sushi Sando Honten
    成田江戸っ子寿司 参道本店
  5. NAGOMI-YONEYA
    なごみの米屋 總本店
  6. Sabonsama
    成田山表参道さぼんさま
  7. Chomeisen
    長命泉蔵元 滝沢本店
  8. Naritasan Shinshouji
    成田山 新勝寺

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*This information is from the time of this article's publication.