Written by Ramona (GREATERTOKYO_Explorer)
Narita Beyond The Airport - A Half-Day Tour In History-Rich Chiba
If you have a few hours to spend at Narita Airport, how about going on a tour in Narita City and its surroundings? You will get to feel the rich history of this area, especially around its temples which bring blessings to travelers.
If you get to spend a few hours in Narita, either during the layover between two flights or for another purpose, how about embarking on a short bus trip to the beautiful places in the area? Narita is full of picturesque sites, including traditional shopping streets which preserve the warm atmosphere of the past and old temples that have been watching over the travelers who reach this area for centuries.
A great way to explore the area around Narita is to take part in one of the Welcome to Narita Select Bus Tours offered by JR Bus Kanto. A guided tour bus departs twice a day from Narita Airport.
In the morning, the bus will bring you to places like Naritasan Shinshoji Temple, Shibayama Nioson Temple - Haniwa Museum, and the town of Tako. In the afternoon, the tour covers Katori Jingu, a shrine whose history goes back over one thousand years, going as far as Sawara, an area famous for its quaint, Edo era (1603 - 1868) atmosphere.
Because we wanted to see what Narita is like beyond the airport, we embarked on the morning tour. Here's a glimpse of the amazing things we got to see in only four hours!
8:15 - Embarking on the "Welcome Narita Select Bus Tour"
The "Welcome Narita Select Bus Tours" begin from bus stop 28 C, which is located right in front of Narita Airport Terminal 2.
The bus stop is marked with this signboard, specifying the departure times for the morning tour (8:15) and the afternoon tour (13:00). The cute character you can see on the signboard (and on all the materials related to this bus tour) is Chiba-kun, the mascot of Chiba Prefecture.
For the morning tour, come to the bus stop before 8:15 and wait for the bus to come. One of the best parts of this tour is that there's no need for a prior reservation. This means you will buy your ticket when boarding the bus.
The ticket for the whole morning tour costs 2000 yen. (*If you wish to go for the afternoon tour also, you can go on both tours for 3500 yen.)
9:00 -- First stop, Narita Station
After departing from Narita Station, the bus will stop first at Narita Station. Passengers can also board directly from Narita Station after purchasing their tour tickets from either the JR Midori no Madoguchi Ticket Office or from the Tourist Information Center adjacent to Narita Station.
From Narita Station, the guide will invite you to walk to the next destination, Naritasan Shinshoji Temple. (In case of bad weather, the group will be taken to Shinshoji by bus.)
It's a 15-minute walk to temple, leading you through one of the most beautiful areas of Narita. The street leading to the temple, called Omotesando, is lined with buildings that are over one century old. Some of the shops in this area have been in business for decades now, and are famous for producing the souvenirs that are representative of Narita.
One such shop that will catch your attention is Nagomi no Yoneya, a well-established souvenir shop renowned for its high-quality yokan.
You will be amazed at the great variety of souvenirs, edible and non-edible, that they offer and will most surely find something that you will want to have as a keepsake from your visit to Narita.
Our friendly and very knowledgeable guide even gave us an insider's tip about Yoneya. In the backyard of the building, which can also be accessed freely, there is a beautiful Japanese garden built by the founder of Yoneya, Morooka Chozo, who was a businessman and culture person.
We couldn't keep from buying a selection of the best Yoneya sweets (640 yen) as a souvenir. This small package includes Yoneya's yokan, as well as the most popular sweets of Narita - the Peanuts Monaka, a sweet treat filled with anko (red bean paste) that goes great with green tea.
As we continue our way to the temple, the townscape becomes even more charming, with a nostalgic atmosphere that helps one imagine how this area used to be around the beginning of the 20th century. Who would have guessed that there should be such a fascinating area so close to Narita Station?
9:20 -- Naritasan Shinshoji Temple
In no time, you will find yourself in front of the main gate of Naritasan Shinshoji Temple, and step into its vast grounds.
Shinshoji is one of the largest Buddhist temples in Eastern Japan, being founded around 940 A.C. Many of the buildings within the temple complex are Important Cultural Properties of Japan. You'll be amazed at the sheer vastness of this temple and its artistic gardens.
One details that may catch your attention is this display of footwear on the walls of the main gate. You might ask yourself what's with the huge straw sandals.
The tour guide will happily tell you the story behind these sandals. It seems that they symbolize the pilgrims coming from afar to offer prayers to the temple. The guardian deities of the temple watch over everyone who comes to visit and pay their respects. This is why Shinshoji is believed to protect travelers on their way. With Narita Airport close by, this blessing couldn't be more welcome, right?
The main hall of the temple is impressive. You will be guided close enough to see inside and pay your respects to the deities of the temple.
Exploring the grounds of Shinshoji will be very exciting because the guide will take you to see the very best places, showing you the fascinating details of the temple's structure. Some of these include the centuries-old wood Buddhist carvings on the walls of the old main hall, which contain scenes from the Buddhist scriptures. In the old ages, these carvings served the purpose of explaining the scriptures to the people who couldn't read.
Around 10 o'clock, you'll be leaving the temple behind, heading to the next destination. The bus will be waiting for you in the parking lot of the Yoneya Tourist Center, which is the meet-up place, located 5 minutes by foot from Shinshoji. Here you can rest your feet, have some tea, use the restroom or check out souvenirs you might want to buy from the Shinshoji Temple area. The bus departs at 10:10.
10:50 -- Shibayama Nioson Temple and Haniwa Museum
After a 40 minute ride through Narita and its surroundings, you'll reach Shibayama Nioson Temple. At the gate, you'll notice again the huge straw sandals! Being located so close to Narita Airport, this temple is also a guardian of travelers, while the locals seek its protective blessings against fires and theft.
In contrast to Shinshoji, whose grounds are bustling with visitors at all times of the year, Shibayama Nioson's charm lies in its tranquility. The origins of this temple go back even earlier than Shinshoji's. Please take a good look at the statues of the two Nio guardian deities. They are the treasures of this temple. In the Edo era (1603 - 1868), the people used to enshrine statues made after these guardians in their homes, in the hope that their blessings would ward off fires.
One more feature that makes this temple very special is that it houses the Haniwa Museum, a facility dedicated to the preservation of the archeological findings discovered during the excavations in the area. Haniwa are hollow clay statues found in burial grounds dating back to the ancient times before the Nara period (710 - 794).
The vivid details of these statues tell a lot about the lifestyle and customs of the people who used to live in this area even before Japan became a centralized state. The amazing display of ancient objects includes swords and even bronze mirrors, which were a symbol of power in ancient Japan.
Your visit to the Haniwa Museum will most surely be exciting and rewarding, as you'll get to discover a less side of Japanese culture, one that is hidden in the depths of history.
The tour bus departs from the parking lot in front of the temple entrance at 11:20. Make sure you get back to the bus until then.
11:40 -- Ajisaikan - Taste the Rice from Tako
The third destination on this sightseeing route is Ajisaikan, a facility located in the town of Tako, which is renowned countrywide for the quality of its rice.
Ajisaikan lies on the banks of the Kuriyama River, being surrounded by greenery. In late June, when the hydrangeas bloom along the river, this area becomes full of visitors. The facility includes a rest space for travelers, a shop offering fresh local products, and a dining place which can be used freely by the visitors.
The participants to the Welcome to Narita Select Bus Tour get to take part in a hands-on experience. A member of the staff at Ajisaikan will teach you how to make onigiri (rice balls)! After you see with your eyes how it's done and listen to the explanations (kindly translated into English by the tour guide), you'll be able to make your own onigiri, which you get to eat right away. What's best, the rice and the fee for the experience are included in the bus tour ticket!
All you need to purchase separately are some side dishes to eat along with the rice balls. You can find a great variety of home-cooked dishes and pickles at the shop in Ajisaikan. Ask your tour guide what goes best with the delicious and soft Tako rice!
Have a seat in the dining space (we suggest the seats with a view towards the river - a refreshing and most beautiful view!), and enjoy your meal. You'll love the rice from Tako, which is incredibly soft and tasty.
Departing at 12:30 from Tako, the bus returns to Narita Airport, to the exact place from where it left in the morning, and leaves again at 13:00 for the afternoon tour. If you have the next few hours free, how about going for the afternoon tour also? Remember it's a completely different route, which will show you yet another side of Chiba Prefecture.
Enjoy the "Welcome to Narita Bus Tours"!
We hope that our introduction to the "Welcome to Narita Select Bus Tour" made you curious about Narita, which has so much more to offer beyond the airport. What makes these tours extremely convenient and worth the while is the fact that transportation is ensured (you get to ride the bus all the way) and a friendly guide is with you, sharing all their knowledge about the area - in English!
Do take the next occasion and explore the secrets of Narita through the "Welcome to Narita Select Bus Tours"!
Welcome to Narita Bus Tour Route Summary
Narita Airport → Narita Station → Naritasan Shinshoji Temple → Shibayama Nioson Temple and Haniwa Museum → Michi no eki Tako Ajisaikan → Narita Airport
Tour Bus Ticket Fare: 2000 yen
Other expenses (lunch, souvenirs, etc.) - less than 1500 yen.