Jordan Blaza Olsen
Japan in 3 days - Narita
Updated: Nov 3, 2022
Japan is a destination, especially for anime and cosplay fans. I was thrilled to have been able to squeeze in 2 cities in my 3 days extended layover on my way back to the U.S. from the Philippines. I did my research first before I booked my flights and I learned if you want to see old and new Japan then fly into Narita and see the temples there then take a train to Tokyo and see all that’s new. I know I will come back and spend more time in both cities because there’s so much to experience and not just see. I tried to take a lot of videos and pictures but it’s just not the same when you get to just walk around and soak it all in. So, I will be splitting this blog into 2 parts, starting with Narita.
I stayed at https://www.mspnarita.com/en-us/ Hotel Mystays Narita Premier, which was an easy taxi ride from the airport. You can take public transportation which is supposed to be really easy too but I budgeted for convenience and this is supposed to be a quick trip. The hotel was very clean, with 3 restaurants and a convenience store in the lobby. The front desk staff spoke multiple languages including English and my room was just right for resting. It wasn’t spacious but wow, they packed all the conveniences in there!
It was easy to arrange a tour of the temples through their concierge and the shuttle took me right to the start of the district. The map they provided was very easy to follow and you just go through a main road that takes you all the way up the Naritasan Shinshoji Temples (1 Narita, Narita City, Chiba Prefecture, https://www.naritasan.or.jp/ ). On the way up are all kinds of shops that anime lovers will recognize. Being greeted by the snack shops aroma is a core memory for me now. First thing that stood out for me was the Dango (団子) stalls. They are Japanese sweets made out of mochiko (もちこ), or glutinous rice flour, and water. Dango comes with a sauce or topping of some type spread over them.
The Great Main Hall and the Three Storied Pagoda was built in the 1700’s and seeing them, I was literally out of breath. Not just because they’re amazing sites to see but also walking up the Niomon Gate, which was built to protect the temple, tired me out. (Note, with every trip, try to train yourself to walk more than 3 miles a day, at least.) As you walk around, you’ll see a bunch of other temples like the Komyodo Hall, temple of peace and Aizen-myoo (shrine of prayer for marriage). You can feel the ancients are present. And finally, on top of the hill is the Great Pagoda of Peace. I think I timed it perfectly that the sun was just beginning to set, the sky was turning from blue with wisps of clouds to a golden haze, the cherry and peach blossoms were just starting to bloom, and the air was still cool. Breathtaking.
On the way down, after not getting anything from any of the snack stalls around the temple, I had a craving for grilled eel. One of the things the district is known for is for their eel dishes. I stumbled upon Kiikuya Chrysanthemum House (http://www.kikuya.site/about.html, 385 Nakamachi, Narita-shi, Chiba 286-0027) that boasted their eel and seasonal vegetables, at the main gate of the temple city. The place is small, about 100 years old, wooden architecture, and the fragrance from the kitchen got me starving. I thought I ordered one of the eel bowls but I guess I ordered wrong because I ended up with a tonkatsu meal. But it was an amazing mistake because how they prepared the little tonkatsu pieces made it seem like the U.S. version is mcnuggets. Yes, I know tonkatsu is pork but that’s exactly what I mean, I felt embarrassed thinking our version of their food is comparable, and it's not. Note, everything I ate in Japan made me realize how much we westernize almost all dishes that we literally lose the flavor. Anyway…
Speaking of food, the https://narita-azuma.com/english/ Narita Azuma restaurant at the top of the Mystays hotel was amazing! I feel like crying as I type this because I wish I was there right now! I was going to order some familiar dishes but I splurged on the Azuma set meal. It has Shiawase Kizuna beef steak, seasonal fish sashimi, mixed tempura, red miso soup, custard dessert, pickled vegetables, and the presentation was so beautiful I didn’t want to eat it. But I did. And I was so full. I took my time and savored every bite, every flavor, from the red miso soup, the steak, all the vegetables, and that light and fluffy custard in the end.
When I got back to my room, I took a nice warm bubble bath, watched some local news, and admired the stillness of the countryside through the panoramic window. It was a great transportive day.