Many of my colleagues are surprised when I tell them that the 26 hours we spent in Narita, Japan, was actually one of, if not the highlight of our entire 5 weeks in Asia. Okay, maybe it didn’t quite beat spending a day with Elephants in Chiang Mai or Climbing a Volcano in Bali, but it was still pretty incredible – and what was supposed to be a really long layover actually became an inspiration for my return to Japan someday soon.
When we booked our flights out of Bangkok to make our way back to Canada, the most economic option for us was to spend a night in Narita-Tokyo on the way home. We decided to book a hotel instead of hanging out in the airport for 26 hours, but we joked that we probably wouldn’t even leave the hotel because we’d be so exhausted having spent the previous night in the Bangkok airport and traveling for almost 2 days. And exhausted we were, but from the moment the plane touched down at Narita International Airport, we were set on drinking up every last ounce of Japan that we could in the short time we had.
After clearing customs and immigration, and rejoicing over the fact that our backpacks had made it to Japan, we set out to find transportation to our hotel. The Narita Airport has a very extensive shuttle service to most hotels nearby, but we had just missed ours by 2 minutes, and opted to take the train instead of waiting another hour for the shuttle. The train only cost us about $2.50 CAD per person, and our hotel was only a few stops away. The whole system was quite easy to navigate, the staff were friendly and helpful, and even random strangers, including the train driver, were helpful when we had questions. We were blown away by the general kindness of the Japanese, and wondered if they were all going to be this lovely. They were.
We arrived at our hotel, the Mercure Hotel Narita, and were greeted by two extremely pleasant, polite receptionists. They were eager to answer any questions we had, and I wondered if their cheeks ever hurt from smiling so much. We went up to our room and were happy to find a basic yet modern room overlooking the city, complete with king size bed, TV, mini fridge, coffee maker, full bathroom (with a tub!) and BATHROBES! After 5 weeks in questionable accommodations, this place was a palace. Since it was getting dark, we decided to head down into the city to explore a little bit and find some dinner.
Now comes the only evident disadvantage of travel in Japan – it is really expensive, especially after spending 5 weeks paying a dollar or two for a meal in Thailand and Bali. We were soon made painfully aware that the cash we had on hand to spend in Japan would not be near enough if we didn’t want to starve. After walking around a little bit, we decided on takeout from a small shop in the city centre. 12 Gyoza dumplings, one noodle dish, one chicken dish and two cans of Sapporo beer cost us about $25.00 CAD. We took it back to our room and ate overlooking the city lights before retiring for a much deserved sleep after over 40 hours awake.
The next morning, we woke up earlier than expected (thanks again, Jetlag) and checked out after showering up and preparing for the long journey home. The hotel was wonderful about storing our bags while we set out to sightsee, as we didn’t fly out of Narita until 5pm. We walked from the Mercure to the Shinshoji / Naritasan Temple grounds, which is about 10-15 minutes away by foot. The streets were beautiful, narrow, and winding…it reminded me almost of my time spent in Salzburg. The streets are full of shops and restaurants, as well as friendly locals who may stare at you a little but are very sweet and kind.
The Shinshoji Temple grounds took my breath away. Everything was so immaculately kept – manicured lawns and shrubs, picturesque gardens and fountains. The pathways are paved and free of debris, and people wander around slowly and silently, basking in the beauty and peace of this beautiful space. There are several different buildings to see and many pathways to explore, so be sure to give yourself about an hour to really take it all in.
We slowly made our way back to our hotel to catch the free shuttle to the airport. Along the way we explored the shops and stopped for lunch at the first moderately-priced sushi place we could find that had pictures we could point to (this is harder to find than you’d expect!). It was quite good, and also strange – I recommend trying Sea Urchin simply for the experience, not the taste. Upon arrival at our hotel (and after stopping at McDonalds for another snack because our lunch was so modest in size) we hopped on the free shuttle back to Narita International Airport.
Our stay in Narita was short but so, so sweet. It was the culture, the beauty, and most importantly – the people that stole my heart. We did not have a single unpleasant interaction with a Japanese person the entire time we were in the Country. From the flight attendants to the hotel staff to the restaurant staff to the passersby and even to the police officer that came aboard our shuttle to check out passports, everybody was above and beyond kind. Even if they weren’t able to speak english, which many of them weren’t, they were eager to find a way to communicate with you with such overwhelming politeness. We had never felt so comfortable, safe and cared for in our travels. The people alone are reason enough to visit this beautiful Country. I cannot wait to return someday soon.
Have you ever been to Narita, or to any other parts of Japan? Was your experience as wonderful as mine?