What to do with a pit stop in Narita

This past January, Clint and I were lucky enough to take off for a few weeks and venture to the Philippines to spend some time with our friends and their sweet little family.

On our way there, like many others – we had a layover in Narita, Japan. The Narita International Airport is the main international airport serving the Greater Tokyo Area. In 2015 the airport served almost 35 million travellers, many whom had at least a few hours in city.

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Layovers can often be a pain in the ass more than anything, with just enough time to switch planes, but barely enough time to have a meal, and even less time to explore.  In Narita, things are different.  It is one of the most organized and efficient airports I’ve ever travelled to.  With even a 4 hour stop you will have plenty to do.  Each terminal of the three terminals in the Narita airport boasts a large shopping and dining area on the fourth floor; with offerings of traditional japanese cuisine, ramen & noodles, western cuisine, chinese & other ethnic cuisines and cafes – there is something for everyone.  And, after you’re done eating – you can pick up a variety of japanese goods from confectionaries to folk craft.

If you’re looking for western suggestions, you won’t find them here.  I travel to experience as much of the local culture as possible – and food is one of the best ways to do that.

Here are my recommendations:

Terminal 1 

Sushi Kyotatsu – this restaurant is part of a small chain that offers individual style at each of its establishments. Kyotatsu buys it’s fish from the middle traders at Tsukiji Market, ensuring only the best fish for their customers.

Nagasakasarasina Nunoyatahee – This soba restaurant is rich with a history of over 220 years. The menu includes Gozen Soba, Kikouchi Soba and Tahee Soba served with sweet and spicy dipping sauces which you can blend to the way you like.

Tatsu – offers a decent range of household favourites including: Udon noodles, Sukiyaki, Ochazuke, Tempura rice bowl, fried noodles and Japanese stew.

Terminal 2

Sushiden – a chill restaurant built around the Japanese cultural concept of “Wa”, you can enjoy fresh fish in season.

Tentei – hop into Tentei for a range of tempura, tendon and koryori dishes.  They use seasonal flavours and prepare the food with traditional japanese flare.

Tonkatsu Inaba Wako – delicious pork dishes from this specialist restaurant will leave you dreaming of that flavour for days to come. And with all you can eat rice cabbage and miso soup – you can’t go wrong!

Terminal 3

Botejyu Express– this shop is a branch of BOTEJYU, a restaurant (group) founded in Osaka in the mid 40s. Serving authentic foods from the area, the offer an extensive range of menus including modern-yaki, takoyaki from Osaka, and moriyama from Nakatsu.

I myself am not a huge shopper, but if you are – there is no shortage of places for you to pick up a few souvenirs on the way.

Check out Fukujuen for a taste of traditional tea and the accompanying ceremonies, Sakura for a variety of Japanese souvenirs ranging from confectionary to folk art and the Chiba Trade Centre for items native to the Chiba Prefecture. I could go on forever as there are dozens of shops in each terminal – but you get the idea.  Whatever you’re looking for, you will find!

Now, if you’re lucky like us – you’ll have even more time, and you’ll get out to explore the city.  We had a stop on the way there (that was about 16 hours) and on the way home (for about 20 hours).  So we were able to explore Narita’s Omotesando Street and surrounding area. Here’s my suggestions for a stop that is 12 hours or more.

There are a number of hotels that are close by and many of them are decent; just remember that most of the accommodations here are very small and very basic. We stayed at the APA Hotel – Keisei and we were super happy with our decision.  1) it is super easy to get to from the airport, just two stops from Terminal 1 and one stop from Terminal 2 on the Keisei Line, and it only costs about $3 CAD, or 260 YEN,  2) for Narita it’s reasonably priced at about $80 CAD give or take and 3) it is a staircase away from Omotesando Street.

Omotesando Street in Narita is beautiful, rich with history this street takes you back in time.

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Lined with restaurants, temples, shops, cafes and on certain days an open air market, this 800 meter street offers you everything you need for a true Japanese experience.

So where to start? Well for us we left our hotel, went up the stairs towards the Keisei line and instead of getting on the train we went through the station to the beginning of Omotesando St.

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First stop – ramen.  We tried a couple different places and wish we could have tried more, but there were so many other things we wanted to eat, so we had to control ourselves just a little.  While I wouldn’t say this place has the best ramen, it’s the easiest place to go after a long flight in a Country where you don’t speak the language; and the ramen is definitely decent.  Ramen Bayashi has English menus with giant pictures which makes choosing with a jet-lagged brain much less challenging.

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A different, but equally satisfying experience is at Miyamoto (open 24 hours a day) – where you order through a machine and pass the ticket to the chef.  They usually have pictures of the main items up top and then what seems like a bazillion buttons below for any add-ons you may want for your soup.  If you don’t speak Japanese, it will be a crap shoot – but one worth a try.

Once you get your ramen fix, there are a number of other items you’re going to want to try before you get back on that plane.  Street food is a must and consists of everything from sweet buns filled azuki bean paste, miso, or pumpkin, octopus yakitori, and fried chicken to candy covered bananas.

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And if you thought I was done with food after all that, I’m not.  Because we haven’t even got to the best stuff yet – sushi!!!

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We tried a random restaurant down Omotesando and the sashimi was incredible, it literally melted in your mouth.  If I had more time, I would have eaten sushi all day and all night. But we had one last thing to try – a stop in Narita wouldn’t be complete without eel (or kabayaki, the broiled eel with soy sauce), a popular snack.  Eel shops are common in Narita; opened hundreds of years ago to feed tired pilgrims waiting in line to pray at the famed temples.

A must stop for the eel is Kawatoyo, which at one time held 2 Michelin stars.   At Kawatoyo, you will be required to take a number, pay in advance, following which you will be sat. Or if you want to eat and walk  you can do take-out but don’t expect fast food, the wait for to go orders is approximately 30 min. (and well worth it).

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It opens around 9:30 AM for service, but if you’re around earlier – it’s worth it to walk down Omotesando around 8:30-9:00 AM as many of the Chefs will be out killing, cleaning and preparing the eel for service.

If you’re not in the mood to wait at Kawatoyo, there are approximately 60 other restaurants or so that serve the famed eel, so don’t worry – you’ll be able to grab some one way or another.

Once you’ve had at least a couple things to eat make your way down Omotesando to the Naritasan Shinshoji Temple complex.  It houses the main hall, the Great Pagoda of Peace, the Shotoku Taishi Hall, a cemetery and the beautiful Naritasan park.

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On the way there you can observe the other smaller temples and shops so that on your way back  you can stop for snacks and any shopping you might want to do.  We were super lucky to have stayed over on a Sunday, where Omotesando came alive with not only the regular shops but, pop-sup stands, street food, and an open-air market.

As much as layovers can suck – you’ll think differently after landing in Narita. I hope you enjoy my suggestions.  It might seem like a lot in just a few hours, but believe me – there is more than enough time to enjoy all that Narita has to offer on a layover.

Kristen xo

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