People often think of Narita as merely another gateway to Tokyo. However, seldom does it strike visitors that Narita is located in an entirely different prefecture from Tokyo, with its fair share of attractions.
In fact, right at the doorstep of the airport is the city of Narita, complete with an old town, grandiose temple, and delicious cuisine. The streets leading from JR Narita station is lined with Edo-style restaurants and shops. From shops hawking herbal remedies, to traditional snacks and wicker wares, the Omotesando of Narita breathes of the yesteryear. We picked up a snack from Amatarou, a shop specialising in obanyaki and taiyaki. Each piping hot pancake was filled with a generous dollop of red or white bean which was just the right amount of sweetness.
We also stopped by Chomeisan, a sake brewery located right on the main street. Established during the Edo-period, the brewery still stands on its original site. Inside, we sampled sake ranging from sweet to dry. According to the attendant, the sakes are brewed from a local spring and stories of people recovering from their ailments had given rise to their moniker which translates to Spring of Longevity.
Another thing that Narita is famous for is its unagi (eels). As we strolled down the street, the scent of charcoal and cooking eels was a delight to our nasal sense. Right at the doorstep of Kawatoyo, you can see a man expertly preparing the unagi. A chop, hammer and a few slices were all it took to fillet the once writhing eel. Gruesome as the sight was, the freshness of the ingredient was undeniable, and the smokey flavoured coupled with the sweet sauce only brought out the best in the dish.
Narita-san Shinsho-ji temple at the end of the road is one of the pilgrim sites during the new year period of every year. We once made the mistake of visiting during that time and had to content with a massive traffic jam driving into the city. In fact, we also had to queue in order to get into the temple. Such was the popularity of this austere-looking building. Established in 940 by Kancho Daisojo, it is a lead temple of the Chian-branch of New Shingon. The temple is made up several buildings, each with its unique architecture. Within the complex, there is also a calligraphy museum and a sprawling park filled with blooming sakura-trees in spring.
We finished the day at Sanjiya, which is a charming little Japanese sweet cafe just off a nondescript offshoot from the Omotesando. Its zen-like courtyard was complemented with a bamboo grove just behind the building. Immersing ourselves in the tranquil setting, we savoured a cup of tea and traditional Japanese sweets.