A Crash-Course in Narita Culture

After an… eventful (to say the least) excursion from the airport to the Shinsoji Temples, I was ready to start doing some ‘splorin!

Venturing around places that look like they're straight out of a Miyazaki film?? Count me in!

Venturing around places that look like they’re straight out of a Miyazaki film?? Count me in!

Walking into the temple complex (which is MASSIVE), you’re immediate greeted first with rows of street vendors selling figures of a little blue creature called “Unari-kun”.

The sight seeing amabador for Narita, Unari-kun is an easy-going scorpio who enjoys attending festivals and sporting events

The sight-seeing ambassador for Narita, Unari-kun is an easy-going Scorpio who enjoys attending festivals and sporting events 

In charge of keeping everyone at the airport happy, Kutan is enthusiastic, friendly and enjoys late night strolls on the runway

In charge of keeping everyone at the airport happy, Kutan is enthusiastic, friendly and enjoys late night strolls on the runway

Gandering at the cutie, I first laid eyes on him in the airport, and to me, he looked like a bird so I figured the little bird was the airport’s mascot. Later, I found out that (1) he’s the city’s mascot, not the airport’s – the airport has Kutan (2) he’s NOT a bird, he’s an alien mix between an eel (because it’s the city’s specialty) and an airplane (because of the airport, so I guess I was KIND OF close with that one).

Somehow (with some sort of crazy self-control I didn’t even know I had), I was able to resist buying all of the Unari-kun souvenirs and made my way to the actual temples, which were exactly as I had pictured them, but even more awesome in person.

The brilliant Daito Temple

The brilliant Daito Temple

What really stole the show for me though, was Naritasan Park. I was walking along a narrow path, turned a corner and out of nowhere, a waterfall appeared. Now, I absolutely ADORE waterfalls (I’ve blog-squealed about them in Malaysia and Indonesia) and literally squealed with excitement and ran to dip my feet in the pond.

Water!? That's FALLING!? What could be better!? (trick question, the answer is nothing!)

Water!? That’s FALLING!? What could be better!? (trick question, the answer is nothing!)

Following the water running out of the pond, I discovered it flowed into three large Koi ponds. Here, I took a moment to enjoy how gorgeous the ponds were and how much I WASN’T afraid of the Kois, like I would have been before I conquered my fear in Thailand.

I hate pigeons in Toronto, but even THEY are pretty here!

I hate pigeons in Toronto, but even THEY are pretty here!

All of that feeling awesome about myself was hard work apparently, so I was starting to get hungry. I decided to grab some Udon from a nearby restaurant and enjoyed dying and going to eel, octopus, tofu and egg heaven.

OM NOM NOM!!

OM NOM NOM!!

Fortunately, happy delicious food-deaths aren’t permanent, and I was soon continuing on my way south to Omote Sando Street. Filled with even more shops literally overflowing with Unari-kuns and other traditional souvenirs and random statues of zodiac animals, Omote Sando represents the main downtown Narita strip. As such, it has a great traditional, old school vibe to it with a feeling of organized chaos.

Also home to the narrowest sidewalks I have ever seen!

Also home to the narrowest sidewalks I have ever seen!

After some amicable browsing, it was on to a completely different shopping experience: AEON Mall – home to a MASSIVE arcade with about 50 claw games alone (and about 5,000,000 other contraptions I couldn’t even recognize), a ton of Japanese-brand stores and some same-same but different Canadian brands.

Rocky Mountains REPRESENT!

Rocky Mountains REPRESENT!

I’ve never been much of a mall rat and I’m constantly surprised at how similar malls everywhere from Canada to Singapore to Japan actually are (which is to say I spent significantly more time in the arcade than the actual mall), but even still, before I knew it, it was time to hop back in the super-tourist-y brightly coloured cable car of a bus and head back to the airport.

Even though I wasn’t even in Narita for a full day, I still felt like I had seen a good amount of the city. After raving about my trip, I friend of mine asked if I had a copy of my itinerary, as he was planning on doing the same thing during his upcoming layover in Japan. I ended up writing him out a full itinerary and eventually realized that I could probably find a place that would publish it for me and eventually, I came across Unanchored. Now, you can check out and buy the full itinerary here:  http://www.unanchor.com/itinerary/view/338

Finding Myself Lost in Japan

After spending many an airport layover trying to accomplish foolish things around the terminal like trying to get on “free wifi” or taking a nap, I finally decided it was about time I stop letting myself suffer and start taking advantage of being in a different country for even just a few hours.

In lieu of this decision, I found a flight from Singapore to Toronto that had a 9-hour layover (during the day) in Tokyo. I’ve always wanted to visit Japan, and naively thought I’d be able to make a quick trip from Singapore at some point during stay. However, I failed to realize that Japan is still an eight hour flight from Singapore and that there are about 5,000,000,000 other, closer places I also wanted to visit. In compromise, I decided to do a quick country taste-test to see if I would consider going back and visiting Japan “for real” later.
Next came the planning. After a week in Vietnam and Cambodia, I figured planning a few hours would be no big deal. This was wrong. Very wrong. With so little time, I wanted to make sure I saw the best, but with Tokyo being a crazy sprawling metropolis filled with signs I wouldn’t be able to read, I also wanted to not get hopelessly lost and miss my connecting flight. I eventually settled on visiting Narita, a (comparatively) smaller city outside Tokyo and closer to the airport. I decided I would take the bus with the simplest-looking route into the city from the airport and would try to see things that were close to the bus route – I was going to make this trip so idiot-proof, even my severely directionally challenged self couldn’t get lost.
However, if getting lost was an Olympic sport, I would be its Michael Phelps. Before even leaving the airport, I ended up at the wrong arrivals gate, wrong immigration line, wrong baggage check area and wrong bus terminal. Luckily, I had plenty of time before the bus actually left and realized that if I hadn’t gotten lost, I’d just be sitting around mindlessly browsing duty-free perfume, waiting for the bus anyways. I eventually made it with 5 minutes to spare before my super-tourist-y brightly coloured cable car of a bus turned up.
This is actually what the bus looked like. As someone who studies tourism, I felt a little bad for loving something so blatantly tourist-y so much

This is actually what the bus looked like. As someone who studies tourism, I felt a little bad for loving something so blatantly tourist-y so much

"Happytown?" Seems legit!

“Happytown?” Seems legit!

In a matter of minutes, I was in the heart of Narita and quite proud of myself for making it to the bus on time. Maybe a little bit too proud, because although all I had to do to get from the bus stop to the Shinsoji Temples I wanted to visit was walk down 18 street, I could see the top of one of the temples in the distance and decided that cutting through a little subdivision would probably be faster. This might have been true if I knew what I was doing, but alas, I did not. While all of the house were quite cute, they all looked the exact same and were lining increasingly more narrow and curving streets. After a significant amount of wandering, I was lucky enough to come across a street map and was able to re-orientate myself, eventually coming across signs for Happytown – which, even if it wasn’t going to take me to the temples, sounded like a hilariously-awesome place to check out.
From there, I soon made it to the temples and realized that I might not be as uselessly-directionally handicapped as I thought. If I could find my own way in a random city in Japan, there was nothing I couldn’t do!
I conquered these temples, I conquered LIFE!

I conquered finding these temples, I conquered LIFE!