The Narita Transit Program: The Perfect Entertainment for Long Layovers
November 25, 2016
OK. Say you have arrived at Narita Airport and are stuck with a 10-hour layover. You have a lot of time to kill before you need to transfer to your next flight and need something to do. Luckily, rather than spend all day strolling through terminal gift shops and watching planes take off, the Narita Transit Program offers several English language tours through the city and access to huge shopping centers right outside of the airport.
How to Sign Up for a Tour
The tour begins inside Narita Airport at the Narita Transit Program counter in Terminal 2. Here you must sign up through an application and choose your preferred program course. Be sure to include your departure time so the guides can get you back on time. The courses available include Narita-san for a Japanese culture experience, Shibayama Town for a culinary tour, Tako for a scenic countryside stroll, Sakae for a costume wearing tour, or shopping around Shisui Premium Outlets. The tour is free, but you must pay for your own food and kimono so it will be safe to have money with you. I had lots of time on my hands so I chose the most popular ones, Narita-san and Shisui Premium Outlets. The sign up time is from 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM. The tours can last from 9:00 AM to 14:00 PM. To make it super convenient, you can leave your luggage with the tour staff at the counter until the end of the tour. Then you and your tour guide head out.
Culture Experience in Narita-san
Choosing the Narita-san tour was a splendid idea. There were three tours available: a cultural stroll down Narita-san’s Omotesando Street, tour around the famous Narita-san Shinsho-ji Temple or both. If you have the time, both is the best option. It began at Narita Station, where tourists embark on a hugely entertaining trip through Omotesando Street walking all the way to Narita-san Shinshoji Temple.
Omotensando literally means road that leads to the temple, and it is a well-preserved street where its traditional Japanese identity seems to have remained unchanged since the Edo era. It is lined with traditional Japanese confectionary shops, kitchen supply shops, restaurants and sake stores (which gladly offer free tasting). The tour begins with a walk down the street leading to the temple where there are plenty of stalls selling traditional Japanese goodies to snack on like rice crackers or sake flavoured ice cream. Nagomi-Yoneya is a great addition to the tour, an old shop specializing in yokan, a Japanese jelly-like sweet made from sweet beans. People typically buy it after praying at Narita-san. During this part of the tour, there was plenty of time for shopping and this was a great place to take home something Japanese.
Nagomi-Yoneya confectionary shop
Next came the kimono section of the tour. For only ¥500, some nice ladies will dress you in a traditional Japanese garb. There were kimono available for men and women allowing tourists to feel like a samurai or geisha for a day. They even give you the option of wearing it for only a few minutes or renting it to wear around the town until you get to Narita-san. Now you can walk down the street pretending to be Japanese. This is only available on certain days, so look out for it.
Tour of Narita-san Shinsho-ji Temple and Narita-san Park
Now for the highlight of the tour, the Narita-san Shinsho-ji Temple. This temple was founded over 1000 years ago and today remains an important part of Japanese Buddhism, culture and history. To be able to tour it is an exciting opportunity. At the entrance was the temple’s grand gate made entirely with ancient Japanese architecture methods. Next came the turtle rock pond, where people throw a coin at the rock, make a wish and if it lands on the rock, it will come true. After that, you walk up to a copper pot that is always burning incense. Throw a handful of incense bits into the pot and blow the smoke onto your skin; it is said to have healing properties. Finally, when you reach the temple, it is customary to deposit some spare change and pray for a good life. There is a large park behind the temple and the guide will proudly take you around to explain the best bits of Narita-san’s history and significance. Be sure to bring the tour’s complimentary scrap book or goshuin book for the monks to stamp their official Narita-san stamp.
Finally, we reached the tea ceremony or sado. This takes place in the Narita Tourist Pavilion. The objective of Japanese tea ceremonies is serenity and discipline and people could sense that the moment it started. Interestingly, it began with everyone served yokan (probably fresh from the previously mentioned store). Then some kimono-clad Japanese women poured hot water from an iron teapot into bowls filled with Japanese green tea powder for drinking, meanwhile explaining the details of the ceremony in English. Participants are taught to bow and slurp their tea at the appropriate time. Each movement and gesture has meaning in sado and it was a very engaging experience. Everyone leaves the ceremony more relaxed and refreshed. This section of the tour is also only available on certain days.
All this touring can certainly work up an empty stomach. For lunch the tour includes not just a meal, but the quality Japanese grilled eel dish, unagi, served at the exquisite restaurant Kikuya Chrysanthemum House right next to Narita-san. Unagi is served with a dark, sugary sauce and has a fatty consistency that just melts in your mouth. The eel is served on top of rice and makes a filling, delicious meal that will remind you how wonderful Japan really is. You can even watch how the eel is prepared from outside the restaurant. The tour is free, but lunch must be paid ¥4000 separately.
When you want to spend a few hours entertaining yourself during a long layover at Narita Airport, or give yourself a quick Japanese cultural experience, NTP’s Narita-san Shisho-ji tour is a superb choice. Japan certainly earns its title as a tourist-friendly country with plenty of fun escapes like this. This 3 hour tour was a wonderful time to spend learning about a different culture and doing things different. Once you hop on the plane and depart from Japan, you will miss it even more. After a spectacular tour, shopping has to come next.
Shisui Premium Outlets
After an adventure through Japanese culture, it was time for some serious shopping so this next course was right on time. If you like to spend your layover time shopping around for vast selections of merchandise, the Shisui Premium Outlets shuttle bus is a perfect solution. Outside Terminal 2 at bus stop 13, there is a ¥350 bus waiting to take tourists to the grand, multifarious shopping center. Here, you can spend your time shopping for great deals at Japanese and international brand outlet stores while also getting some fresh air before the long flight home.
At Shisui Premium Outlets, there are over 180 different stores to choose from. You can find a wide variety of famous brands from Gap to Michael Kors and Nike. Of course, Japanese brand stores also have outlets here, including Seiko, Takeo Kikuchi and the number one Japanese kawaii culture store, Sanrio. There is even a shop called Hipshop selling underwear with famous Japanese art and historical figures like the Great Wave of Kanagawa and Emperor Godaigo on them. If you are hungry, there is an enormous food court and many different restaurants around the outlet offering all kinds of meals to choose from (I highly recommend a handmade crepe). Even the kids will enjoy the playgrounds to run around. This shopping outlet is clearly built to accommodate large crowds of people, so even when it is packed, you can still find the right place to relax.
Shisui Premium Outlets Information:
From Narita Airport:
Bus: Direct Bus Approx. 15 min.
Address: 2-4-1, Iizumi, Shisui-machi, Inba-gun District, Chiba Prefecture 285-0912
Hours: Shops/Food Court 10 AM - 8 PM. Restaurants/11 AM - 9 PM.
*Hours vary by shop and season
Closing Day: Once a year, on the third Thursday in February.
Visit the official site for more information.
Read More about the Narita Airport Transit & Stay Program