A Trip to Serene Shibayama, on the Narita Airport Transit & Stay Program
May 17, 2017
A memorable trip can start anywhere and one of my journeys began at Shibayama, Chiba Prefecture when I joined the Narita Airport Transit and Stay Program, a free guided tour designed for layovers at Narita Airport. (The program is also open to people staying in the Narita area.) I chose Shibayama, a three-hour culinary tour that covers the Museum of Aeronautical Sciences, Hikoki no Oka Park, Shisho Shrine, a strawberry farm and Sora-no-eki Fuwari rest area. The private tour allowed me flexibility in where and when to stop, allowing for maximum photo opportunities and personalized service.
It was about a 15-minute bus ride from the airport to the Museum of Aeronautical Sciences. Besides replica and actual aircrafts, the exhibits include a flight stimulator, photographs, clothing, equipment used by the aviators. On the second floor, I was amazed at the precise georama miniature of Narita Airport. What's so amazing about this miniature art isn't only its size, but rather the artists’ ability to capture the texture and feelings of the items they portrayed. The museum has an observation deck with a view of the southern end of Narita Airport’s runway, providing a great view of planes taking off and landing.
From the museum, you can take a twenty minute walk to Hikoki no Oka Park, the nearby plane spotting area where you can observe airplanes flying overhead without any obstructions. The park is spacious and never get crowded.
Before visiting Shisho Shine, the volunteer guides took me to a strawberry farm where we had a chance to taste fresh strawberries and meet with people who grew them. As I strolled in the greenhouse, I became aware of a wonderful subtle berry fragrancein the air. According to one of the guides, the strawberry season in Shibayama is from December to May, and the greenhouse here is open to visitors for a limited time from March to April. Over 10,000 strawberries are grown at the farm, and varieties include “beni hoppe,” “kaorino,” and “oishii berry.”
Moments later, we arrived at Shisho Shrine, the sacred site having a history dating back more than 300 years, where local people pray for good harvests. The well maintained entrance to the main hall is lined with rows of somei yoshino cherry trees.
Shisho Shrine grounds in early April.
The main hall was built with detailed woodwork and is watched over by two komainu guardians, characterized by one having its mouth open and the other having its mouth shut. It signifies ‘ah-un’ which in Sanskrit are the first and last letters of the alphabet – in other words, life and death.
With the wind sighing through the trees above, the sun dappling my shoulders, the birds singing in my ears, I was reluctant to leave.
The highlight of the trip was Sora-no-eki Fuwari, a roadside rest area that offers an all-you-can-eat buffet lunch with a variety of dishes all prepared with local produce. The menu included udon noodles, tempura, tamagoyaki and chirashi sushi topped with edible flowers and much more. The food disappeared as if by magic. To wrap up my meal, I tucked into a bowl of strawberry flavored ice cream. The creamy ice cream managed to be sweet but never cloying, and the tart berry flavor offset its sweetness.
Next to the restaurant there is a farmer’s market selling fresh vegetables, fruits, and seasonal local produce such as strawberries, pickled cherry blossoms, and sakura buckwheat noodles.
This tour is not yet so popular with foreigners, but if you have the chance, participating in the Narita Airport Transit and Stay Program is something you shouldn’t miss for a different taste of Japan.
How to Sign up for the Tour
You can sign up by filling out an application form at the Narita Airport Transit and Stay Program counter at either Terminal 1 or 2 at Narita Airport, or book the tour online at http://www.narita-transit-program.jp/guide.html#shibayama.
Read More about the Narita Airport Transit & Stay Program
Tataya Kudo is a travel writer and photographer who loves writing and photographing places and plates of food. Her interest includes slow travel, food, and culture. Tataya currently makes Tokyo her home, where she spends her free time writing about things that touch and inspire people to travel.