Explore the Japanese Village of Naritasan
The Enchantment of Naritasan
Exploring a Buddhist Temple in Japan
It is the way the little road, with cobbled sidewalks, winds down toward the temple that lends itself to a sort of otherworldly charm. With its quaint shops and vibrant color, paper lanterns wafting to and fro, the high, clear notes of the bells, tinkling in the breeze. Everywhere the inquisitive face of Maneki Neko, the talisman cat, looking down from postcards and figurines, with his promise of good luck. Collectively, all this comes together to create an enchanting invitation for visitors to the little town of the Narita Mountain.
One can find any number of treasures along the road to the Shinshoji temple. Whether your interests guide you into the family shops, filled with traditional Japanese gifts, or to donning the full kimono along the Omote Sando for only 500 yen and wandering the village in traditional regalia. For delicious sushi, one need only walk through the curtained doors of Tachibana Sushi to find a buffet of artistically presented seafood. If you are craving a nice warm bowl of local Ramen, then Ramen Bayashi will tend to your every need, offering all imaginable varieties of Ramen. Seeking the most indigenous plate of this Chiba prefecture, you will quickly discover the open air chopping blocks that line the cobbled sidewalks. There, right before your eyes, live eels are filleted and prepared upon the traditional hibachis. It is a delicacy of Narita, so be sure to experience the Unagi-don and see for yourself.
Once the excitement of dining and shopping dissipates, take the footpath to the Naritasan Shinshoji Temple. As the ornate rooftops spread out beneath you, and the chatter of the Nagamachi slowly fades to a hum, for a fleeting moment, all seems right with the world. If the timing is just right, you will hear the low rumble of the temple monks, beating on drums. The music builds, reverberating off of every surface, creating a magical experience unlike any other. A massive staircase, shrouded beautifully by overhangings from the Edo period, leads to the majestic temple. The Naritasan Shinshoji is a Buddhist temple, where monks and worshipers continue on their journey towards enlightenment. At the top of the stairs, travelers may encounter "Hot Dog", who is the keeper of the purification fountain. A ritual hand washing must be done prior to entering the temple, for cleansing and purification. Make your way through the gates, and up the stairs, where you will be greeted by an elegant landscape of ponds. These pools are the home of old turtles, who have been doted on by the temple goers for centuries.
Beyond the terrace, lie the main hall and courtyard of the temple. Historically rich, the Daihondo (main hall) was built in 940 BC and became a prominent place of worship during the Edo Period (1603-1867). Mesmerizing, masked in the smoke of incense from large, ceremonial burners the hall is both intriguing and humbling. "Osenko", or incense, are available for visitors to place within the burner, which is a way of paying homage to this culturally significant gathering place. Locals believe that the smoke hanging in the air has healing properties and it is customary for worshippers to waft the smoke into their faces.
Entering the temples within the Shinshoji gardens is a sacred experience and it is important to be mindful of the rules. The signs make it very easy for visitors to know when it is appropriate to take pictures, which sometimes, it is not. When walking inside certain areas, visitors are expected to remove their shoes, leaving them in a designated area. There are also offering boxes before each shrine where worshipers can be seen offering a coin and bowing in reverence before hurrying off on their daily duties.
Perhaps best of all, the gardens of the Shinshoji temple are immense and magical. Spend hours wandering down tree-lined pathways, and gazing at the ancient koi, swimming lazily down creeks and ponds. Another hidden gem, is the Great Peace Pagoda, standing five stories tall and overlooking the Magatama fountain and surrounding gardens. Park benches commonly old visitors lost in thought or wondering at the beauty around them. Life takes on a dream-like peace, tucked away in the gardens of the Naritasan Shinshoji. It is easy to understand why this is a great place to practice "Santosha", the art of contentment and happiness.
Our nature often tells us that we need certain things, in order to find joy. What Buddhism teaches us is that happiness comes from within, and has very little to do with outside circumstances. Some people spend their whole lives searching for happiness, never realizing that the secret was inside them all along. Standing in that temple, in the midst of so many centuries of calm, devoted practitioners, it is easy to embrace this tranquil way of life.
What You Need to Know;
The temple is free to visit.
Naritasan is only 5 miles from the international airport.
Take the JR or Kesei train straight from the airport. Most local airport hotels will also provide a shuttle that takes you straight to the Narita Station.
If you are short on time and are seeking hotels close to the airport, the Hilton Tokyo Narita Hotel or The Westin Hotel Tokyo has all the expected amenities, as well as shuttles to and from town.
For a more contemporary experience, the ARA Hotel Kensei or the Mercure Narita Airport provides plush, comfortable rooms in a modern environment.
For a more submersive experience, the Narita View Hotel or the Wakamatsu Honten Ryokan Narita will expose you to local flare in a chic atmosphere. The Wakamatsu has a traditional bathhouse, and are well known for their local unagi-don, a steamed rice dish topped with eel. The hotel prides itself on offering an authentic Japanese experience.