In Transit at Narita Airport?

How to Make the Most of a Long Transit or Layover

Featured | By Lisa Wallin  - 5 min read


Narita International Airport has opened a PCR Testing Center that can provide negative coronavirus test certificates in as little as two hours for those embarking on international travel. Test & Certificate rates start from 39,800 yen for those booked for an appointment.

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Layovers and transits through airports can be stressful and dull, but they don’t have to be. If you have a few hours to spare—or even a day or two—why not make your stay at Narita the best it could possibly be?

Escape Narita Airport and explore the “real” Japan

The Narita Airport Transit and Stay Program offers guided and self-guided tours for visitors with long transit times or layovers. Instead of worrying about how to get somewhere or not knowing the best sights, leave it to the program’s expert volunteer guides. The guides all speak English and are experienced in taking visitors to the most interesting areas around the airport. Tours are free—all you pay is personal expenses (travel, food, admission fees)—which means you don’t have to break the bank. (Unless you want to!)

Head out into “real” Japan to find . . .

Narita City

Narita International Airport’s namesake Narita City lies less than 10 minutes away by train from the airport, making it the perfect quick getaway for a few hours. The city is not only a popular place for overnight stays for transiting passengers and airline staff, but it’s also home to one of Japan’s most famous temples, Naritasan Shinshoji.

Narita Shinshoji's main building and pagoda
Narita Shinshoji's main building and pagoda

Naritasan Shinshoji Temple and Narita-san approach

Narita Shinshoji was established over 1,000 years ago and has long been a popular place of pilgrimage. It’s one of Japan’s most popular places for the annual custom of Hatsumode (the first visit to a temple or shrine of the new year) and attracts millions from far and wide. Even so, it never feels crowded. The temple grounds are vast and include many temple buildings, a beautiful garden, and even a calligraphy museum. Because of the temple’s importance, the main approach (known as Naritasan Omotesando) is crowded with shops and restaurants ready to serve pilgrims and tourists passing by. Many sell traditional sweets and crafts, and a guided tour will ensure you know which stores are worth a visit and what the best things to buy are. Guides will also explain the reason behind the many eel restaurants—eel is a Narita specialty—that prepare their ingredients at the storefront, in full view of passersby. Optional experiences on this tour include sutra copying, an exclusive eel cuisine lunch at a historic restaurant, kimono rental, a goma fire ritual at Naritasan Shinshoji, and a tea ceremony demonstration (subject to availability). Find out more about this Narita Airport Transit & Stay tour here.

The rice ball lunch set at Roadside Station Tako Ajisai-kan
The rice ball lunch set at Roadside Station Tako Ajisai-kan

Tako Town and its countryside charms

Located pretty much next door to Narita Airport, Tako is a small town that is most famous for its hydrangeas in June and its high-quality rice and picturesque rice fields year-round. Tako rice is made in limited quantities and is almost impossible to find in other regions of Japan, making any chance to savor it a rare treat. The best way to take in Tako's countryside landscape is either on foot or by power-assisted bicycle. Bicycles are available for rent at Roadside Station Tako Ajisai-kan, a multi-use facility with souvenirs, restaurants, and more. While here, be sure to try the onigiri (rice ball) lunch set to get a first-hand taste of Tako’s famed rice with seasonal fillings and delicious sides.

The illustrious Nichihonji Temple in the rain
The illustrious Nichihonji Temple in the rain

Nichihonji Temple

Once out on the road, the guided tour will take you past flatlands with stunning rice fields and views of the scattered houses beyond. Nichihonji, a temple that belongs to the Nichiren sect of Buddhism and a school for monks is a must-see on this route. In June, the approach to the temple is awash with a colorful display of about 10,000 hydrangea blossoms. In other seasons, the surrounding cedar forest creates a mysterious atmosphere as you walk toward the main temple building. A walk around the grounds will reveal another small temple, together with a pair of Inari shrines—an exceedingly rare combination.

Hydrangeas can also be found in Tako Hydrangea Park along the Kuriyama River, but even this location is beautiful in any season. There are cherry blossoms and yellow mustard flowers in spring, and cosmos and fall foliage in autumn.

Delicious mitarashi dango (rice dumplings with a sweet sauce glaze) at Shiraishi Confectionery
Delicious mitarashi dango (rice dumplings with a sweet sauce glaze) at Shiraishi Confectionery

Shiraishi Confectionery Shop

For a sweet treat on the road, head to Shiraishi Confectionery, a charming shop that uses Tako rice flour as well as locally and domestically produced fruits and vegetables. Try the mitarashi dango—these roasted rice-flour balls with a sweet soy sauce glaze are excellent with a cup of tea. Shiraishi also offers a selection of seasonal treats, making a trip here in any season a delightful experience. Make sure to take time to admire the handmade signs in and around the shop—including the outside signboard that has its own Instagram account—as the shop owner made them himself. If you're looking for something more filling, head to the tempura restaurant, Tensuzu, next door.

Do you still need more inspiration? Find out more about the Narita Transit & Stay program by checking out the website and their Facebook and Instagram accounts. Book online directly via the website before your trip to ensure a spot on your desired tour!

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Lisa Wallin

Lisa Wallin @lisa.wallin

Lisa grew up traversing the globe as she immersed herself in various cultures, driven by a deep-seated need to understand the world around her. Japan ultimately became her home with its lure of scrumptious cuisine and a surprisingly dynamic underground music scene. When not working as a writer and translator, she spends her time visiting shrines, drinking coffee and making friends with every Shiba dog she comes across.

Join the discussion

Kim a year ago
Great tips - plenty to see and do!
Lisa Wallin Author a year ago
There really is *so* much to do in the area! This only covers a small percentage of it. ^^
Elizabeth S a year ago
Nearly every time I transit through Narita Airport, I make a stop at Shinshoji, the temple complex. I've sometimes chatted with fellow travelers visiting the temple. The garden below the pagoda is beautiful in all seasons.
Lisa Wallin Author a year ago
It's such a huge place one visit is definitely not enough! There is something that really draws you in, isn't there? I understand why you keep going back! :)