During the five years prior to founding Session Japan I was traveling several times each year to Southeast Asia. To my delight oftentimes our route from America to Bangkok plopped us in Narita for a layover! Armed with that experience, here are my recommendations for things do in the Narita airport if you don't have enough time to leave the airport before your next flight, and where to venture if you do!
Narita has the typical airline lounges and also separate showers for rent at half hour increments. The recommendations below are for those who want to take advantage of an opportunity to experience a bit of Japan.
There is only one sushi restaurant inside the international terminal of Narita; Sushi Kyotatsu. If I'm only in Japan for a layover, I always make sure to stop eating a couple of hours before landing at Narita so I'll have room for miso soup, my favorite sashimi, and some hot sake. It is fresh, it is delicious, and the service is always prompt and polite.
You can pay with a credit card here, and since they serve so many foreign travelers you won't have any trouble communicating with the wait staff. Sometimes you'll find a line to get in, but they do a good job of getting people in and out efficiently.
You can also opt to get your sushi to go (sake or beer, too) from the window at the front of the shop. The easiest way to find Kyotatsu is to find Gate 34.
If sushi isn't your thing, don't worry! Tatsu is a really solid option for a pre-flight fix of Japanese food. They serve ramen of course, but also udon, and a good katsu curry. It is located near Gate 26, and just across from one of the more peaceful rest areas in the terminal.
There are several stores in the terminal that sell a wide variety of Japanese liquors and other typical Japanese gifts. One of them is right across from the United Airlines lounge. These stores will often be sampling a few of their sakes. On my way back to Colorado I usually pick up a bottle of my favorite sake to take home. This is convenient because you are already through security so you can safely carry the bottle on the plane with you.
Once you've eaten sushi or ramen to your heart's content, you can easily kill an hour flipping through the Japanese magazines or manga comics at one of the bookstores in the terminal. It's a great way to get a taste of the culture without ever leaving the airport. There's also a collection of popular books in English in case you forgot yours for the long flight.
LEAVING THE AIRPORT
If you have a layover of four hours or more I highly recommend leaving the airport and exploring the city of Narita. It's beautifully quaint, and a perfect expression of traditional Japan with most of the buildings being from the Edo period. The best part? It's only eight minutes from the airport by train!
Once you leave the airport you won't be able to use dollars or credit cards, so it's best to exchange money in the airport, or pull some yen out of one of the international ATMs.
You can store your luggage starting at 500 yen ($4.50) for a small bag on the arrival floor once you exit security. Keep your passport on you because you will need it to get back into the airport!
Taking the train into town is by far the least expensive and most convenient way to get to Narita. A one way ticket is 250 yen ($2.20) and can be purchased on the bottom floor of Narita near the trains. You can take the Keisei Line, or the JR train.
Don't be intimidated by the ticket machines. They usually have an English option, and you simply need to select the ticket for 250 yen and insert your money. You can purchase your return ticket at Narita station before you head back to the airport. Trains come and go frequently from Narita, but it is a good idea to look at the train schedule so you can plan when to head back to the airport in enough time for your flight.
Be aware of what terminal you need to come back to on your return.
WHAT TO SEE/DO!
The main road of Narita, called Omotesando, has everything you could want to keep you entertained while you're there. You can't miss this road, which is 800 meters long, and lined with restaurants and souvenir shops. It leads directly to the famous Shinsoji temple.
Shinsoji temple is more than 1,000 years old, and entrance is free. If you walk down Omotesando from the train station, the temple will be on your left. With five buildings on the temple property, there is plenty to explore. There are free guides available here from 10a.m. - 3p.m., just ask at the information counter in front of the pagoda when you arrive.
Right next to the temple is Naritasan Park. This park is vast (165,000 square meters), contains three lakes, and is a perfect place to walk and relax when the weather is good. It is particularly beautiful in the fall.
The local delicacy is eel (unagi) from the nearby river. Many chefs will be preparing the eel in front of the restaurant, which is fascinating to watch. Kawatoyo Honten is delicious, has been around for more than 100 years, and is near Shinsoji temple. You can expect to spend at least 2,300 yen with options for more elaborate dishes as well.
The last time I was in Narita I opted for some inexpensive ramen (900 yen) at a mom and pop shop on Omotesando. I like the laid back atmosphere, the friendly service, and the cheap beer.
A stop I like to make is perhaps an unconventional one: the Japanese convenience store. Japanese convenience stores nearly deserve a post all to themselves. You'll want to spend some time in this one browsing the magazines, snacks, pocket sized sake, toiletry items, etc., and maybe picking something up for the train ride back to the airport.
My favorite indulgence is called umeshu—a plum wine, and a perfect cap to any day. You can also find umeshu at the local grocery store on Omotesando.
Hopefully with these tips you're able to maximize your time in Japan! If a layover in Narita has left you wanting more of Japan, come on a trip with us! Don't forget to sign up for more information about our trips, as well as travel tips and resources. We would love to give you an unforgettable and completely guided experience in the Land of the Rising Sun.