Tokyo is a city so big that it gets to have two International Airports. One of them is Haneda, which services a small portion of the international market, and the other is Narita International Airport. It services the bulk of the international connections, so there is a good chance if you get stuck in transit you will be at Narita.
Being stuck waiting in transit is rarely fun and, if you don’t leave the airport, it can feel like a lost opportunity, especially if time had permitted to pop into the city for a few hours. Technically, I can say I have been to New Zealand, but eating a slice of pizza at the airport hardly counts and I think New Zealand has a little more to offer than pizza. To be fair, time on this occasion didn’t really allow for much else.
On the other hand I had a 40 hour transit in Vietnam on one occasion. In that time I went to numerous places around Ho Chi Minh City and even went to the Cu Chi Tunnels. Although I imagine I only just scratched the surface, I got a taste of what Vietnam has to offer.
So, if you have the time to kill and want to add another country to your list of places experienced, then I recommend venturing out out of the airport.
The issue for transiting at Narita Airport is that you are not particularly close to Tokyo, so to journey in to the city would require a fairly long transit to make it worth it. Fortunately, Japan has a lot to offer around every corner and in this case the township of Narita is nearby. From the airport terminal stations to Narita’s township stations it takes around 15 minutes on the train. You may have noticed I said stations as there are two options in the way of train companies to choose from and they land you in the township pretty much in the same spot. From there you need to head north and that will take you to the first spot on the map.
Weaving its way up the hill from the station, Narita Omotesando is mix of traditional souvenir shops and local foods, thus making it great for photography and collecting a few bits and pieces to mark your time in Japan.
It’s also worth mentioning that along the way you can find the Narita Tourist Pavilion where local volunteers will happily teach tourists about aspects of Japanese culture, such as tea ceremony and calligraphy.
Once you have made your way up Narita Omotesando you will come to the Naritasan Shinshoji Main Door which is the entrance to the complex. Beyond that you will find Niomon Gate with its large lantern, similar to the one in Sensoji’s Kaminarimon. It makes for a great addition to a composition.
3. Naritasan Shinshō-ji 3-Tier Pagoda
At the top you will find the main part of the complex: Naritasan Shinshoji Temple, which itself is very impressive. But to its side is the amazingly decorated Naritasan Shinshō-ji 3-Tier Pagoda.
4. Little Stone Bridge
Beyond the temple there is an elaborate garden to explore (which I did once before back in 2003 according to the metadata on a photo from my Sony Cybershot P9). In the garden, I photographed a little stone bridge which I have called ‘little stone bridge’ for this blog (I don’t think it has a proper name).
Regardless of the name you decide on, it is great for planned or unplanned shots of people passing over it.
5. Small Waterfall
Using a similar naming technique to the previous spot I have decided on Small Waterfall as the name for the next point of interest. The small waterfall can be easily found from the stone bridge and makes for a great focal point in a composition of the surrounding scenery.
Here I could have gone with the name ‘waterfall bigger than the small waterfall’, but it already has a name. Yuhi no Falls, like the previous spot, also makes for a great element in a shot and there are multiple vantage points from where you can get a good shot. It is a little more hidden, but it is really just a case of following the water to the source and you will find it.
The further you make your way into the complex the quieter it gets, so if you’re looking for shots with individual subjects and temple backdrops, then the area around Seiryu Gongen-do is your best bet. A large portion of the temples and garden area has been walked out on Google Maps StreetView, so it is possible to check out spots before arriving.
8. Chouzuya (hand washing basin)
The hand washing basin for the Great Pagoda of Peace is located to the left hand side of the pagoda. Being at the rear of the complex, it tends to be a bit quieter. The other key element to this spot is that the gardens form backdrop to the basin and this makes for some very nice bokeh.
The Great Pagoda of Peace for the time-poor traveler is a great opportunity to get a taste of the temple/shrine experience in Japan. Set up high in the Naritasan Shinshoji Temple grounds it is visible from a large part of the general Narita area.
In summary, transiting at Narita Airport with a little time and a camera can be quite an enjoyable experience. Beyond the points I have highlighted there are numerous other little bits and pieces within the gardens and the surrounding area in general that are photo-worthy.
The trains run regularly and make for easy access, but be aware the trains don’t run all night. So, if you happen to continue your adventure late into the evening celebrating your time in transit, take this into account. That being said the cost of a taxi over this short distance is slightly painful, but much less so than the alternative of not being able to get to the airport and your destination.