With departures to Europe leaving Narita airport late morning or early afternoon, this means that a last night in Tokyo always results in getting up very early to catch the first Narita Express trains to be in time at the airport to make the flight. Of course it is not unthinkable in Tokyo that an earthquake or a typhoon knocks out the train traffic for a few hours, so that is why we typically stay the last night in Japan in Narita town rather than Tokyo and lately this has become the last two nights as Narita with Naritasan in its centre is actually a very nice place to visit!
Of course this is not a new idea and loads of tourists are doing this, profiting from the relatively cheap hotels and the convenience of a free shuttle bus to the airport that most, if not all, Narita hotels provide.
Narita town is as nice as any Japanese town but with some very good restaurants, especially the unagi restaurants are famous. At the heart of Narita town lies the big temple complex of Naritasan which makes a visit to Narita worthwhile from a touristic point of view too.
One thing the pamphlet only hints at is the unique chance Naritasan offers to join the devotees and visitors in the Goma ritual. Normally if you want to join in at a Buddhist temple in the morning ceremony, you need to get up pretty early. I would still recommend that you do this to give extra substance to your visit to Japan, but the great thing with the Goma ritual is that it is held every hour from early morning to late afternoon. I see so many tourists watch the ritual from beyond the glass wall, but it is just a matter of taking your shoes off, putting them in a plastic bag and sitting down inside to be part of it. When they hit that enormous taiko drum, you’ll jump like everybody else!
And when the ceremony is done, make sure to hand your wallet or camera or anything you would like to be blessed to the monks who will hold it in the smoke of the ritual for a second.
It is so easy to come back from a trip to Japan and have only stood at the window glimpsing in. Like a visit to an onsen, joining in at a temple ceremony should be high up on your lists of things to do for a successful trip to Japan. It is not difficult to join in and I can assure you that it gives a great feeling of satisfaction. Typically there are no thresholds other than our own hesitation and insecurity and I haven’t seen the tourist guide yet that explains any of this, they’re always just going on about who build this and when, but leave out so much practical information. We had a great experience at Zenkō-ji temple in Nagano and lots of other places but with so many foreign tourists and visitors at these places, I’m always the only foreigner joining in, and I’m telling you, you guys are missing out! 😀
Make sure to pick up one of the business card sized note that contains the mantra to the Fudo Myo-o deity that is chanted during the Goma ritual, see above for the text in Roman characters and translation.
A video compilation I made of the videos that my wife and I recorded during our trip to Japan last December/January. We need to get a camera with shake-reduction, but somehow the shakiest parts are the most fun to watch 🙂
We had some great time and I’m glad that we spent a lot of our time in new areas for us like Nagano and Hokkaido, those areas were so rewarding! I’m getting pretty bored with the touristy areas of Tokyo like Shibuya, Ginza or Shinjuku and the crowds at Ikebukuro were overwhelming, but Ueno, the busiest area by far, always stays fresh for me as you can tell from the video. 🙂
Ameyoko Street market in Ueno just next to the Ueno JR station (Shinobazu Exit) is always a good idea to visit when in Tokyo, but just before New Year it is very crowded when fish and other food things required for the New Year celebrations are sold there cheaply and lots of people want to profit. A perfect chance for a spot of street photography! Everybody was very accommodating, I guess I wasn’t the first one to put a camera in their faces.
The market is a constant drone of “sen en, sen en (1000 yen, 1000 yen)” with which the vendors promote their wares and I suppose it doesn’t really matter that we bought a same-sized chunk of the same fatty tuna for 500 yen a week later. 🙂 And it was crowded, so very crowded. The police was present in drones and had even constructed a platform to keep an eye on the crowds from above. Surprisingly people had led children and even carried babies into the crowds.
This will be a challenge as the best part of the Chichibu pilgrimage was the countryside and its friendly people whereas the Tokyoites are using a social Botox and dealing with the crowded streets and public transport by pretending they are alone. A lot of this pilgrimage will be done by public transport instead of walking which will be another big difference that I’m not particularly keen on.
For reference I bought the Kindle edition of The Tokyo 33-Kannon Pilgrimage: A guide to ancient Edo’s sacred path book by Marcus Powles which contains a wealth of information. Unfortunately the small hand drawn maps in the Kindle edition are almost indecipherable on my 3rd generation Kindle so I collected the locations of the 33+3 temples of the book in a Google map to be used in addition to the book.
Of course, street photography in Asakusa, Tokyo is a complete cliché, but who cares when it is fun! By the time this is published, I’m in the plane on the way home. We had a fabulous time but you’ll have to wait for the photos I shot on my proper camera and satisfy yourself with these candid shots.
We visited the Tokyo Jidai Matsuri in Asakusa which was quite a disappointment as it was awfully boring with the parade going on so very slowly, police and other guards going mad with with their whistles and keeping everybody so very far away that we left rather early. The costumes and little dances were fabulous, however the matsuri just didn’t have any soul and fell flat.
We had, of course, previously visited the Kawagoe and Hannō matsuri and those were grubby, old fashioned with tons of fun and full of soul.
I don’t like buses, and I especially don’t like buses in Japan where there is so little leg space and people don’t seem to approve of my sticking my legs in the aisle. And then there are so many traffic lights that it feels like you’ll never arrive. So you cannot blame me for wishing I was on that train.
The buses really go out of their way to pick the smallest roads to drive on, but small roads don’t imply quiet roads: there are lots of oncoming cars and bicycles really do their best to hide themselves with malfunctioning lights, no reflectors and dark clothes, only to betray their existence at the last minute by the umbrellas they are holding in the strong winds.
My wife, of course, loves the buses as the JR station is a 10 minutes walk and the bus stop is only 200 meters down the road. 🙂
Walking through the endless corridors of the Tokyo subway and train stations. Just holding the camera on the ready and shooting from the hip, as it were. My attempt to capture the fleeting impressions of a Tokyo rush hour.