Tuesday, September 2, 2014

24 Hours in Narita City, Japan

We spent the last couple days of our trip to Japan in Narita City, the "airport city" just outside of Tokyo. You can read about some of the things we did here, here and here, but I wanted to create a cheat sheet for those thinking of visiting. Before our 24 hour clock begins, a little info about getting to, and staying in Narita City:

Getting There

If you're coming from Narita Airport, your hotel should offer a free shuttle bus that will whisk you to the hotel, and then another to take you into town. Coming from anywhere else, you can take a train to either the JR or Keisei rail station, located next to each other downtown. Just keep in mind that the majority of the shuttle bus stops are (in)conveniently located down several flights of stairs behind the Kesei Narita Station, and those shuttle buses are different from the airport buses in that they don't generally have room for your luggage. So if you have bags with you, it may be easier to ride the train the extra stop to the airport and catch a bigger shuttle bus from there.

Where to Stay

We stayed at the Narita Hilton, which was HUGE for a Japanese hotel room, comfy and attractive. Sorry, I never remember to take photos of my hotel rooms until I've strewn my stuff everywhere and disarranged the bed. The drawbacks were paying for internet access, crazy prices for a crappy breakfast buffet (but they do have an in-hotel convenience store with much better prepared foods), and distance from the city. 

If I were visiting Narita again, I'd check out the options in the city first. The city center hotels aren't fancy, but mostly under $100 a night, and many offer free internet. Walking instead of waiting for shuttle buses would have saved time and hassle, and the city hotels are still a just short drive to the airport.


Morning- Now that you're situated, the fun begins! Let's start our hypothetical 24 hours in the morning. You're starving and eager to sight-see, so head downtown and grab some surprisingly great sushi from a convenience store near the station. 

If you're not the sushi-for-breakfast type (just know I'm disappointed in you), you can find baked goods, snacks of all kinds, sandwiches, rice balls and more at the "conbini." I quickly became addicted to 711's delicious Chocolate Matcha Croissant snacks-- they're similar to the sweetened breakfast cereal we're used to here in the US, with a Japanese twist. Maybe pick up a couple extra and mail them back to me? 

Appetite sated, you'll want to check the Narita City website to see if there are any festivals happening while you're there. If not, the number one item on your itinerary should be Narita Shinshoji Temple! The temple grounds are surprisingly large, and there's an adjoining park to explore, so plan to spend at least an hour here. The temple is about a 15 minute walk from the station via Omote Sando Road. You'll be be coming back this way and eating lunch here, so take note of what looks good. 

To get to the Temple: Just follow my shakily drawn red line from the JR station to Shinshoji Temple! After you've explored the temple grounds and park, you'll want to head back the way you came, down Omote Sando Road.

There's ample opportunity for souvenir shopping here, with everything from tchotchkes, to traditional sweets, to sake. When it's time for lunch, I recommend choosing from one of the many restaurants offering the local specialty of unagi, grilled eel. It might not sound appetizing if you're never had it, but I promise it's actually really, really good!

Afternoon- My top pick for the afternoon is just outside of Narita City, the National Museum of Japanese History in Sakura. It covers a huge breadth of Japanese history, up through some modern day folk and pop culture, and is overall a really nice museum. Plus, you'll get to see some of the Japanese countryside on your 15 minute train ride to Sakura. 

To get to the Museum: Take the Kesei Line to the Kesei Sakura Station, then grab a taxi to the museum. You can walk or take a bus (stop into the tourist info center across the street for English speaking staff with maps), but since we're short on time, a taxi is easiest and fastest.

If museums aren't your thing, check out Narita City's sightseeing suggestions here and here

Be sure to do your research before heading out; we tried to go to the Boso no Mura historic village, only to find that their map scale in the directions is really compressed. While it appears to be across the street from the rural Shimousa-manzaki station, after wandering around for 10 minutes, we figured out from the Japanese signs that it was actually a half hour walk down the road, on a scorching hot day with no public transport in sight. We decided to cut our losses and move on, but wished we hadn't wasted the time.

One of those sightseeing options, Narita's large Aeon mall, might seem like a silly thing to visit when there are Important Cultural Experiences available, but we had a great time browsing the stores, including my favorite travel pastime, roaming the aisles of the grocery store. We loved the game arcade (remember when those used to exist?), 100 yen shop, and cake shop in the grocery. 

 If you don't feel up to going out for dinner, the grocery marks down many of their prepared foods about an hour before closing, so you can take a feast of cheap sushi, fried everything, and baked goods back to your hotel. We did just that our last evening...though I somehow managed to choose a disgusting jelly textured cocktail-thing and a non-alcoholic wine cooler to accompany my feast!

To get to the Mall: Most, if not all of the hotel shuttles stop at the Aeon mall, or you can pay a flat fee to take the Circle Bus, a city loop bus that also stops at some of the hotels.

Evening- Back in the Narita station area, you'll find a wide variety of bars and restaurants, everything from formal dining to the takoyaki stand pictured at the top of this post. We ate at Hanaichi 871 (above), which was a nice fusion place with an English menu. 

For a really awesome experience, book dinner at Yamato no Yu, an onsen and sushi restaurant outside of Narita City. They offer public baths, as well as private rooms with small outdoor baths. 

To get to Yamato no Yu: Take the JR line to Shimousa-manzaki station, then walk about 15 minutes using their zoomed in map. Keep in mind that the hotel shuttles don't run much past 11, so you should plan on a $20-$30ish cab ride back to your hotel if you stay out past then. 

Have you been to Narita City? What did you enjoy? Anything to add?

(this post was sponsored by Narita City, as always, all opinions are my own)

Monday, September 1, 2014

Make a Break for it Mondays | Norway

This week, our imaginary escape is to Norway, because...well, just because I'm so inspired by all the photos I found browsing the VSCO grid

I  have a VSCO account but admit I tend to forget to upload my photos to the grid, then end up doing them in batches. But I really ought to spend more time there, as it's such a great source of visual inspiration. My VSCO profile is here, if you'd care to take a look. Do you use VSCO? I'd love to see your photos, leave your link in the comments!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Muse | Lantern Lit Thai Beach

Possibly my favorite part of summer is the warm evenings after scorching days. Mine are usually spent in our backyard or a restaurant patio, but this photo of a serene beach in Koh Lanta, Thailand only looks about a thousand times better.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Empty New York: Rare Photos of a Sleeping New York in the 60s

 Photographer Duane Michals ventured out into the city in the early morning to capture these uncharacteristically quiet moments in 1960s New York. His resulting "Empty New York" series is an incongruous record of the city that never sleeps. I wonder how difficult it would be to find these sleepy moments nowadays...

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Giveaway | Carolina Buzio Art Print

This week's giveaway is from Carolina Buzio, an Etsy shop from Berlin with fantastic illustrated art prints, postcards and more!

Carolina Buzio is offering one lucky reader their choice art print! Click through to enter...

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Paris' 19th Century Train Station Turned Upcycled Restaurant

Paris' Ornano train station was built in the late 19th century, then shuttered and left to rot in 1939, leaving it in a sorry state. Fortunately, someone saw the potential and brought the property back to quirky life as La REcyclerie restaurant and bar. The bright, airy space makes the most of the station's vintage character, and looks like a pretty wonderful brunch spot!

For comparison, here's a couple of the pre-renovation photos: 

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