Though it’s best known as home to one of the world’s busiest airports, visitors to Japan may be surprised to learn about Narita’s rich history and exciting attractions.

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Narita is located about 70 km east of Tokyo, not far from the Kashima-nada Sea and the Pacific Ocean.

When arriving in Japan, there is a good chance that you’ll land at Narita International Airport. Since 1978, the airport has welcomed the world to Japan. But most visitors hop on the speedy JR Narita Express and race past ancient temples, picturesque neighbourhoods and kitschy nightclubs. The best way to begin a visit to Japan is at one of the airport observation decks, where you can relax for a moment while watching the planes take off and land. It’s a hidden gem buried among the shops and restaurants in the busy airport mall. If you choose to spend a weekend in Narita, the train into town also departs from the airport and takes just 20 minutes.

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The serene observation deck at the Airport’s Terminal 2

One of the first things visitors may notice are the scads of air crew leaving the express train to the tourists, instead taking the local train to the central Narita Station. Narita is a popular place for foreign flight crew to stay, and they often enjoy partaking in the city’s fun and frivolous nightlife. Many of the karaoke bars and dance clubs don names with cheeky references to the city’s famous transportation hub. You’ll also find those in the know soaking their aching muscles at Yamato no Yu, an onsen (hot spring) public bath. With soothing indoor and outdoor wood-lined baths and saunas, as well as private rooms with attached baths and a restaurant onsite, the Yamato no Yu is a haven for the weary frequent traveller.

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The vibrant Narita Gion Matsuri festival

For 300 years, Narita has been home to the famous Narita Gion Festival. This three-day festival is typically held in early July, and features floats and enormous shrines followed by children in ornate kimono as well as dancers moving to rhythmic chants parading through the streets. Annually, over 450,000 revellers attend the festivities, which spill over into the surrounding neighbourhoods and shopping districts.

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The town’s quaint Omote-sandō shopping district

From the railway station in the middle of the town, the charming and historic Omote-sandō shopping district winds itsway toward the venerable Narita-sanShinshō-ji temple. Housing many restaurants and shops offering traditional cuisine and crafts, this kilometre-long path also leads locals and visitors to the famed Narita-san Park. The gardens within the park delight guests all year round withtheir flowering ume (plum) trees, ponds and intense fall foliage.

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The 1,078-year-old Narita-san Shinshō-ji temple

But the ancient Narita-san Shinshō-ji temple is the main attraction in Narita. Built in 940 by Kanchō Daisōjō, a disciple of the monk Kōbō Daishi, the building is the head temple in the Chisan sect of Shingon Buddhism. Home to many nationally important cultural properties, including a three-storied pagoda and the Niōmon main gate, as well as statues and gigantic lanterns, the temple is an exceptional example of grand Buddhist architecture.

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The verdant gardens surrounding Narita-san Shinshō-ji temple

Once the temple has sent you back to a grander time, visit the Bōsō no Mura open-air museum, where visitors can have a go at making traditional bamboo craftsand an opportunity to experience living in an Edo-era village. Where else can one try their hand at papermaking, cropharvesting and blacksmithing while alsowearing Edo-period armour and participating in tea ceremonies?

Home to over a thousand years of history, Narita is more than an airport. It’s an opportunity to travel back in time to experience yesterday, today.