Narita

An often-overlooked city as people rush back and forth from Narita Airport to Tokyo, quiet Narita does have its own little pleasures. It’s only one train stop away from the airport, so I’d decided to spend a night here so that I wouldn’t have to wake up too early to depart on my early morning flight, and to avoid any chance on missing it if something went wrong on my way to the airport — although in Japan, do disruptions even happen?

The long train ride on the Keisei Line from Ueno station to Narita (1000 yen) brought me through the smaller towns and cities between Tokyo and Narita, with cherry blossoms on every street. I was already spoiled rotten by how common they were at this time of the year. I will miss it.

There are only a couple of hostels in town, and they were slightly pricier than the ones in Tokyo, at about 3100 yen per night. I stayed at Backpackers Fuji, which was within walking distance from the train station, but also a bit difficult to find at the beginning. The pillow was a bit thin, and there were no lockers. But the place was clean and not cramped, and with extra mattress padding, I managed to sleep adequately.

I tried to find something good to eat in the area after checking in. A lot of the food in the area seemed a bit expensive. In the end, I found a place near the train station that sold soba and alcohol. It only had a Japanese name: そば酒房ひぐらし. I couldn’t find it at first, then I realised that I had to go second floor.

The place was spacious but completely empty; either I was here after dinner hours or Narita is just really quiet. This place doesn’t have an English menu, but with a bit of gesturing and basic questions (thankfully, the guy manning the bar could understand and speak some English), so I just ordered a simple tempura and vegetable soba and hoped it wasn’t too expensive.

It turned out to be 1512 yen after tax, which is more than the average price for a bowl of tempura soba. The noodles were a bit gummy, which wasn’t a bad texture, but I definitely preferred a less gummy texture. Slow, subdued jazz with dim lighting made it fairly relaxing. The tempura was okay, compared to all the tempura that had come before on this trip.

I awoke the next morning at 5am because of a loud snorer in my bunk. Dawn had already broke, so I took the chance to go for a short walk before I had to leave for my morning flight. I walked through the empty, sloping street to Naritasan Temple, which was within walking distance and with free entry.

The temple complex when you first enter was large and grand, paved over with stone. But part of the complex is a peaceful walk through forest and gardens on stone paths and large koi ponds.

Once in a while, I passed by elderly Japanese on their morning stroll. Not a bad way to spend an early morning. It took me about an hour to finish walking the whole place.

I got back with enough time to eat a small breakfast at the hostel dining area and chat with some of my hostel mates. After checking out, the journey to the airport was quick — a 200 yen fare for one stop.

At the airport, I ate my last meal in Japan at Yoshinoya, and even sat in the same seat. Everything around me felt the same, but the person sitting in this seat thirteen days later felt like a more experienced traveller, who now knew his way around Japan.

I was excited to go home and share my experiences with others. With the gyudon in my belly, which I hoped would sate my appetite until I got back to Singapore, I made my way towards my departure gate.

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