Unique Japan

Narita Travel Blog

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I had a 1 day stop over in Narita, Japan, on my way to America. I thought I was prepared for what was to come. I mean, how did I ever think that in the first place.

Back track to 9 years ago, I took Japanese lessons, and learnt the absolute basics of conversational Japanese as well as some Hiragana (Japanese characters). Fast forward to the time I was planning my trip, I made sure (as usual) I researched thoroughly the sights, the surrounding areas, where my accommodation is in relation to all the activities, and there I was, packed and ready for 1 day in Japan.

The thing with planning trips (at least for me) is that the more detailed I plan the trip, I feel, the easier or more predictable the trip might be, and I can go about my activities without much stress. I don't get all upset about not having done something or not going somewhere. It justs saves me time asking around, and gathering information while I am in the country.

Arriving in Japan, to my amazement, my Japanese was no where close to being up to scratch. I held on tightly to my map, written in romanised characters, and tried to make some sense of the Japanese street signs. I was at the train station in the airport at this time, trying to buy a ticket to Keisei Narita Station. The ticket lady was helpful. SHe asked me to hop on the 8.17 train and it will take me there. And so with a few minutes to spare, I went to the platform and waited for my train. Pardon my ignorance, but all signs and station names were in Japanese which made me nervous. Asked a couple people in the station if the on coming train was going to the Keisei Narita Station. Showed them the map and they still couldn't not help me. Sure enough, at 8.17 a train arrived, and I hopped inside and hoped for the best.

Arriving the station, I had to now find my way to my hostel, which the directions from the hostel indicated about a 7 minute walk. To cut a long story short, 45 minutes later, I arrived the hostel, hungry and tired. Quickly I put all my belongings into my room, and off I went to get dinner. Had a Sashimi box set which was a great way to end my day, in Japan.

I decided that before boarding the plan to LA, I'd at least venture out early in the morning to explore the city, and search for what Narita was known for, its Unagi Don (BBQ Eel on rice). And so I did. Woke up at 6am and started my adventure in Narita.

It was cold, it was strange. It felt like waking up in a movie set. I felt I was taken back in time, to 100s of years ago. Narita is a small city with mazes of small lanes. Getting lost is quite easy here, however every corner promises little surprises.

I walked towards to main tourist sight of Narita, the Naritasan Shinshoji temple, where just next to it, is a huge garden. It was early, but people were already up, and going about their daily activities. I see people setting up their stalls on the side of the roads leading to the temple. Colorful array of waxed samples of menu itens displayed nearly in shopfront windows, bits and pieces of souvenirs hanging from doors, rice crackers, pickles. It seemed to me that the people were from a different era. And I loved it! I paid attention to the different restaurants that serve Eel rice, however none tickled my fancy.

I went straight through to the garden, as I wanted to take pictures. The garden was huge. I imagined it to have a pond, and peaceful, beautiful. It was all that and much more. Amidst the strangeness in culture and language, Japan offers so much more that I expected. To spend a night and 1/2 a day, was just too short, even for a small city like Narita. I was beginning to enjoy the uniqueness of the strange land. And it was at this point that I got the curse, that I'd return for more!

On my way back to the hostel, I noticed a crowd gather round the entrance of a restaurant. Curious as anything, I thought I'd join the band wagon and satisfy my curiosity. After all, I am a tourist.

Sitting just outside the restaurant were a couple of guys, on one side a bucket of eels, swimming, and on the other side, of filleted eels. Their work bench was a knee height wooden bench, acting like a large chopping block with a nail protruding out. Sitting on stools, the men grabbed the eel, poked it through the head and with a knife, sliced length wise down the eel, filleting the eel, and cleaning it out at the same time.

A woman then took the bucket of filleted eels and skewered them onto bamboo skewers, which was then BBQ, and basted in their very own special Unagi sauce in front of the audience of tourists.

I couldn't believe it. My search was over.

I ordered a box to go. For the effort they put into the presentation, I was impressed. Where I come from, it is food in box, "see you later, good bye!". In Japan, not so. They packed the rice in the box, wrapped it up in paper, tied it up with ribbon, in a way that they were able to secure a pair of chopsticks with it, presented it to me in a bag, with a brochure and a business care. All that for a lunch box.

I finally got to taste my Unagi Don. It was my last meal in Japan, and what more could I ask for. It was exquisite!

It was definitely a memorable experience for me.

Till next time, take care, and say hi to your mom for me.


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photo by: ellechic