Friday 13 January – Sunday 15 January
Our first night in Narita we arrived at 6:30pm, the first change I obviously noticed was the temperature. After leaving the airport by train we arrived in the city and made a short walk to the Ryokan we would be staying at. During the walk, we all made our first Conbini stop, I bought a can of beer for about ¥300. The walk was an experience, as the scenery had all changed from the usual Australia that I was used to. After finally arriving at the Kirinoya Ryokan we were given our rooms. I was rather excited to finally see my first Japanese style room with tatami mat and all, I was not disappointed in the slightest.
Next up was dinner, and we were spoiled the first night. I knew I was really going to get used to the food, after eating nothing but roasts and pasta it was a nice change… I knew I was not going to see another damn chicken carbonara or T-bone steak in a while. Once we finished dinner we helped tidy up, then it was off to the Barge Inn for a bonding session with my new-found friends on the tour. The Barge Inn was a western styled pub a short walk down the road from the Kirinoya Ryokan, Leigh sensei informed us earlier on that it’s actually owned by Virgins very own Richard Branson and is a play on word for the pronunciation of the word virgin in Japanese 「バージン」(Bājin). The bar is a hangout for flight crews and other foreigners in Narita but upon arriving there it seemed quite the popular meet up for the locals as well. After a few drinks we made our way home for a good night’s sleep on our futons. For my first night I was quite satisfied as I received a jam-packed Japanese experience.
The next day, we had a wonderful breakfast followed by a tour of the parks, temples, shrines and the town with our host and owner of the Ryokan Katsumata-san. The tour began with a walk through Narita-san park just behind Narita-san Shinshoji Temple’s main hall. The park is approximately 165,000 square meters with three lakes surrounded by beautiful Japanese garden full of plum trees and cherry blossoms that we sadly couldn’t see as it is Winter. One thing I always admire coming from an environmental rehabilitation job is the flora of other countries, Japan is seriously a beautiful country in regards to the plant life.
Next stop was the Great Pagoda of Peace 「平和大塔」(HeiwaŌtō). The pagoda was erected in 1984 and stands 58 meters in height and symbolises the teaching of Shingon Esoteric Buddhism, also apparently underneath the pagoda is a time capsule that was buried with messages for peace. After the pagoda, we visited the Museum of Calligraphy which displayed many beautiful works dating from the end of the Edo period up until modern times. I do have an appreciation for art and enjoyed this quite a lot, the works were stunning. Next up was the rest of the Shinshouji temples「成田山新勝寺」(Naritasanshinshōji) built around 940 B.C., these buddist temples and Shinto shrines have around a thousand years of history and have become a popular stop for pilgrims who prayed for safety, luck, and prosperity. (http://www.naritasan.or.jp/english/index.html)
However, what really interested me about this temple/shrine visit was how much religion influences the lives of Japanese people. For example, they care enough about their gods to pray annually around new year’s for luck and prosperity. Although, no Japanese person I’ve asked has ever considered themselves religious. To myself, it seems more like a way of life rather than devotion. From my experience, religion in Japan seems to play a more social role and isn’t tied up in politics like in the west. However, I guess you could say it does have an economical influence as during one of the ceremony’s while the priest was chanting, Sensei mentioned that he was saying thanks to the companies that donated to the temple (笑). So in this man’s opinion, I believe religion is something that’s ingrained in their culture, and it is honestly fantastic that these habits endure in their daily lives. I feel I was incredibly fortunate to have been there that close to the new year in January to witness this. After parting ways with Katsumata-san we travelled to Sawara 「佐原」via train to explore for a bit. It was a lot of fun although as night fell and the breeze picked up it quickly became very cold. Once we returned, we had dinner and then drinks with Katsumata-san. He let us play with his Samurai gear and told us stories of his life, truly an interesting man.
After Katsumata went to bed we had the first party room and late night D&Ms. After the bonding session, the futon was a welcome sight as we had a big day travelling to Okinawa 「沖縄」the next day. The last day was free time, until we left for Okinawa. Most of us spent it walking around the trying food and buying souvenirs.
I found it quite frightening how fast our time in Narita went, three days flew by in a blink of an eye.. However, I’m super excited for what the rest of the trip will hold.