Wednesday, February 22, 2006

China Trip II - Narita

On my return flight to Chicago, I had a 6 hour layover at Narita Airport, which is usually spent watching movies in the AA lounge on my laptop. This time, I was told by a colleague that there's a nice temple to visit in the small town of Narita just outside the airport. He was an American citizen and had no problems leaving the airport and coming back.

Being on an Indian passport makes travel a little bit more difficult than most other countries as we dont have any kind of tourist visa treaty with any country. That means, for every country I visit, I need a visa, which requires paperwork and a fee. My friends and family are pleasantly suprised at the number of countries that I've been to on my Indian passport.

I called up the Japanese Consulate in Chicago before the trip and asked about whether a short term visa could be acquired at the airport. He immediately said I wouldn't have enough time to visit Narita and it's not advisable but did say that it's possible. So, I was on a mission to get out of the airport, enter Japan, have a look around and make it back.

The Japan Airlines flight from Beijing landed at Terminal 2 and I wanted to leave my laptop bag at the AA lounge in Terminal 1, so that I wouldn't have to lug it around. I was told that immigration is only in T2, and I had just missed the hourly bus connecting T1 back to T2, so I passed the time watching some beautiful birds land and take-off. I later found out that immigration is also present in T1.

There's no proper channel to go back from the waiting lounge area of the airport through security to get to immigration. It's meant mainly for passengers coming directly from an arriving plane. I tried to explain to the security guard that I wanted to go to immigration to get out of the airport. He couldn't understand me, but took me to an immigrations officer anyways. I explained what I wanted to do and was then lead off to a side room and made to wait with other passengers who had immigration problems. I was all cheery about this. They said on US passport, no problem. Indian passport, no good. They also said I wouldnt have enough time to visit Naritasan Temple. But after convincing them that I worked for Motorola and was legally living in the US (showed my driver's license), they reluctantly agreed and gave me a 72 hour Shore Pass (short term visitors visa). Woo hoo, I had done it.

Welcome to Japan! My second visit.

Map showing Narita's location with regards to Tokyo.

I changed some of my Chinese Yuan to Japanese Yen and following directions from my colleague, got onboard a train to Narita station. It was only one station away and cost about $2.50 each way.

The train map was clearly marked in English and Japanese. The automated ticket machine was simple to use. You saw how much the fare to your destination cost, punched the amount in, put the money in and ticket and change came back. Simple.

Map of Narita town. The brown buildings on the left are the train station and I was heading to the green area on the right.

Immediately I noticed the charm of this lovely little town. I was heading down a one-way street to Naritasan Temple. Not figuratively speaking, as I was planning on coming back the same way, haha.

A colorful store front

Interesting little sculptures on the side of the road.

A lion?



Indian restaurant. Just like McDonald's, can be found anywhere in the world. Too bad they were closed for the afternoon.

Special discount for airline screw: $15 buffet

The narrow street leading to the temple in the background.

The crowded little buildings faded away and suddenly, the temple was there in all this open space. Quite a sight.

Couldn't figure out what this was for...

Huge building on the temple grounds


Perspective shot

On the way back

I was noticing the various cars go by and was amazed to see that no two models were alike. I saw at least three different models of Toyota minivans go by. It also seems like every Japanese automaker has a little hatchback and a full size minivan, of which I saw every model go by. In the US, each company has one model for each category (full size sedan: Honda Accord, compact: Civic, etc). In Japan, the choices must be overwhelming. And then I noticed something familiar, a big honking black BMW 7 series. Looked out of place.

The venerable Japanese beer vending machine

Noticed on a side street next to a restaurant

Handwarmers on a two-wheeler. Similar to that seen in China.

My helmet company, Arai in its homeland. Note the biker zipping by.

A grocery store. You wont find this setup in Tokyo.

The Keisei Narita train station.

Back at the airport

The check-in area of Terminal 2. I was walking around the shops here and noticed a flood of school children. It was around 5 pm. The shops and restaurants are open to the public as they are located before you go through passport control and security, unlike the ones in the States. The young kids might just be thrilled to stop by the airport on the way home. I know I would if I was still a kid. Yeah yeah, some of you think I'm still a kid. Whateva...

The various Japanese tour operators. Japanese usually book vacations through tour operators.

The observation deck at T2, open to the public. Not as good as the one at T1. Narita is one of the few airports that still have an observation deck.

Checking back in for my flight and I made it back to the lounge in time for a drink and a little snack before boarding the flight on time.

I did it. I defied those immigration officers and those 6 hours passed pretty quickly. Onboard, after dinner, I felt a little nap would be good before getting up mid flight and watching some movies or reading my book. But when I awoke, there was only an hour left in the 13 hour flight. I hadn't knocked out, but went in and out of sleep.

What an excellent journey.


phiri50 said...

good post. i remember even as kids u were always so exciting about planes and flying. i wuld be all homesick and u would be jumping around. u had obsession with coke.

thats beautiful temple. did u find out what kind it was?

Rick said...

Looks like a great trip.......I have to do the far east!

phiri50 said...

finally saw ur map in the deptcomp.
u are missing a few places.likezimbabwe,malawi. then in india u forgot mahbalipuram,madura,tirupati, coutrallam

Jammin said...

Yeah, there's quite a places I havent put on that map yet. Soon to be. And haven't researched anything about that temple yet.

Rick, you'll love it.

VIVID1 said...

The blog is looking good Jay!

VIVID1 said...

the blog is looking really good Jay

odzer said...

Nice pictures, brings back memories of my trip there this year. I had some trouble getting a Japanese Visa as well but I finally got it and had a great 20 day vacation there. I am already looking forward to the next time I am there. I love the place and the food. I wish next time I can visit Okinawa.