Narita, Japan

A quick note: All the info here was gleaned from several sources. Any mistakes are mine.

A word about the format. I took over 700 danged pictures with my digital camera during my 2 week vacation. Of these, around 300 never made it out of my camera because they were obviously underexposed/overexposed/badly composed you name it. The remaining 400+ photos which I saved are spread over 2 zip disks and are waiting for me to sort & catalog them. At first I wanted to print them all out and sort them afterwards. This is taking me a long time.

Almost all the photos shown here have been cropped, downsampled, rotated, and/or color corrected before posting.

I managed to save around $200 on my plane ticket to Bali by agreeing to two 12 hour layovers in Japan! It's like Japan Airlines paid me tons of cash to visit their country.

The first layover was overnight, and they put me up in the Hotel Nikko, which is just outside the airport. Not luxury personified, but the all you can eat Japanese breakfast buffet was wonderful!

On the way back I had from 8 am to 6 pm to explore Narita.

Here's a shot of Mt. Fuji from the airplane. It stands in the distance under the wing there. While the clouds in this photo don't live up to what I am about to say, please excuse me while I take a moment to write about Asian clouds. The clouds in Asia are indeed different from any you will see anywhere else in the world. Here in the US, the clouds one sees are sometimes cute fluffy things or sometimes majestic and multicolored, but mostly that somewhat rectangular oval shape one sees so often in children's drawings. Not Asian clouds. They are all kinds of fabulous and enigmatic shapes. Fantastic!

A subway line runs under the hotel and surfaces very briefly behind it. The area surrounding the hotel is lush and wooded very much like the Great Lakes area here, but with an unmistakable Asian flavor.

The best souvenirs are often free. This is an illustration from the Nikko Hotel safety guide (I didn't swipe it, but I did take pictures,) and details what one should and shouldn't do in case of an earthquake. What composition! What senselessness! What subtle eroticism! Wacky!

This is the street in front of the Hotel, after it rained, at about 7 am. By the way: the food, alcohol, and coffee in Japan is really good!

From here we're diving straight into the second layover. This is one of the famous bullet trains which runs from the Tokyo International Airport to areas surrounding. The bullet train lines and subway train lines share the same stations, and are all timed to the second. There is a monitor which shows you when the next few trains will arrive. I have been told that the train system here is so efficient that if a train is late, they dispense tickets one can take to work to excuse your tardiness!
Getting into this system is difficult, however, because almost nothing is written in English and very few people speak it. To make matters worse, the ticket vending machines are extremely complicated, and one cannot buy round trip tickets.

Here we are in Narita. This street leads to the Buddist Temple in Narita and is lined with gift shops and tiny restaurants. Just above the roofline and to the left of the eel sign there you can see the golden pinnacle on top of one of the temple buildings in the distance.

This is a kind of gateway building one comes to when first entering the temple grounds. That giant paper lantern there hangs from the ceiling.

Closer photo of the lantern.

Just beyond this "gateway" is a garden of sorts with stone tablets, a pond, and lots of turtles. Here is a turtle with Japanese calligraphy written on it. Look at the baby turtles!

Just beyond this is a main square with a huge incense brazier. People go there and literally take a birdbath in the smoke from the incense. There are temple buildings and pagodas all around.

The craftsmanship and effort which went into everything here is astounding.

A detail from the last photo.

This creature (I think it is a kirin) has an enormous blossom hanging from its mouth. Just below and to the left of it one can see pilgrim papers, which are pasted all over flat surfaces around the place.

This is a little building which houses some sutras which are encased in the glass boxes you can see there between the black pillars of that structure inside. It is held up by some demons who are grimacing with the effort of supporting it. You can kind of make one out through the pickets of that fence there. A rather brief and hard to understand sign beside this gives instructions on what to do when visiting this building, which can confer upon one the recitation of all the sutras housed within.

Vending machines are ubiquitous in Japan. Here are some on the street.

As I said before, the best souvenirs are free. While going through the metal detectors in the Tokyo International Airport I got stopped for carrying contraband! I had a pair of scissors (some people take their favorite pillow while travelling, I pack my favorite scissors - ok?) which were a quarter of an inch too long. This restricted item was confiscated, put in an envelope and sent to me separately. I had to pick it up at the airport in Bali, where I found it sitting in a box on the floor, surrounded by a ton of curious airport employees, who walked away disappointed when they discovered that this delicious, juicy piece of contraband was simply a boring old pair of scissors.

While I'm on the subject, I have to say that my experience with Japan Airlines was far above the courtesy and quality I have ever had flying a US airline. I've heard much the same about European airlines in general. The staff was polite & helpful, the food was actually edible, and everything was very clean. If your flight is delayed they tell you immediately what the problem is and how long it will take to clear things up. When this happened to us, it was because somebody was having trouble with Indonesian Customs and they didn't want to take off with the person's luggage! If this happened here, you wouldn't ever see your luggage again. Afterwards, they apologized and when we were in the air everybody got an extra round of complimentary drinks!
Travel to Narita Japan!


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