48 hours in Narita, Japan on our way to Mongolia
Our journey to Mongolia from Denver started with a last minute visit to the Denver REI sports and outdoors shop to buy a few more travel clothes.
Since Jules and I have lost so much weight on our recent juice fasting, we needed to buy a few more light, quick drying travel clothes.
It was Father’s Day and a weekend, which meant that the shops and restaurants in Denver were packed with people.
We had a lovely dinner at a healthy restaurant in Cherry Creek in Denver called “True Foods.”
The restaurant belongs to Dr. Andrew Weil, who advocates a healthier way of eating.
Though not vegetarian, they offer some great vegan dining options, including a fresh squeezed apple-kale-ade which is wonderful, along with a delicious Banana coconut Chia seed pudding and some other food options.
In order to break the series of long flights which will take us to Mongolia, we decided to make a stop in Tokyo, before continuing on our journey to Seoul, Korea and farther, to Ulaanbaatar, the capital city of Mongolia.
We only had twenty four hours in Tokyo, and since our main reason for breaking the flights was to get over the jet lag caused by the time difference between Denver and Mongolia, we decided to stay near the Narita airport for two nights.
We chose a comfortable hotel and took their offer to upgrade to a spacious suite.
I did not know it, but Narita airport is located in a city called Naritasan, which is home to one of the biggest Edo Period Buddhist temples in Tokyo, visited by millions of pilgrims yearly.
Instead of taking the train to Tokyo, we decided to make a pilgrimage to this Buddhist temple, which is dedicated to Fudo Myoo, the god of FIRE.
The Main Street leading to the temple complex is called Omotosando.
It is lined with old wooden buildings with beautiful roofs, with many shops and little eateries.
If you slow down and explore the town at a snail’s pace, you can savor the taste and beauty of this town.
One of the specialities of this area are rice crackers called Senbai.
They are made from rice locally grown in the Chiba Prefecture, which is pounded by hand into a paste, and grilled one by one over charcoal.
The handmade crackers are irregular in shape and are flavored with soy sauce, sesame seeds, or seaweed.
They are crunchy and delicious.
Another speciality is a pickle made from a small Jalapeño pepper which is stuffed into a bitter melon.
It is sold in a variety of gift boxes and vacuum sealed bags, and many of the shops offer free samples for tasting.
Another speciality is a sweet made from bean paste in many flavors, including peanuts which are also grown in this region.
All those items are also made in many other regions of Japan, but after traveling extensively around Japan, I can attest to the fact that the same looking items taste very different from place to place.
The Buddhist Temple in Naritasan (named Shinshoji) originated in this place around the year 900 AD.
A few of the buildings in the temple grounds were built around the 1700’s, and some are much more recent.
In the olden days, when devotees made their pilgrimages to visit the temple and to pray to Fudomyoo, the god of fire, they usually made the long and arduous journey on foot or by rowboats.
It was believed that the oily and delicious meat of the local eels was a most suitable food to refresh and nourish the pilgrims on their long journey back home.
And so the tradition of serving freshly skinned grilled eel started in Naritasan and is still going on to present times.
The streets of the city surrounding the temple are filled with over sixty small eateries specializing in grilled eel.
The most charming eatery is located across from the Visitor Center.
It is open only a few short hours per day and at the entrance sits an eel master with a few of his helpers whom he teaches how to efficiently skin, gut and clean an eel.
The dining room in the back was crowded with people, and the menu was simple.
A small, medium or large portion of grilled eel is served with or without rice.
It came with a small amount of pickles and was moist and most delicious.
We walked around tasting the local specialities until we reached the temple.
It is a beautiful temple with many buildings and pagodas, situated in a glorious wooded garden.
The drums called us to attend the fire ceremony inside the main hall of the temple.
We felt fortunate to be there right at the time where the sacred Goma Fire rite began.
An assembly of monks in different colored robes based on their rank chanted prayers, played the drums and lit a fire at the center of the hall.
The ceremony included burning wooden sticks decorated with calligraphy (named Goma Sticks).
Goma sticks represent the earthly desires and passions, which are burnt in the purifying flames of the fire in order to free the disciples of their attachments to the world of illusions and it’s many earthly cravings.
Seated on the carpeted floor of the main hall, we bowed our heads and prayed to Fudomyoo, the god of fire.
Jules had some forgiving to do, since many years ago the god of fire burnt down the house that he meticulously built with his own hands and with all the money he could borrow.
Later Fudomyoo also burnt down his craft school which he also started and ran with almost no funds and lots of enthusiasm.
We both prayed to be released from any fears we might have that a future fire might burn down our homes, and to be released from our earthly attachments.
I could see that Jules made some peace with Fudomyoo, since his disposition seemed brighter.
Everything that has happened in the past has led us to the freedom and strength we have today.
The fire has released Jules to his highest good and to newer experiences.
We strolled the gardens and felt refreshed by the beauty of the Japanese garden.
We felt refreshed and happy that we had decided to break our flight with a stop in Narita.
When you stroll all day the hours seem to fly by so fast!
When we left the temple the shops around town were already closing down.
Pickles and cracker trays were pushed back inside and shopkeepers were rolling down the front iron curtain that covers their shops.
We ate a nice simple dinner at a Ramen Biashi eatery.
They offered a few vegetarian ramen soups with vegetables and noodles.
It was a light and tasty meal.
Back in our hotel we took showers and put on our robes and were asleep before you could turn off the light.
The next day will bring us an early Japanese breakfast and a shuttle bus to the airport for our flight to Seoul and Ulaanbaatar.