The Narita-san Temple is a 1000-year-old Shingon Buddhist temple complex in the heart of Narita, about 40 miles east of Tokyo. Also known as Shinsho-Ji (New Victory Temple), it isn’t a single building but rather a large complex of several buildings spread across scenic parkland on top of a hill. While the temple was founded in 940, most of the buildings have been added since the early-1700s.
The main deity to whom the temple is dedicated is Fudomyoo, or the Unmovable Wisdom King. Surrounded by flames, holding a sword and rope, and unequivocally blue, his ascribed skill set is both impressive and useful: remover of anxieties, banisher of evil, and savior from oppression. An image of Fudomyoo occupies pride of place in the center of the Great Pagoda of Peace, a 58m pagoda towering on top of the mountain.
The ornately and brightly painted Three Storied Pagoda, off to the side of the main courtyard of the Great Main Hall was originally built in 1712 and is decorated with painted dragons and sculptures of the 16 disciples of Buddha, or Juorokurakan. On the first floor’s inner sanctum, which you can’t access–at least, not normally–is Gochi-Nyorai (Five Tathagas) who is believed to be endowed with the five wisdoms of Buddha.
As impressive as the buildings are–and they are impressive, as well as being especially well cared for–the grounds are appropriately beautiful, especially in the fall. Fiery reds and oranges of the autumn leaves color the landscape quite spectacularly. And tranquil water features, including a small lake and running streams add to the sense of serenity. The combination makes it easy to forget that you’re in one of the most densely populated regions of the world and within a few miles of a major international airport.
Photos of Narita-San Temple
What To Know Before You Go
If you have more than a few hours layover at Narita Airport during the day, the temple makes for a great excursion. From Terminal 1, it’s about 10 minutes by train (2 stops). If you’re arriving by an international flight, you’ll have to clear immigration and customs on the way out and immigration and security on the way back in. Allow at least 30 minutes for exit and entry (but it can be quicker). You don’t need to pick up your checked luggage. Be sure to check whether you need a visa to enter Japan. There are luggage storage services in the terminal (outside the security checkpoint).
About Narita-San Temple
Location: Narita-san Shinsho-ji Temple is located in Narita City, Chiba Prefecture, Japan, approximately 60 kilometers (37 miles) east of central Tokyo.
Founded in 940 AD: The temple was founded by the Buddhist priest Kanchō Daisōjō in 940 AD, making it over a thousand years old.
Shingon Buddhism: Narita-san is a prominent temple of the Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism, which was introduced to Japan by Kobo Daishi (Kukai) in the early 9th century.
Worship of Fudo Myoo: The temple is dedicated to Fudo Myoo (Acala), one of the Five Wisdom Kings in Japanese Buddhism, who is known for his fierce appearance and ability to protect people from evil influences.
Main Hall: The main hall, or the “Kondo,” is the central building of Narita-san Temple, housing a revered statue of Fudo Myoo, and it is a designated Important Cultural Property of Japan.
Three-story Pagoda: The temple complex also features a three-story pagoda, built in 1712, which is a designated Important Cultural Property and showcases traditional Japanese architecture.
Narita-san Park: The temple is surrounded by the beautiful Narita-san Park, a 16.5-hectare (40.8-acre) garden with walking paths, ponds, and seasonal flowers, such as cherry blossoms in spring and autumn leaves.
Goma Fire Ritual: Narita-san Temple is famous for its Goma ritual, a fire ceremony performed daily, where wooden sticks inscribed with prayers and wishes are burned as offerings to Fudo Myoo.
Omotesando Street: The approach to the temple, known as Omotesando Street, is a bustling 800-meter (0.5-mile) shopping street lined with traditional shops, restaurants, and souvenir stores.
Annual Events: The temple hosts several annual events, such as Setsubun in February, when beans are thrown to ward off evil spirits, and the Gion Festival in July, featuring traditional Japanese music and dance performances.
Proximity to Narita Airport: Narita-san Temple is conveniently located near Narita International Airport, making it a popular destination for both Japanese and international travelers with layovers or brief stays in the area.
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I take photos and travel. I do it for a living. Seven continents. Dozens of countries. Up mountains. Under water. And a bunch of places in between. Based in Washington DC.