1000 years before there was an airport named Narita, there was a town named Narita and like most towns, it had a shrine and gardens. Unlike most towns, it also had an Eel Master. The Eel Master spends his morning dipping his hand into a bucket where he grabs the next unlucky, and soon to be stunned eel. With the flash of a knife and a nail through the head, the eel stops squirming so that it can be cleaned and filleted, then put on a charcoal grill and served for lunch. The whole cleaning and filleting operation takes less than 45 seconds.
Frequent travelers to the east will almost certainly at some point find themselves on a flight layover at the enormous Narita airport. If you have more than a couple hours to spend, the 10 minute and $3 train ride to the town of Narita are a must-see.
From the train station, the narrow lane meanders one kilometer down to the expansive shrine and gardens. The lane is lined with charming restaurants (eel is the town specialty for lunch), a natural-pathic pharmacist with jars for frogs, eels, snakes and lizards, and shops selling various wares that town residents might need. If you need a beer (being laid-over, you may), there is an English Pub.
Walk through the shrines and their courtyards to the expansive gardens which are amazing and surprising. Though they are left out of most guidebooks, they aren’t like the others I saw in Japan. They have a less manicured and wild feel. Honorariums to donors over the centuries have been placed in the woods, giving a westerners the sense that they are walking through some sort of overgrown abandoned pet cemetery.
You get back to the airport fed, exercised and very happy you’re not an eel.