Narita: Not Only Airport But Eel
I’m sure that as a foreigner in Japan, either on vacation or working/studying, you all know that there are two Naritas. One is the international airport with now already 3 terminals. Another is a city in Chiba prefecture. And they are all called the same name. The common confusion might still take place, but nowadays all the trains, both local and reserved express, passing through the city have a loud announcement that no, it is not the stop for the airport, so stay onboard.
Visiting the city during a layover in the Narita International Airport is a great option. According to the official website, Narita city has 120,000 inhabitants and the territory of 214 km2. There are various natural, historical and cultural places of interest, including the Imperial Pastures Museum, the Museum of Aeronautical Science, and the cherry blossom hills where you can watch the plane takeoffs. These are conveniently located near the airport and access will not be time-consuming. Just check the city’s website or the info at the airport. There are also a number of tours operating from the terminals.
One of the specifics of Narita city is its cuisine. There is no doubt about the diversity of Japanese dishes, of course. If you are okay with fish, you might want to try unagi (鰻). Unagi in Japanese is eel. It is traditionally eaten from as early as 17th century. Don’t worry, it is not served raw. Because of a high level of toxins, even sushi with unagi are not raw. In Kanto area it is normally grilled and eaten with a mixed sweet sauce, seaweed and rice. I find it easy to eat, as there are very thin and soft slices. Unlike other fish, it has no bones and does not make you feel heavy.
Now, that is a very exotic meal to some. For some cultures these species are not considered eatable due to their resemblance to snake, and hence poisonous. But in Japan eel can be bought in the supermarket thought the year. In some houses you may even eat unagi-don for breakfast accompanied with the miso soup. It is however never cooked at home again due to the high toxins. There is even a special day for unagi (from mid-July to the beginning of August, depending on the calendar). It is called the Doyo-no-ushi-no-hi (土用の丑の日). Yes, it is in hot humid summer, because eel is considered nutritious and good for the body at this time of the year. Fish markets are usually completely sold out of unagi by the end of the day.
Photo: nomok624 on Flickr
Narita city has a number of restaurants serving unagi. In some you might even see how the fresh fish is sliced and cooked. There are different kinds and the prices will vary too. Often the staff speaks English and the menu is in English too.