Three into one
The waterside districts near Tokyo’s Narita airport retain traditional charm and character
EAST OF NARITA
THE so-called waterside (or riverside) districts that embrace the cities of Itako, Katori and Kashima are a well-kept secret among airline crews and frequent travellers to Narita international airport.
The neighbouring cities, which extend across Chiba and Ibaraki prefectures, offer a contrast from the bustle and bright lights of Japan’s major urban centres. In centuries past, the region’s myriad waterways carried sake wine and rice to old Edo (Tokyo), but today’s attractions include boat trips on willow-fringed rivers and peaceful shrines nestled in woods roamed by sacred deer.
From Narita airport, I travel east by road through the rice-growing lowlands of the Tone River region for less than an hour to Itako City, my base for several nights. From here, I drive for less than 30 minutes to reach places of interest, which are also accessible by train. blossom time during my visit, sadly, but I still enjoy the symmetry of the magnificent maple trees, which show their vivid red leaves in November. The temple was built in 1185 and its bell, which is classified as a national treasure, dates from 1330.
THE historic quarter of Sawara in Katori City feels like a movie set for a samurai epic set in ancient Edo. The Onogawa River meanders through the centre of the precinct, edged by elegant willows; shops in wooden heritage buildings line the cobblestoned riverside street. Inside Nakamuraya Kanbutsu Ten, the wares are exquisitely wrapped and beautifully boxed. I imagine sweets and chocolate nestled inside, but am told it’s smoked fish and seaweed. I have to be prized out of Uedaya Aramono Ten, where ceramics, traditional bamboo homewares and cooking equipment have been sold since 1759. For a tour of the area, or the city in general, consider a volunteer guide from the Katori International Friendship Association. More: chiba-tour.jp; firstname.lastname@example.org.