Narita Airport last stop to experience Japanese culture

June 03, 2012

By SHIGEHIRO SAITO/ Staff Writer

NARITA, Chiba Prefecture--For departing foreign visitors who want to experience Japanese culture one last time, make sure you leave from Narita Airport.

After completing immigration formalities, passengers get an opportunity to don traditional kimono and have their photo taken prior to boarding.

The monthly event, a voluntary activity run by the women's division of the Narita UNESCO Association, a public-service organization, is invariably packed.

Its members, women in their 50s to 70s, fuss over any passenger, treating each person as if they had stepped out of an earlier age.

Simply put, the members simply want to imbue foreign visitors with a sense of Japanese culture that will linger long afterward.

"Even if we cannot speak foreign languages, we can conduct international exchanges and private-sector diplomacy," said Tasuna Hashimoto, 77, director of the women's division. "We want to do what we can do so that foreigners know more about Japan."

On April 20, a 39-year-old American dressed in traditional "montsuki" kimono for men bearing a family crest was placed in front of a mirror after the women had finished.

"Samurai!' he shouted out, breaking into a huge grin.

A 23-year-old Chinese woman, who wore colorful "furisode" long-sleeved kimono, said, "It's very beautiful"

A 55-year-old South Korean-American in transit during a flight from Seoul to Hawaii described his experience as "wonderful."

The man, who donned long-sleeved kimono, had reams of photos taken as he stood in front of a "kin-byobu" gold-colored folding screen.

The activity is held in a "restricted area" of the airport, where passengers who have completed their departure procedures or are in transit from Asia to North America or Europe, or vice versa, are killing time.

Aircraft landing and taking off can be seen through the windows.

Several members of the women's division take charge of one foreigner so that they can offer the service to as many passengers as possible.

The process takes about eight minutes for each foreigner.

On April 20, the women took care of 30 foreign passengers during two and a half hours.

The women's division was set up in 1978 when the airport was opened. Originally, the members offered the service in a facility along the approach to the Naritasan Shinshoji temple in Narita.

In 2005, the airport authorities asked them to provide the service inside the airport in an effort to promote Japanese culture and fuel interest in Narita itself.

Initially, the activity was only offered occasionally. But it quickly became popular and now has been held on a monthly basis since fiscal 2011.

Although the Narita UNESCO Association does not publicize its name at the gatherings, it has received letters of gratitude from participants.

Hashimoto said that it has all been very worthwhile.

By SHIGEHIRO SAITO/ Staff Writer
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Tasuna Hashimoto, right, helps dress a departing passenger at Narita Airport in Narita, Chiba Prefecture, on April 20 as other members of the women’s division of the Narita UNESCO Association look on. (Shigehiro Saito)

Tasuna Hashimoto, right, helps dress a departing passenger at Narita Airport in Narita, Chiba Prefecture, on April 20 as other members of the women’s division of the Narita UNESCO Association look on. (Shigehiro Saito)

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  • Tasuna Hashimoto, right, helps dress a departing passenger at Narita Airport in Narita, Chiba Prefecture, on April 20 as other members of the women’s division of the Narita UNESCO Association look on. (Shigehiro Saito)

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