Travel Diary,  Asia,  Destinations,  Japan

Aeon Mall Narita & International Garden Hotel Review

A low-key day to a) recover from that long airplane ride and b) dip my toe into exploring Japan. Also, a hotel review.

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International Garden Hotel Narita

Hotel image “borrowed” from because I never managed to get one myself.

Having never traveled on a plane longer than 6 hours, I figured I’d want to relax as soon as possible once getting into Japan. That meant looking for a hotel close to the airport (Narita being about an hour outside of Tokyo via train), with a shuttle, and near convenience stores.

The International Garden Hotel Narita fit the bill: 25-ish minutes away from the airport via shuttle, with a 7-11 IN the lobby and a Mini Stop just next door. It was also fairly inexpensive: ¥11,429 / $83 USD for two nights in a double room with private bathroom and mini-fridge. I didn’t buy the breakfast add-on, but they do provide a buffet breakfast in the on-property restaurant for about $20 USD.

A chaotic room tour video:

Overall it was a nice hotel room: comfortable bed, Western-style toilet and big shower, plus very quiet. Some of the style/appliances looked a bit older, but they worked fine and everything was clean. The location isn’t fabulous for sightseeing– it’s in an industrial area, I think?– though they do have shuttles going to the nearby train station and big shopping mall. I liked having the two convenience stores nearby as well.

Outside of my room, there’s some nice spaces around the rest of the hotel. On the bottom floor is a LARGE lounge area, with wifi (separate from the room wifi), a copier, ATM, etc. There’s also a small Costa Coffee spot across from the front desk– totally crazy to see a British coffee brand here in Japan. There’s more (VERY cozy) chairs just in front of the front desk area as well, and a small outside area with flowers (presumably, they were all dead when I was there as it was winter).

An interesting tidbit is that this hotel is used by at least two airlines to house their crew, so every so often there’d be a crush of Australian airline pilots trying to check in or out in the lobby.

Narita’s mascot, Unari-kun.


I’d read a lot about jetlag before getting on the plane over here, as it really worried me. I’d never really had to deal with it before, so I did some research to know what to expect.

Basically: drink lots of water, try to sleep on the plane, stay up as late as possible once you get to your destination and then keep to a regular bedtime schedule until you adjust. Also, buy a few snacks so you can eat when you inevitably wake up too early to get something from a store.

Well, I wasn’t able to drink as much as I wanted to on the plane BUT I bought a big bottle of distilled water and chugged half of it before going to bed. I did manage to stay up to 9:00 pm or so, but…

I woke up around 3:00 am and was immediately wide awake. So annoying, as I was SURE I’d sleep until a more normal time of around 5:00 am.

(Supposedly the jetlag is even WORSE coming from Asia back over to the Americas…not something I’m looking forward to.)

Since I couldn’t get back to sleep, I worked on the computer for a bit, plus texted my parents back in California as it was early afternoon their time.

Eventually I got tired again, so I took a nap and then once again jolted awake. This time it was at 8:00 am, which meant I could at least go to the 7-11 and get breakfast.

7-11 haul, February 8th

The hotel’s 7-11 is small, so it doesn’t have all the things a full 7-11 does, like a hot food selection. However, it does have some pretty good pastry options.

I got a strawberry sandwich, red bean bun, cheesecake, milk tea, banana yogurt drink, potato wedge chips, corn soup. Total: ¥1,418 / $10 USD

The strawberry sandwich was VERY good, but at ¥430 just by itself, it’s pretty pricey. The red bean bun was very thick and would definitely be better with some coffee or hot tea alongside it. The cheesecake was delicious! It’s not an actual cheesecake; it’s a soft pastry made with cream cheese, so it’s very fluffy and moist. Highly recommended!

I love that milk tea; the Kirin brand ended up being my favorite of the four or so I tried over the course of my visit. The banana yogurt drink was just fine– didn’t hate it, but I’m not planning on getting it again. The potato wedge chips were disgusting, and the instant corn soup was okay.

Shuttle to Aeon Mall

As mentioned before, the hotel offers two free shuttles: one to the nearest JR train station and one to the local mega shopping mall called Aeon Mall Narita.

I decided to visit the Aeon Mall Narita and grabbed a shuttle. We share ours with another hotel, so by the time it gets over to the Garden Hotel it’s VERY crowded. The mall is about 25 minutes away from the hotel and I spent that time listening to visiting Australians debate about the cheesecake and whether it’s cheese or not. 😉

Aeon Mall Narita

My first experience in a Japanese mall!

They’re HUGE, with all kinds of shops, restaurants, and even a grocery store. It reminds me of what American malls used to be when I was a kid in the 90s, honestly.

International foods at the Aeon Supermarket. Casino is a French brand!

It wasn’t super crowded, but there were a lot more people than I’m used to. Even during the last leg of my trip in Europe, I tended to stay away from crowded areas because it made me panic a little.

Maybe some stuff leftover from COVID quarantine life? Maybe just general not enjoying being in crowds? Either way, I found myself moving quickly through some parts of the mall trying to get clear of the crowds. Luckily there were several seating areas in less-busy sections where I could sit for a bit.

Gachapon machines near the mall entrance

Aeon Mall Highlights

  • Free wifi
  • Themed bathrooms
  • Vending machines with hot milky tea
  • Gachapon machines (capsule toys and keychains)
  • Food court, including a McDonalds
  • Aeon Supermarket (overwhelmingly big)
  • Daiso (everything is ¥108)
  • Book Off (new/used book store)

I don’t enjoy window shopping as such, but I do like looking at mannequins’ outfits to see what the local fashions are like. Malls are also a great place to do some people-watching!

And of course I kept taking pictures of things I’d seen on TikTok/Instagram, like the realistic fake food outside of restaurants, fancy toilet seats, cheap coin lockers and vending machines.

Hello Kitty vending machine! The drinks are just regular tea/soda/coffees, though.

Mega Don Quixote

Next to the mall is a Mega Don Quixote, about a 10 minute walk away if you take into consideration getting lost. Mega Donki is a giant discount store, maybe similar to Big Lots? They have basically everything, including big appliances, clothes, makeup, home goods, toys, etc.

It’s also unbelievably noisy. There’s little video screens playing ads on every aisle, as well as the piped-in music blasting throughout. Here’s a video clip showing what it’s like:

Honestly, I really didn’t enjoy my time in Donki despite the intriguing sale items– way too loud, busy and confusing. I grabbed a Nivea lotion and got out as fast as possible…not easy considering how huge the store is, haha!

Back at the mall, I got a cheeseburger meal from the McDonald’s. There’s local foods obviously but I was feeling unadventurous and only wanted my standard favorite meal. The cheeseburger meal tasted perfectly fine, exactly like a better-quality one in America would. The soda was a bit bigger than I expected, too; I got a medium and it actually looked like an “American” medium.

The McDonald’s was noisy as well, but I put in my earphones and managed to ignore most of that.

Eventually, after wandering around a bit more, I got bored and went back to the hotel. Had to replace my room key because I left it in the room when I went to the mall. 🙁 At least it was free!


Ministop haul, February 8th

This is another convenience store similar to 7-11, but stand-alone just outside the hotel. It has hot foods, frozen treats, drinks of all kinds, snacks, and bento boxes, etc. I was still pretty full from McD’s so I just grabbed a few things.

Purchased: red salmon onigiri, strawberry sandwich, grape ice cream. Total: ¥432 / $3 USD

The onigiri (rice ball) was fine, but needed salt or soy sauce or something. The filling-to-rice ratio is pretty abysmal, but that’s typical for cheap convenience store foods, unfortunately. This strawberry sandwich was just strawberry jam on soft white bread with a tiny bit of margarine, but at least it was cheaper than the strawberry and cream sandwich from 7-11. The grape ice cream is very good, but it melts easily and I had to scoop out the rest with a spoon.

Grape ice cream. Tastes great, but eat it quickly!

Asia 2023 Travel Diaries

Journal date: February 8, 2023

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More adventures in Japan and South Korea:

Anastasia is a former librarian turned digital nomad. She's been traveling the world full time for two years and has visited 18 countries so far! Just Gone Wandering is a travel resource for solo female travelers on a backpacker's budget-- or slightly more-- and highlights amazing places to visit as well as providing tips and tricks for traveling smart and frugal. Read more...

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