It’s kind of hard to believe that this city needs an introduction. It is home of the Toyota Motor Corporation, it’s parent company, and the other subsidiaries, and the swathe of other automotive related companies. It is the home of the famous JR Central bullet trains (the white and blue-stripped ones) that service between Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto, and Osaka. The shape of modern Japan evolved from the Battle of Sekigahara (site is a 20 minute train ride from Nagoya station) where Japan was unified by Nobunaga Oda (born in Nagoya Castle), and Ieyasu Tokugawa (born in nearby Okazaki Castle). Tokugawa was the first Shogunate of Japan in 1603 and the Tokugawa Clan had remained the rulers of Japan until the Meiji Restoration era when the US sent naval ships to force Japan to open up to foreign trade. The Tokugawa Clan survives today, though they seem to be based in Tokyo, and manages the Nippon Yusen shipping company.
More photos of Nagoya are on my portfolio.
Nagoya today, is a thriving city, with land prices that rival Tokyo and London. It has the world’s largest train station (by floor area, which includes a department store, offices, and a luxury hotel). It is steeped in history, and thoroughly a member of the 21st century.
Getting to Nagoya:
Nagoya is very well connected. It is serviced by a domestic airport at Komaki (on the Meitetsu train company from Nagoya Station), and the Centrair International airport (aka Chubu airport), on a different Meitetsu train line. Nagoya is on the main Tokaido bullet train line between Tokyo and Osaka. It can also be reached from Osaka by the cheaper Kintetsu train company. Commuting in the city is really super easy with the Nagoya City Subway (aka chikatetsu), Meitetsu, Kintetsu, and JR train companies. The buses are mainly part of the Nagoya City Subway system. The most popular transport ic card used is the Manaca (but buying single-use tickets with coins is normal, too).
So, what is this best kept secret of Japan? Here are five things to introduce the city to you (there are of course more, but this is a start).
1. Nagoya & Inuyama Castles
These two castles are night-and-day different to each other. They are a world apart in so many ways. You must have a “castle day” on your itinerary. Firstly, see Nagoya Castle (Wikipedia). It’s a replica, or reconstruction, though the locals don’t put it that way. They prefer “rebuilt”, especially since the US air force fire-bombed the original. This reconstruction was completed (with concrete and an elevator for lazy samurais) in 1959. Today it’s a museum, and not a military strong-hold any more.
In contrast, Inuyama Castle (Wikipedia) is in original condition, with timbers hundreds of years old. Low beams to duck under, and a deck you can walk out on for excellent panoramic views, including the battle field of Sekkigahara, where the Tokugawa’s won Japan. There are great local festivals there, especially worth seeing the cherry blossom festival and portable shrines. Also, as seen below, there is cormorant fishing demonstrations at night for the middle months of the year. Because of the nature of Inuyama Castle, I’d really recommend you spend the morning at Nagoya Castle, have lunch in nearby Sakae, and then go to Inuyama Castle for the afternoon. It’s great to experience the modern, and then authentic in this order.
To get to Nagoya castle from Nagoya station, take the subway (yellow Higashiyama Line) to Sakae, and change to the Meijo (purple) Line. Get off at Shyakusho Station. It takes about 10 to 15 minutes. To get to Inuyama Castle (Google Maps), from Nagoya station, take the Meitetsu train company on the Inuyama Line to Inuyama station or the one after it, Inuyama Yuen Station. From Nagoya to Inuyama Yuen Station it takes about 30 minutes for about ¥600. Stroll through the town until you get to the castle. See Hyperdia.Com for train schedules and current ticket prices.
Ask anyone in Nagoya what their hobbies are, they typically reply “shopping, eating, and sleeping”. I agree, these are not hobbies per se, but this is how they do spend their time. The main places for shopping is in the underground arcades in front of and behind Nagoya Station. These are called Esca and Unimall. Also in Sakae at the street level department stores, back alley shops, and the underground arcade. Finally, young people love to hangout at the street level arcades at Osu. There are lots of fashion stores for women, electronics stores, and some bookstores. Osu often has events on, and the visually striking Osu Kanon Temple is worth checking out.
To get to Sakae, from Nagoya station, take the subway two stops to Sakae (¥200, about 5 minutes). To get to Osu from Nagoya, take the subway one stop to Fushimi and change to the Tsurumai (blue) line, and go for one stop and get off at Osu Kanon Station. Total travel time is about 10 minutes, ¥200. Follow the crowds to and past Osu Kannon Temple. See Hyperdia.Com for train schedules and current ticket prices.
3. Restaurants / Nightlife
Nagoya is a Japanese-foodies heaven. There are restaurants galore everywhere around Nagoya station, Fushimi, Sakae, Sakae-Machi, and Osu. I cannot recommend one, simply because you cannot swing a cat without hitting it against some kind of bar, café, restaurant, or other eatery. Food is really cheap, like about ¥1,000 (USD$10) for a good plate or “set menu” of quality food. If you had to shoe-string it, you can get noodles or a bowl of beef and rice for under ¥400 (USD$4).
A lot of places, including department stores and regular shops, are open late, like up to 9pm. Note that Korean and Taiwanese stores are often open later. In Japan, though, there is a caveat. Most Japanese people don’t go out to mix and meet new people; that’s really rare. So don’t expect to find much in the way of pubs and nightclubs like back home. Instead, they spend time with people they already know getting drunk at restaurants known as an ‘izakaya’ (kind of a restaurant-pub). Food there is usually high quality. However, I’m finding (things are changing) that cheap prices is starting to equal cheap food. Good prices equal properly good food. Also, if you think you’re going to enjoy a good Italian restaurant, think again. It’ll be a Nagoya take on Italian style. So expect shrimp on your cabonara, Japanese-rice seasoning on your spaghetti, or a side of rice with a seaweed seasoning on top. The only thing that really annoys me is that cheap restaurant’s (or expensive restaurants scamming their customers) idea of salad is simply shredded cabbage with dressing. If you really did want to go to a pub or nightclub, these places are typically frequented by the expat community, so it’s a great way to meet expat locals. In Nagoya notable places include Shooters, The Hub, Coopers, and probably the best of the bunch, Red Rock (see Nagoya Info).
Regarding transport, be aware of the last train times for you. The last train is typically 11.50pm or just after midnight. Taxis are about, but expensive. Finally, Japan is not a rowdy, raucous type of country. So nights out are typically peaceful and light-hearted.
There are a whole bunch of things happening in Nagoya for much of the year. For instance (there are many others):
- February or March: The Naked Man Festival at Kounomiya.
- Second weekend of March: Nagoya Women’s Marathon.
- Mid-March: Tagata Fertility Festival (aka “Penis Festival”).
- End of March- early April: Cherry blossoms typically bloom in the first week of April.
- May 5th: Children’s Day. Events at Nagoya Castle, and shopping centres around down.
- Summer: Cormorant fishing at Inuyama, and fireworks displays (Night in Japan gallery).
- Middle two weeks of July: Nagoya Sumo Grand Tournament.
- Second weekend of August: World Cosplay Summit is held.
- Last weekend of August: Nagoya Dance Festival.
- Early October: two airshows including the Komaki Airshow (of the Japanese Self-defence Air Force).
- Around Christmas (every second year): Nagoya car show.
5. Atsuta Shrine
This shrine attracts about 9 million visitors each year (Wikipedia), and is one of the three most important sites for Shinto, the state religion. The three important places are Ise Shrine, Atsuda Shrine, and the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. Ise Shrine, two hours away in Mie prefecture, is like the Vatican; and Atsuta Shrine is like St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. The third most important place is where the Emperor lives, the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. Each of these three sites have one of the three important relics (Wikipedia) that give the right to rule to the Emperor. There are no known drawings or photographs of these items, and so there is no independent verification that these items are housed at the purported locations, or even exist. The sword is kept at Atsuta Shrine, the mirror is kept in Ise Shrine, and the jade is kept in the palace in Tokyo.
At Atsuda Shrine, there are many little wooden buildings on the grounds, and each of these house a god of some specialty. Usually, there are retired men hanging around the grounds. Often, these men want to simply keep their English up, and so they like to just introduce themselves to tourists and offer a kind of free tour and some info. Take them up on their kind offer, they are friendly and actually quite informative. Take some sort of sweets to share with them; I’m sure they’ll appreciate it.
There are festivals and events held often through the year. The shrine is insanely packed with people shuffling shoulder to shoulder on the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th of January each year. They return the previous year’s wooden arrow which brings fortune, pray for the new year, and get a new wooden arrow for the new year. Each year, these arrows are ceremoniously burnt as an offering to the Shinto gods. There is a ceremonial archery event on the 15th January. A lantern festival is also held in July. Every weekend there is something happening, usually Shinto style weddings, and Shinto-christenings for infants are often held here.
Take the Meitetsu train from Nagoya to JinguMae station (about two stops) for about ¥230, or JR for ¥190. See Hyperdia.Com for train schedules and current ticket prices.
There is of course more to see in Nagoya. These are my picks, but you might find something more to your taste here at Nagoya Info, Trip Advisor, and Lonely Planet websites. However, I can offer you a…
The Naked Man Festival, at Kounomiya, usually held in February each year.
Bonus: Nagoya City Art Gallery
This is the oddest thing I’ve experienced so far this year. I went to the city owned art gallery and discovered that they had an exhibition of not one, but a few Andy Whorhols, Calder, and a Chagall. They have a good permanent collection, and often something interesting on most times through the year. Annoyingly, the “English website” for this gallery is actually just an old pdf document, but it’s here, Nagoya City Art Museum (also see Trip Advisor, & Wikipedia). The gallery was designed and constructed by renowned Kisho Kurokawa between 1983 to 1987, and opened in 1988. It is a five to ten minute walk from Fushimi subway station, which is a 2 minute ride from Nagoya Station on the Higashiyama (Yellow Line), or 2 to 5 minutes from the Osu Kanon Station on the Tsurumai Line (Blue Line). Follow the signs, and see Google Maps. See Hyperdia.Com for train schedules and current ticket prices.