Japan City Guides: Nagoya Highlights
Something Old, Something New: Sampling the contemporary and cultural in vibrant Nagoya 名古屋
In Nagoya's leafy Hisaya-Odori Park generations rub shoulders with mutual respect and devotion. iPod-toting hipsters clad in the latest fashions share benches with octogenarians demonstrating their well-honed koto (a traditional Japanese stringed instrument) skills.
Overhead the shimmering waters on the roof of the outlandish Oasis 21 building reflect the soaring Nagoya TV Tower, while on floors below eager shoppers snap up the day's bargains. A perfect snapshot of modern Japanese culture, it's a fascinating mix of old and new.
The hip area of Osu Kannon in Nagoya known for its flea markets and electronics stores
Despite being the butt of may jokes from the inhabitants of the rest of Japan (rumor circulates that there are no beautiful women left in the city because they all went to Tokyo), today Nagoya and its environs have a multitude of attractions worth exploring. This bustling and progressive city, known as the Detroit of Japan for its thriving automobile industry, makes a great weekend Tokyo getaway or holiday destination in its own right.
View of Nagoya showing the 170m-tall Mode Gakuen Spiral Towers
At the heart of Nagoya lies its iconic, green-roofed castle, serene and stately amid the city's soaring skyscrapers. Encircled by acres of beautiful, well-manicured parkland, including a small teahouse in a traditional Japanese garden, Nagoya Castle is the first stop for most visitors. Nagoya Castle was first built in 1612 by Tokugawa Ieyasu, characterized by two golden "shachi" dolphins adorning the roof.
After burning down in World War II, Nagoya Castle was rebuilt by the city in 1959, and now serves as a museum of artifacts from the Edo Period. Spring is particularly beautiful season here, with 2,000 cherry blossom trees in delicate, cloud-like bloom around the grounds. The original Hommaru Palace at Nagoya Castle is presently being restored and the first stage opened in 2013, with full completion expected by 2018.
Another must-see in Nagoya is the city's Osu Kannon Temple. Painted in a vibrant red and busy with worshipers all year, this religious site is especially crowded during traditional holidays and seasonal festivals. Flea markets held on the 18th and 28th of each month draw crowds of antique collectors and bargain hunters to Osu Kannon's grounds and make a great place to pick up camera gear at bargain prices. The surrounding covered arcades of Osu Kannon are packed with youth-orientated fashion stores, bars, cafes and restaurants.
Few tourist attractions boast as their main draw an item which none have seen for hundreds of years, which none are permitted to see, and which may not even exist. Yet this is the case with Nagoya's Atsuta Shrine, said to be the resting place of Kusanagi no Tsurugi, a legendary sword which forms part of the mythical Japanese Imperial Regalia.
The Japanese love a good mystery, and the status of the sword is an important factor in enticing millions of visitors to Atsuta every year. The shrine's main buildings have recently been rebuilt and the new wood gives the complex a light, fresh air. Pathways wind through tall trees, passing carp-filled ponds and over gently curving bridges. Look out for the sake barrel offering by the entrance, and the beautifully plumaged good luck roosters wandering the grounds.
Nagoya Castle - one of the city's main attractions
Those looking to indulge in some retail therapy are spoiled for choice in Nagoya. With the Nagoya TV Tower and Oasis 21 as its main landmarks, the Sakae district is the main destination for city's fashion conscious trendsetters (the tower offers great views over Sakae from its two observation decks).
Oasis 21 itself is home to several boutiques and high-end eateries, while Sakae's streets boast myriad shopping, entertainment and dining opportunities, including various glitzy department stores. A relatively recent addition to the area is Nadya Park, a small city within the city, containing a design center, museum, bookshop and Loft department store.
The soaring Twin Towers of Nagoya Station - the world's largest station building by area
Nagoya TV Tower and the Oasis 21 Building in Sakae
A short walk from Sakae is the Hilton Nagoya, one of the city's premiere hotels. The Hilton Hotel's Genji Restaurant is particularly renowned for its superb sushi and tempura dishes and desserts made from cherry blossom. In the heart of Sakae is the b Nagoya, a more mid-priced hotel just minutes from several subway stops and all of Sakae's shopping temptations.
An entirely different shopping experience can be had over at Nagoya's Osu "shopping village", a roofed-over rabbit warren of stores, stalls and markets offering a mind-boggling array of products. "I just love Osu," says local Nagoya housewife and guide Miwa Nakaji. "Even if you've traveled a lot in Japan, you've never seen anything like this area. Want a pink tutu? A Godzilla statue? A Taiwanese snack? Just come here and browse!"
With so much to offer, Nagoya should be on every Japan visitor's to-do list. More laid back than Tokyo, a cruise through the Detroit of Japan is all about fun, food and fancy shopping. And there are most certainly still some beautiful women in town.
Nagoya is well known for its delicious signature dishes. Local specialties include hitsumabushi, which is grilled eel served on steamed rice. The Atsuta Horaiken (www.houraiken.com) restaurant chain is very popular for its hitsumabushi with branches throughout Nagoya. Miso katsu are tonkatsu (deep-fried pork cutlets) served with miso sauce, and are also delicious. Lightly spiced tebasaki (lightly spiced chicken wings) go well with an Asahi or Suntory beer, while uiro are a uniquely Nagoyan sweet based on rice powder and sugar that go down very well with Japanese green tea.
Osu Kannon Temple, Nagoya
Nagoya people are famous throughout Japan for being tight-fisted
Nagoya and its environs are home to auto making giants Toyota, Honda in nearby Suzuka, and Mitsubishi Motors
Nagoya hosts a thriving community of Japanese-descent Brazilian immigrants, and many subway signs are also in Portuguese
Nagoya has a massive Asahi Beer factory (tours possible Tel: 052 792 8966). Beer was not introduced into Japan until the end of the nineteenth century but has now caught on in a major way!
Ride the gold and white Nagoya Sightseeing Bus Me-Guru to see many of the city's main attractions. A day pass costs 500 for adults and 250 yen for children. Runs every day except Monday.
Sake barrels at Atsuta Shrine, Nagoya's most important Shinto site
Shinkansen bullet train at Nagoya Station
View Nagoya Map - Aichi Prefecture in a larger map