The Middle Capital
Our first destination from our main base in Tokyo, we come to one of the “newest” and thriving cities in Japan, Nagoya. A city almost entirely devastated during WWII, including its ancient castle that was being used as military barracks back in the time and reduced to rubble, then raised from the grounds to become the fourth largest city in Japan and one of the nation’s major economic centers, fast growing in every sense and not just in population but also in economy and industry home to some of the giants in automobile and railway with headquarters and production chains such as Toyota, Honda, Mitsubishi and the Shinkansen to name some; and a constantly rising tourist destination.
Although not a highlight for many tourists when visiting Japan, it is nevertheless a great day out whether you are coming from Tokyo or Kyoto. It’s merely an hour away in the Shinkansen bullet train train from any of these cities, and for anyone holding a Japan Railway Pass this route is included and you can benefit from the super high frequencies and comfort. With a day being enough for every sight, there is not really a need for any further time unless you are lucky enough of having plenty of days for touring and enjoying your time as you wish. However, for the average tourist either on their own or as part of a tour, a day is ideal. Prepare yourself for commuting by metro every now and then since distances are big once you are outside of the main core around the castle. After all, remember you are in a very large city when comparing it to European standards. Over 9 million inhabitants live in the metropolitan area.
So while this city is often bypassed by the tourists, it does really have its charm and beauty. Likewise Tokyo and Hiroshima, is very modern and new as we saw in part due to its past history of war. For us, it was a decision in between coming here or the area of Fujisan by the Mount Fuji, which in any case, you will see from the train window whenever you commute in the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen line between Tokyo and the west (weather permitting). While it’s a great place for nature and landscapes, it’s also a difficult place to pre-plan because you never know what’s the weather going to be, but expect high chances of clouds to the point of almost not seeing the volcano.
Something unique in the city’s history of industries that once flourished (and still important nowadays), already famous for its fine pottery, cotton and gunpowder production, it’s the Karakuri automaton. One of the finest traditional handcraft of the Edo period (1603-1868). A self-moving machine that simulates the actions of the living being with their movements caused by the power of springs. While this was something so common across the whole of Europe back in the days especially among the royal families, it was something not seen in Japan before in such a scale.
Because our short stay, I cannot recall on anything else important for this brief introduction to the city, however before I move on to the next sections, let me talk a bit about food. Nagoya is arguably one of the best places with the best food in the whole of Japan, but one among its many foods ranks number one: miso soup. While this is a very traditional dish not just here but the whole of Japan, the city is special on it and will be included with most of the dishes, especially their unique red version. The best dish you could order is miso katsu (みそかつ), this is, fried pork cutlet topped with thick red miso sauce on it. For the best don’t get stressed in finding around, the chain of restaurants Yabaton have one of the best quality at great prices, and easy to find across the city!. But this is not all, continuing with a second favourite would be Miso Nikomi Udon (味噌煮込みうどん), this is udon noodles in a red miso paste broth with other ingredients such as chicken, egg, green onion, shiitake mushrooms and aburaage (deep fried tofu), served very hot in a small earthenware pot. This is absolutely delicious however I understand during the summer months you might not like such a hot dish to put on yourself more sweat, but don’t worry I can also strongly suggest you the following dishes to lick your fingers: Tebasaki (手羽先), basically deep fried spicy chicken wings; and something odd, a fusion between oriental and occidental, Ankake Spaghetti (あんかけスパゲッティ). Yes that’s right, spaghetti, pan fried and topped with vegetables, red Vienna sausages with a spicy and sticky sauce.
For more information about Nagoya check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Japan’s currency is the Yen (JPY, ¥). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Nagoya
Proposing a route starting from the point of arrival the Nagoya Station and following and in a clockwise direction making a circle route (majority of it in coincidence following the Meijo circle metro line):
- Nagoya Station Towards the northwest of the city, this is the largest train station by area in the world. It’s very new and modern, together with the entire area surrounding it with the JR Central Towers and large shopping mall aligning the entire eastern side.
- Sakura-dori Street One of the main thoroughfares in the city, directly linking the central station with Sakae District in a straight line. Plenty of shopping, restaurants and entertainment all along.
- Sakae District The shopping and entertainment paradise at the true heart of the city.
-Science Museum On the southwest corner of this district it is one of the best, most complete and largest in Japan. Even if you are not planning in getting inside, the look of the buildings from the outside and square at the front, park at the back are a great sight. Closed Mondays, open from 09.30am until 17.00pm. Entrance fee of ¥300.
-Wakamiya Hachimansha shrine Originally not in my list, then we found this charming little shrine on our way. Dating from the 8th century in origin, has a nice garden, monuments and even a small torii. Located east from the Science Museum, or west from Hisaya-odori.
-Hisaya-odori Park This park landscaped avenue cutting through the city north to south is by the eastern edge of the Sakae District. It directly links to the north with the southeastern corner of the castle compounds (by the Outer Moat and Government Office).
-Oasis 21 This huge underground shopping mall has a great work of architecture above ground. A fountain and pool on its roof, free to access for anyone. A great silhouette to capture with the TV Tower in the back.
-TV Tower Right by the Hisaya Odori metro station of the circle Meijo line. It is one of the landmark symbols of Nagoya, the oldest of its kind in Japan. What’s best on this place? the viewing platform at 100 meters high offering the best views of the entire city 360 degrees. Access fee of ¥500.
- Nagoya Castle area The highlight in the city, but it’s not just the castle itself but the many historical and grand buildings around it.
-Castle Outer Moat The south and eastern parts are now gardens, while the north part, which is the nearest to the castle itself still remains as a moat with water.
-Aichi Prefecture and the City Hall Both buildings one after another on the southeast corner of the Castle grounds are the most prominent for their architecture, and some of the oldest although rebuilt after WWII. The circle line metro station Shiyakusho (City Hall) serves this area.
-City Archives Behind the City Hall building and after the moat garden, was built in 1922, another of the few historical buildings to survive the war, in traditional Japanese red bricks.
-Castle Originally built in 1612, one of the great three castles of Japan, it had to be rebuilt in 1959 after most of it destruction during WWII. Notable landmarks are the two golden carp (kin no Shachihoko) on the roof, the unofficial symbol of Nagoya. The nearest metro station is Shiyakusho on the Meijo circle line, or some 30 minutes’ walk from the train station. Opens every day from 09.00am until 16.30pm. Admission fee of ¥500 for adults, free for seniors and young students only. If you have a daily transport card, then you get ¥100 discount.
- Atsuta Shrine The second most venerable Shinto shrine in Japan, after Ise Grand Shrine. It is housing the Kusanagi sword, one of the three imperial regalia of Japan which only the Emperor can see, not on general public display. All other constructions are open to the public for visiting, within this large park south of the city. The nearest metro station is Jingunishi Station on the circle Meijo line.
- Nittaiji Temple East of the city, not far west from the Jiyugaoka metro station on the circle Meijo line. Built in 1904 where you can see the 5 levels pagoda that was built to house the relics of the Buddha that were presented to Japan by the king of Thailand.
- Toganji Temple Once again, as almost all of the sights, along the circle metro line, next door to the Motoyama station. Here you can see a large statue of a seated Buddha.
- Koshoji Temple Founded in the 17th century by the Tokugawa family, home to a beautiful 5 levels wooden pagoda, garden and tea house. By Yagoto metro station on the metro Meijo line, farther south along the line from previous Nittaiji Temple.
- Arako Kannon Temple Despite its destruction by fire through its history, it is still the oldest structure in the city, where the Tahoto pagoda remains intact after 472 years. The nearest metro station is Takabata on the Higashiyama Line.
- Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology For the car lovers, then this is a must. As the world’s largest car manufacturer, their shiny museum on the grounds of one of their original assembling factories offers a great exhibition of the company’s history and an entire collection of cars since their first produced. The nearest metro station is Kamejima on the Higashiyama Line, or a short walk from the central station. Closed Mondays, opening from 09.30am until 17.00pm. Admission fee of ¥500 for adults, ¥300 for senior and students.
Chūbu Centrair International Airport (NGO) is south east of the city built in the artificial island in Tokoname. Half-hourly trains do connect with Nagoya Station, alternating between both fast and “slower” (and cheaper) trains. The difference in time is merely 7 minutes, from 30 to 37, but the cost is almost double for a fast train. Buses do also connect through various areas in the city.
Located 340 kilometres west of Tokyo (from where we came), the most convenient and fast way for reaching Nagoya is by railway. The city lies in the trunk high-speed line Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen, with a journey time of approximately 2 hours. From Kyoto, 130 kilometres west of Nagoya and also on the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen line it’s under 1 hour journey time. For those holding a Japan Railway Pass, this route is included however remember, not on the top range faster trains (Nozomi).
Once you arrive at the Nagoya Station, the largest in the world by square meters of space, you are very near the heart of the city and as such, great for start your sightseeing on foot. The Castle area lies few blocks northeast, around 30 minutes walk, and from the station you have 3 metro lines, commuter railways and plenty of buses. The fares range between ¥200 to ¥320 for a single ride, however if at least 3 rides then consider getting a day pass: ¥600 for bus only, ¥740 for metro only and ¥850 for both bus and metro. The very handy Meijo metro line is circular, connecting almost all of the sights in the city. It will be highly likely you will be using this often especially if you are in a one day tour of the city.
Since we did not stay overnight in Nagoya as we came for a day trip from our base in Tokyo, I cannot recommend any place to stay, however being such a vast and important city the choice is really huge. Still as for anywhere in Japan you are, prices are very high too and finding a good deal is very complicated if not impossible.
A good starting point is running a search across some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers. This will give you a good overview on the situation, availability and prices. But if Tokyo or Kyoto is your main base (highly likely as majority of tourist do), check the respective guides with all the information about accommodation and which hotels we stayed and can recommend.