Welcome back to my ongoing series, and life pursuit, of exploring my options for the next time I return to Japan. If you have been following my blog, you will have no doubt seen some of my previous entries such as Nara and Kobe. Nara certainly made the list for a day trip from either Osaka or Kyoto, Kobe not so much. Granted it is really close to Osaka, but I am not really into tourist harbour-cities with giant shopping complexes. And from a photography standpoint, I don’t know that Kobe is the sort of look I am after. Of course, this is all pretend-play at the moment as I am still stuck in lockdown. In Melbourne, the second outbreak of Coronavirus is still out of control – and we were doing so well. We have been asked to stay in lockdown for six more weeks with growing numbers of confirmed new cases being reported every single day. It is a little draining and very scary. We are now mandated to wear masks when out in public and of course there are the nutters out there who refuse to wear masks for all sorts of BS reasons. Sigh. But I have to work hard and focus to not let it all get on top of me – after all, at the end of the day my kids are safe and well and that is all that matters right now.
On to Japan and this time, I am going to take a closer look at Nagoya. I have heard the name before but I recently watched a movie made by a couple of Australian YouTubers that bought a Japanese car and drove from Osaka to Tokyo. I don’t intend to replicate that journey but one of the cities that they spent some time in was Nagoya. I liked the look and vibe of it from the video so thought it was prudent to check it out and uncover that here. Before I started writing this blog, I didn’t know a thing about Nagoya.
Nagoya is Japan’s fourth most populated city and is the capital of the Aichi Prefecture and what they call the principal city of the Nobi Plain. Nagoya sits at the north end of Ise Bay and as a result, has a healthy port district – and while Nagoya has a tourist harbour spot, that is not my cup-of-tea. The city centre of Nagoya is Sakae and is around 2km from Nagoya Station. Like most big Japanese cities, Sakae provides a complete range of hotels, shopping centre, shopping streets and restaurants. The city is a blend of historical sites, cultural attractions and industry and I feel that there may be a lot to see and do. Nagoya was established in 1610 as the castle city of the Owari – one of the ruling families during the Edo Period. At the end of this period or Shogunal government, the city continued to exist as a commercial trade centre. Sadly, during the second world war, most of the city of Nagoya and its historical buildings were destroyed by the relentless bombings. Fortunately, like much of Japan, considerable effort has been made to restore and rebuilt the most significant sites since then with conservation works still continuing to this day.
Location And Travel
Nagoya is located a little bit further away from Osaka and Kyoto compared to some of the other cities I have researched. It is 139kmm direct or 182km by road from Osaka and 106kn direct or 132km from Kyoto. Of course, the best way to travel long distances in Japan is by train and fortunately, there are a lot of options for getting to Nagoya. Let’s focus on getting there from Osaka as Kyou can get to Osaka from Kyoto in as little as 15 minutes by Shinkansen.
If using the JR network, you can travel between Nagoya Station and Shin-Osaka Station via the JR Tokaido Shinkansen. There are actually three different trains that you can catch for the journey – Nozomi, Hikari and Kodama. Depending on the train, the journey will take between 50 and 70 minutes and all but the Nozomi is covered by the JR rail pass. I usually book my seat in the Reserved car of any Shinkansen but be sure to check the JR site beforehand as often you need to book in advance. Given that there are three train options, they run regularly with some that even continue on from Nagoya to Tokyo. Nagoya to Tokyo takes around two hours so that is always another option – fly into Osaka, explore the area and then head to Tokyo and home via Narita Airport. The travel distance between Nagoa and Tokyo is 265km direct and by road is a 350km.
As you will soon discover when using the rail system in Japan, the JR Network is not the only railway company offering services. Twice an hour the Kintetsu Railway runs a direct limited express train between Namba Station and Nagoya Station – Namba is located in central Osaka. While it is not as fast as a Shinkansen, it is cheaper and the journey takes around two hours. But wait, there’s more! There are also some local train options including the JR Tokaido Main Line that operates between Shin-Osaka and Nagoya. This journey takes under three hours and again is quite a bit cheaper than taking the Shinkansen.
Having made the journey to Nagoya – most likely via the Shinkansen – I would arrive at Nagoya Station. Fortunately, there is a huge range of local transport options available in Nagoya and throughout the surrounding district. This is especially good to know for not only getting around the city but if I also decide to drop in a day trip from Nagoya. There are some brilliant examples of quaint Japanese towns not far from Nagoya that feature traditional street scenes and architecture. Although some of these seem to need a car. The Nagoya area is serviced by several separate railway companies aside from the common JR or Japan Railway. There are six subway or municipal lines that snake out in various directions from the central Nagoya Subway Station.
These include the Meitetsu Railway which has several lines that run from Meitetsu Nagoya Station located underneath Nagoya Station. It features lines that run out to the suburbs and surrounds of Nagoya. In addition to there is the Kintetsu Railway connecting Nagoya with Ise and beyond to Nara and Osaka. This is good to know as I could incorporate Nara and Osaka in my travel route. Finally, the Linimo Railway operates a maglev line from Fugigaoka and Yakusa Station – this line was used for people to access the 2005 Expo located outside of Nagoya.
In addition to this, there is a full network of bus routes but from what I gather, these are more for local citizens than tourists wanting to see the sites. To accommodate the likes of me, there is the Meguru loop bus – I have used loop buses before especially in Nikko north of Tokyo. The Nagoya tourist bust departs from Nagoya station and connects travellers with local attractions. These include the Toyota Museum, Noritake Garden, Nagoya Castle, Tokugawa Museum and the city centre. What is great is the bus runs around every 20-30 minutes during the week and 30-60 on weekends. The museums are all closed on a Monday so the bus does not operate on this day also. You can pay per trip or get a much more economical day pass.
Then, of course, there are the locations I can get to by foot or even a quick taxi ride if they are not near a train or subway station. If I was in Nagoya for a longer period with the intent to travel outside of the area to country destinations, then I would hire a car. I would just need to make sure I have an international drivers licence first – these are pretty easy to get from within Australia. Time to look at some of the interesting (at least to me) destinations within Nagoya.
As mentioned earlier, Sakae is the city centre or downtown or Nagoya. It features a lot of restaurants, bars, big shopping centres, tourist hot-spots, shopping streets and shopping centres. I love being able to explore city centres especially if there is some shopping I want to do. Although I do prefer to buy trinkets and gifts for the family from temples and shrines as the money goes to the staff who preserve those sites. I would have to do a lot more research on the specific things I would want to see in Sakae, especially the food options. While I am on the subject, here are a couple of the local Nagoya cuisines that are apparently worth trying:
- Hitsumabushi – Nagoya is actually Japan’s largest producer of the popular freshwater eel or unagi. The Nagoya version of the Unagi dish involves a bowl of rice, side dishes and a pot of dark rich broth. There is even a specified way to eat the eel.
- Kishimen – this is a cheap dish similar to udon that uses a flat wheat noodle. It’s served both hot in fish soup or cold with a dipping sauce. Sounds great no matter the time of year.
- Misokatsu – this is a lot like tonkatsu with a deep-fried pork cutlet and a pile of fresh paper-thin shredded cabbage. However, the Nagoya version uses a much thicker sauce made from miso. This is a pretty popular dish found in restaurants and in takeaway bento boxes.
SCMAGLEV and Railway Park – Central Japan Railways Museum
I am not a train nerd but when I was in Kyoto back in 2016, I spent an afternoon at the Kyoto Railway Museum. And I have to be honest when I say that it was incredibly interesting and impressive. I even wrote a whole blog about it here! The SCMAGLEV and Railway Park in Nagoya is a bit of a history lesson in the development and progress of high-speed trains in Japan. Much like Kyoto, the museum houses 39 retired trains spanning an impressive timeline up to the current generation of maglev high-speed trains. It has all the usual interactive attractions and train simulators and is support by English audio guides – although I didn’t need to use one of these in Kyoto. The museum is located right next door to Kinjofuto Station which is a 25-minute train ride from Nagoya Station – there is also a Legoland nearby which could be dangerous to the wallet.
Tokugawa Art Museum
I don’t mind visiting the odd museum when I am away – especially if it is really hot and I need a break from the heat and humidity. The Tokugawa Art Museum is located only a few minutes walk from the Ozone Station or via the tourist bus that takes about 30 minutes to get there from Nagoya station. The site is actually the former residence of the ruling family from the Edo Period. As a result, the museum displays many of the families treasures from that time. Right next to the museum is a gorgeous Japanese garden – the kind with the sculpted bushes and ornamental pond.
Gorgeous ceramics play a significant role in Japan’s history and culture. Noritake is one of the main companies working in this industry and have been doing so for over 100 years. The Garden is actually the companies former factory site that has been redeveloped with park space, shops and restaurants. There is a craft area where you can watch ceramics being made or brose the history of the company in its museum space. Noritake Garden is only a 15-minute walk from Nagoya Station or travel there via the tourist bus.
Osu Kannon Temple
Nagoya has some great examples of culturally significant temples. The Osu Kannon Temple Osu Kannon is a Buddhist temple that was originally built during the Kamakura Period (1192-1333) in a neighbouring area. It was moved to Nagoya in 1612 and then reconstructed after the second world war. The basement of the main hall is home to the Shinpukuji Library containing thousands of ancient texts. A market is held on the grounds twice a month and right next door is the Osu Shopping Arcade shopping streets. The temple is next to the Osu Kannon Station and not far from the Kamimaezu Station.
Nagoya Castle reminds me of Osaka Castle which I visited in 2016. Nagoya Castle was built during the Edo Period as the seat of power for the Owari family. Nagoya sprung up from the surrounding castle town. Most of the castle was destroyed during the second world war and was later rebuilt in 1959 – the castle palace was only completed recently in 2018. The 1959 re-built castle keep is being demolished to accommodate a decade long construction project to rebuild it in timber. The castle grounds, structures and even its moats and walls are massive and make for a great photo spot. The tourist bus will take me straight to the castle or there is a rail option but this requires changing trains part way through. For around $6 AU for a day pass, the tourist bus is proving to be great value.
Atsuta Shrine is considered one of the most important Shito shrines and dates as far back as the reign of Emperor Keikō (71-130). Now that’s history! While never shown to the public, it is said that the shrine houses the great sacred sword Kusanagi and also enshrines the Sun Goddess Amaterasu. The shrine is located in a park along with a restaurant serving another Nagoya classic – Kishimen noodles. The shrine is located in southern Nagoya and is quickly accessed via Jingumae Station from Nagoya Station.
If I were to travel in Autumn and really want to capture the intense autumn leaf colour, Korankei may just be the place. This is a valley located outside of Nagoya framed by the Mount Imori and its mountaintop Kojakiji Temple. One of the better viewing spots is along the Tomoe River and the Taigetsukyo Bridge. It is also a spot for local festivals held day and night at various times of the year. Another attraction of Korankei is Sanshu Asuke Yashiki Village which is home to old houses, classic architecture and a village feel. There are craft workshops to enjoy and take home handcrafted goods. The downside is that getting there is a pain in the ass. It takes a couple of trains and a bus so it may be best to use a hire car for this side-quest.
Duration of Visit
I really like the sound of spending some time in Nagoya. I think that based on my research it has a nice mix of the things I like about Japanese cities. While it is a big city, there is ample public transport especially with the tourist bus that seems to go to pretty much every destination I am interested in. There are also a lot of day trip options to amazing destinations outside of Nagoya but these would probably best be accessed with a car. For now, I won’t consider venturing away from the cities I visit as it is likely I won’t have that much time. When I am in a position to travel Japan more extensively and for probably weeks, instead of just days, I can potentially hire a car and visit some of the more remote spots. For now, though, I would definitely visit Nagoya while I am in that area. I could see me visiting Kyoto, Nara and then Nagoya on my way to some other destination. It may even be worth an overnight stay if I arrive in Nagoya partway through the day, stay the night, and then head off to my next destination after seeing some of the sites.
So the question remains, will I include Nagoya on my itinerary for my next trip to Japan. The simple answer is yes. I can see myself doing a roadshow of cities kicking off from Osaka and making my way to Nara and then Nagoya. From there, who knows which way I will head. I could pack in a couple more cities before looping back around to Osaka. Or, I could very easily continue up to Tokyo with stops along the way and fly out from there. I guess I will just have to keep exploring possibilities via this blog series. If you have any comments, questions or your own recommendations about Nagoya, please let me know. It is always appreciated. Until then, stay safe and well. G