[From September Issue 2011]
Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture, is the fourth most populous city in Japan after Tokyo, Yokohama and Osaka. It’s located in the Chubu region, a region situated right at the centre of Japan’s main land mass. Nagoya is also the political, economic and industrial center of this region.
Driving northeast for about ten minutes from Nagoya Station, you arrive at Nagoya Castle, which is the most famous tourist spot in Nagoya. It was built in 1612 on the orders of TOKUGAWA Ieyasu, the first shogun of the Tokugawa family, who ruled Japan during the Edo period. Its tenshukaku (the castle’s tallest and most-central building with rooftop views), which has an observation deck on its roof, was burned down during the Second World War, but was later rebuilt. The entire area, including Nagoya Castle, is known as Meijo Park and is familiar to the city’s citizens.
The symbol of Nagoya Castle is a pair of Golden Shachihoko (tiger-headed dolphin) statues facing each other on the roof of the keep. They were said to have been about 2.7 meters high at the time they were constructed and around 200 kilograms of solid gold was used to make them. Currently, the inside of the keep serves as an exhibition space. On the top floor there is an observation room which has panoramic views of Nagoya City.
Tokugawa Garden, a ten minute drive east from Nagoya Castle, used to be home to the Tokugawa family. Built on a huge plot of land, this Japanese garden features a number of small hills and ponds. From mid to late April, about 1,000 peonies blossom, and from late May to early June, some 1,700 irises are in full bloom.
Adjacent to the garden is The Tokugawa Art Museum, which has a collection of about 20,000 items, among which include Ieyasu’s personal belongings and tools that belonged to Edo period daimyou (feudal lords). The museum boasts an abundance of valuable national treasures such as picture scrolls from the “Tale of Genji” and other important cultural properties. “Owari Tokugawake no Hinamatsuri” (the Owari Tokugawa family’s hina doll festival), is a traditional Japanese event held annually from early February through to early April, during which gorgeous dolls are put on display.
Southwest of Tokugawa Garden is Sakae, one of the main commercial districts of Nagoya. Numerous shops and restaurants are found there, not only at street level, but underground as well. Rising above Hisaya Ohdori Kouen, which stretches north to south through the center of Sakae, is Nagoya TV Tower. The tower is 180 meters tall and has observation decks at 90 meters and 100 meters above ground level, which command spectacular views.
A 15-minute walk to the south from Sakae takes you to Osu Kannon Temple, one of the three major Kannon temples in Japan. The temple was moved there from Gifu Prefecture in 1612, when Nagoya Castle was built. The main hall was burned down in World War II and was reconstructed in 1970. On the 18th and the 28th of every month, the temple grounds are crowded with traders who come from all over Japan to sell antiques, used goods and second hand clothes. Many people visit the temple to enjoy this event.
Many bustling shopping arcades catering to temple visitors are located around Osu Kannon. With its numerous stores selling second hand clothing and electrical goods, the streets have an atmosphere that combines the feel of Tokyo’s Asakusa and Akihabara districts. In recent years, the numbers of tourists from overseas have increased. Because of the covered roofs, you can wander through the streets without worrying about the weather. In mid-October each year, the Osu Daido-chonin Matsuri (The Osu Street Performers’ Festival) is held, and a gorgeous “Oiran Dochu” (a procession of courtesans) parades through the shopping streets.
About four kilometers’ south of the Osu area is Atsuta Jingu where the temple buildings cover a huge area (about 200,000 square meters) and the grounds include sacred woodland. The historic shrine houses a holy sword which is one of the Three Sacred Treasures of Japan (the mirror, the sword and the jewel) that have been passed down by Emperors through the ages. In the shrine’s treasure hall, a collection of about 6,000 objects are on display. During the first few days of each year, many people visit the shrine to make wishes for the New Year.
In the hilly area to the east of the city is Higashiyama Zoo and Botanical Gardens. This zoo is famous for having become the first zoo in Japan to keep koalas. The botanical gardens have Japanese gardens and greenhouses where some 7,000 kinds of plants are grown. The Port of Nagoya Public Aquarium, located near to the Port of Nagoya, is the ideal place to get a closer look at marine life. There you can get your photo taken with a life-size replica of the killer whale.
Located near Nagoya Station, the Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology is built on the site where the Toyota Motor Corporation was originally established. The museum consists of the Textile Machinery Pavilion, the Automobile Pavilion, Technoland, the Toyota Group Building and other attractions. Various exhibits and demonstrations provide easy-to-understand explanations of the manufacturing process. There is also a corner where you can make a cell phone strap or a key chain free of charge.
In recent years, Nagoya-meshi has caught the public imagination. Nagoya-meshi refers to dishes that use ingredients and cooking methods unique to Nagoya which cannot be found anywhere else. These dishes include miso nikomi udon and miso katsu, which both use miso (a thick paste made from fermenting rice, barley and/or soy beans) with a richer taste. Other dishes include tebasaki, hitsumabushi, tenmusu, and kishimen.
Miso nikomi udon is udon (thick noodles) served in an earthenware pot; people use the lid of the pot as a plate while eating it. Miso katsu is a pork cutlet served with a miso sauce. Tebasaki is deep fried chicken wings coated with a special sauce and sprinkled with various spices. Hitsumabushi is grilled eel on a bed of rice that can be eaten in three different ways. Tenmusu is a rice ball that contains shrimp tempura. Kishimen is a kind of flat noodle. One can feel the rich history and culture of Nagoya reflected in any of these dishes.
To Nagoya it’s approximately one hour and 40 minutes from Tokyo, or about 50 minutes from Osaka on the Tokaido Shinkansen. You can also fly to the Chubu International Airport, from which it takes roughly 30 minutes to get to Nagoya Station by train.
Text: ITO Koichi