DANIEL ALLEN ventures out of the Japanese capital to check out the contemporary and culturally vibrant Nagoya.
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 string instrument) skills. Overhead, the shimmering waters on the roof of the outlandish Oasis 21 building reflect the soaring Nagoya TV Tower, while floors below, eager shoppers snap up the day’s bargains. A perfect snapshot of modern Japanese culture—a fascinating mix of old and new.
Despite being the butt of many 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), contemporary 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.
At the heart of Nagoya lies the 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, it’s the first stop for most visitors. The castle was first built in 1612 by Tokugawa Ieyasu, characterized by two golden “shachi” dolphins adorning the roof.
After burning down during 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 a particularly beautiful season here, with 2,000 cherry blossom trees in delicate, cloud-like bloom around the grounds.
Another must-see in Nagoya is the city’s Osu Kannon Temple. Painted in vibrant red and busy with worshippers 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.
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 that 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.
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 the 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.
A short walk from Sakae is the Hilton Nagoya, one of the city’s premier hotels. The hotel’s Genji Restaurant is particularly renowned for its superb sushi and tempura and desserts made from cherry blossom. In the heart of Sakae is the b Nagoya, a more mid-priced hotel just minutes away 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. “Want a pair of boots? A Gundam robot? A vintage jacket? Just come here and browse!”
With so much to offer, Nagoya should be on every Japan visitor’s to-do list. More laidback than Tokyo, a cruise through the Detroit of Japan is all about fun, food, and fancy shopping. And there most certainly are beautiful women in town.