Until recently, Nagoya has sat quietly behind heavyweight Japanese cities in tourism – Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Sapporo and Hiroshima have for decades been no-brainer go-to options for international travellers. It thrives with culture, shopping, dining, nightlife and a very eclectic mix of unforgettable locals.
Tokyo’s friendly little sister
A bullet train ride from the hectic capital, Nagoya has often been referred to as Tokyo’s little sister. It features many of Tokyo’s charms on a low-key level – expect skyscrapers, arcades and funky bars without the queues of tourists, and therefore a chance to get really acquainted with the welcoming locals and their way of life.
Downtown Nagoya, and in particular the Sakae district, is brimming with nightlife. These range from tiny underground bars to big dance venues such as iD cafe (above). It’s not unusual to meet locals who end up taking you on a bar hop of unlisted bars. We once ended up in an apartment bar, big enough just to fit eight people, decorated with toys and board games. Unfortunately, there are no listings for international visitors so it really is a case of head out, meet friendly locals and see where the night takes you.
The famous Japanese pinball-type game ‘pachinko’ comes from Nagoya. Arcades are in abundance over the entire city – packed with video games, photo booths (with very exciting instant airbrushing), and dance machines.
Some argue that an evening out in Japan is not complete without a bit of karaoke. Nagoya certainly has no shortage of karaoke joints. The big chains in Japan are Big Echo (above) and Joysound, which carry English songs and lyrics. They also offer food-and-drink packages with unlimited beverage options, should you require a bit of Dutch courage.
Traditional Japanese architecture
Kyoto and Osaka are famous for gorgeous castles and temples but Nagoya also has some impressive offerings of its own. Nagoya Castle (below) was built in 1612 during the Edo Period and at the time was one of the largest castles in the country, eventually becoming Nagoya’s landmark. On the roof, you’ll see golden orcas that signify prosperity, and the seventh-floor observation overlooks the rest of the city.
The gardens surrounding Nagoya Castle are equally striking and a great spot to enjoy cherry blossoms at spring time.
Atsuta Shrine in southern Nagoya is one of the most important centres of worship in Japan. Established during the reign of Emperor Keikō, the shrine’s treasure hall houses over 4,000 relics and is a wonderful insight into old Japan.
Food for the soul
What we love most about food in Nagoya is that on the whole, it feels healthier and heartier. Yes, there are the staple Japanese dishes everywhere from sushi to ramen, but for a really distinct Nagoya culinary experience, try hitsumabushi (below).
It is fresh water eel, grilled and served over rice with a delicious dark sauce and broth. Misonikomi is also popular in Nagoya – a hotpot dish with a miso base and piled with vegetables, chicken, and fish cakes. There are plenty of brilliant local restaurants dotted throughout the city, such as Miyakishimen located on 1−1−1 Atsuta Ward.
Something for car lovers
Nagoya is a significant commercial and industrial hub in Japan, and car enthusiasts will be delighted to find that it is where Toyota is based. Toyota is one of the leading car manufacturers globally and while the plants are a bit of a way out, we suggest visiting the Toyota Techno Museum or the Toyota Automobile Museum (below).
The Toyota Techno Museum is an insightful exhibit on car making while the Toyota Automobile Museum has a collection of vintage cars which are really quite beautiful. Both are great even for people with a mild interest in cars and of course, there are plenty of photo opportunities.
Stunning natural beauty
Nagoya has a number of stunning parks and Japanese gardens that transport visitors back in time. The Tokugawa Garden (below) surrounds the Tokugawa Art Museum and dates back to 1695, during the Edo Period.
We love the traditional Japanese teahouse, wandering through the lush forestation and the peaceful sound of waterfalls. In the autumn when the leaves change colour, the garden becomes a gleaming golden ‘treasure’.
To venture further into the wilderness, take a look at Kaisho Forest (304-1 Yoshino-cho, Seto City, 489-0857, Aichi Prefecture), a protected nature reserve, north-east of Nagoya. The huge forest has eight rivers and a thriving community of wildlife, including a rare Japanese giant flying squirrel.
Shopping for all
As a major city where shopping is a pastime, Nagoya has the diversity and quality of outlets so that literally anyone can shop till they drop. Wander around the city centre near Nagoya Station, the malls such as Takashimaya and Central Park, and the Osu Shotengai shopping arcade (below), to discover boutiques, vintage garments, department stores, and much more.
Technology geeks will be extra excited to visit Big Camera, Japan’s biggest consumer electronics chain. There are stores scattered throughout the city and you’ll be amazed at just how much can be packed into a single store. For gifts and quirky items, visit Don Quijote – a chain store with over 160 locations in Japan. It’s very well known and it’s hard to exit without buying anything.
Nagoya’s emerging landmarks
While the Tokyo Tower is recognised all over the world, Nagoya’s own landmarks are fast becoming internationally known and visited as well. The Nagoya TV Tower is actually the oldest TV Tower in Japan, completed in 1954 – it even features in the 1964 movie Godzilla.
The building was originally built to transmit television throughout the city, but now also serves as an observation deck, complete with a gallery, stores and restaurants – try the amazing fruit desserts in the ground-floor cafe. Another popular city landmark is the Sunshine Sakae shopping and entertainment complex, thanks to its 52m-tall Ferris wheel, known as the Sky Boat. You’ll also find the SKE48 theatre and cafe inside, which pays homage to the famous J-pop (Japanese pop) girl-group of the same name.
PHOTOS: ID-CAFE FACEBOOK, BIG ECHO FACEBOOK, 123RF.COM, INSTAGRAM, TOYOTA AUTOMOBILE MUSEUM FACEBOOK, NAGOYA TV TOWER FACEBOOK
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.