FOR QUITE SOME TIME Nagoya was the brunt of jokes in Japan because of its inaka, or rural, status. But those days are no more. Today Nagoya is one of the fastest-growing economic centers in Japan and a focal point for modern as well as traditional culture. The Nagoya area is the ancestral home of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate, who established Nagoya as a castle town in 1612. From the start, the city was a vibrant hub of commerce because of its location along the Tokaido, the main road connecting Tokyo to Kyoto. Adding to the scene, in the 1700s, local overlord Tokugawa Muneharu took a special interest in the arts and crafts of the land. This encouraged many master artisans of the time to move to Nagoya, where, to this day, some of their descendants still live and hone their crafts. Bolstered by last year’s World Exposition, the opening of the Chubu International Airport, and the relocation here of Toyota Motors’ headquarters, Nagoya radiates an energy unequaled in Japan, an energy felt just walking down the colorful main streets, an energy encouraged by both the traditional culture and the industrial prowess of this modern-day metropolis. Over the next three days, you’ll see what all the excitement is about.
Author Andrew Vorland Photography James Whitlow Delano
DAY THREE / Nagoya’s love for coffee shops is no secret. Though their popularity has waned a bit, it’s still hard to walk a block and not see one. For a taste of the local lifestyle, start off your day in one of these shops with a moningu (morning set). This menu item originated in Nagoya to satisfy on-the-go salarymen. The selection may vary from shop to shop but typically includes a cup of coffee, a boiled egg, and a slice of toast, all for the price of the coffee.
Your second stop is Noritake Garden, either a 15-minute walk north or one subway stop away from your hotel. Recently developed on the grounds of the original Noritake ceramic factory, this spot is a veritable haven from the commotion of the city.
Stroll around the park and garden, where some of the brick factory buildings are still intact. Then explore the Noritake Museum for a look at the 102-year history of the famous ceramic company. Visit the Box Outlet Shop for good deals on Noritake items. Before leaving Noritake Garden, enjoy a light lunch of Continental cuisine at Kiln restaurant.
Returning to the JR Central Towers, a quick walk southward brings you to Meitetsu Nagoya Train Station.
From here, you’re heading out of town for a journey into Japanese architectural history. It’s less than an hour by train, then bus, to Meiji-Mura, an outdoor architectural museum and one of the region’s top attractions.
Meiji-Mura is home to 67 structures, mostly from the Meiji era, which began when the Tokugawa government gave up power in the 1800s and Japan once again opened its borders to the world. The Western influences are evident in the architecture.
The best way to see Meiji-Mura is to meander to the north gate, stopping at as many structures as possible. A must-see is the impressive main entrance to the Imperial Hotel, designed by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. (Visit hemispheresmagazine.com for the Cyber Sidebar “Frank Lloyd Wright in Japan,” our 2005 feature awarded a first-place honor by the North American Travel Journalists Association.) Behind this amazing monument is the steam-locomotive station. From here, take the train, then a streetcar, back to Nagoya.
When you arrive, it’s time for dinner. Having become comfortable with Nagoya over the past few days, you’ve decided to go truly authentic. Hidden off a side street is the tiny Japanese-style grill Kazu. With welcoming owner Kazu behind the counter, the place is popular with an unclassifiable mix of locals and travelers. On the counter are the ingredients, mainly a variety of fresh fish and vegetables. Smile and point at your choices, and Kazu will prepare a dish for you in no time.
Afterward, for something completely different, stop nearby at The Elephant’s Nest. This homey British pub is a favorite hangout among local expats. While you review your newfound fascination with central Japan, savor a few British brews with a diverse international group whose presence attests to the appeal of all the things that make Nagoya so memorable. u Andrew Vorland is a Nagoya writer and photographer whose friends no longer pay attention when he says, “No, really, I think this is my last year here.”
March is a pleasant but unpredictable month in Nagoya. Snow is unusual but does sometimes fall early in the month. By the end of March, spring typically has prevailed. You can get away with a light jacket or long-sleeved shirt in the afternoon, but pack a heavier coat for a night or early morning out. An umbrella may come in handy for the occasional spring shower. Summer brings heat, humidity, and frequent rain. Winter is chilly, but temperatures seldom fall below freezing. Dressing in layers is a good idea; crowds combined with heating systems tend to make public transportation and many other indoor locations quite toasty.
Weather information is provided by The Weather Channel. For more Nagoya climatological details, visit weather.com.
To get into the city from the new Chubu International Airport, take an airport bus or the train. Buses are available to most major hotels and take about an hour. The train can get you into town in half the time, but transfers may be required, depending on where you’re staying. Getting around the city is easy by subway or taxi. If you have the address written out in Japanese for the taxi driver, the language barrier should be no problem.
A Higashiyama Zoo and Botanical Gardens (Tel: 81-52-782-2111) One of the largest zoos in Asia. Features a sky tower and observation deck.
B Port of Nagoya Public Aquarium (Tel: 81-52-654-7080) Dolphins, orca and beluga whales, and other creatures from five aquatic regions.
C The Electricity Museum (Tel: 81-52-201-1026) Interactive exhibits that include the fun Slanting Room. D Nagoya City Science Museum (Tel: 81-52-201-4486) Exhibits on astronomy, technology, and life science.