Nagoya: Japan in One Shot
Ida Anita Q. Del Mundo (The Philippine Star) - September 19, 2015 - 10:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Ask most locals and they will smile politely and tell you that Nagoya is not a tourist destination. The fourth most populated city in Japan identifies itself more as an industrial city, but, if given a chance, Nagoya has some gems to offer visitors.

The centerpiece of the city is Nagoya Castle, a reconstruction of the original castle built at the beginning of the Edo period in 1612, considered a symbol of Nagoya’s pride and deep history.

Rebuilding the Honmaru palace on the castle grounds began in 2010 and is scheduled to be opened to the public in 2018. Meantime, visitors are invited to a behind-the-scenes look at the restoration work being done, which is particularly interesting because it is being restored using traditional construction techniques.

From outside, arguably the best view of the Nagoya Castle is from the neighboring Westin Nagoya Castle hotel. Locals say the best time to view the castle is in March or April, when the cherry blossoms are in bloom.

The Atsuta Shrine is a sacred place preserved since 113 and is a main tourist draw. The Shinto shrine houses the Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi, a sword that is considered one of the Three Sacred Imperial Treasures.

For more on Nagoya’s history and culture, the Tokugawa Art Museum features swords, armor and other items of the Owari Tokugawa feudal lords. There are also traditional tea ceremony utensils and Noh costumes. The Tokugawa-en, a Japanese garden, has winding walkways meandering around a central pond. One can easily be transported back in time in this setting, when an old samurai manor once stood on the landscaped grounds.

Being mainly an industrial city, parts of Nagoya are also very modern. The Toyota Plant Tour and the Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology are worth a visit, Nagoya being the birthplace of Toyota.

On contemporary sites to see, there is the Planetarium, right across the Nagoya City Art Museum, which aside from local contemporary artists also features international exhibitions, including the works of Frida Khalo, Diego Rivera and many others.

The mix of traditional and contemporary is most evident in the Osu shopping district. The cluster of more than 1,000 shops and restaurants holds a selection from electronics to antiques, from food to fashion, to everything kawaii.

Among the notable stores are B-side Label, a sticker store that has hundreds of designs. There is also Alice on Wednesday, a concept store inspired by Alice in Wonderland, complete with a tiny door that you must enter, upside down chairs on the ceiling, and little vials and cookies inviting shoppers to “Drink Me” and “Eat Me.”  Japanese street food and delicacies abound at every corner of Osu.

The shopping district is bustling and always full of people, but turn a corner and you’ll find Osu Kannon temple, an oasis of tranquility at the end of the busy shops.

Among the festivals held in the popular area are the Parade of the Seven Gods on Setsubun Day in February, the Osu Summer Festival in August and the Street Performing Festival in October.

Finally, there is the Nagoya Tower. Locals and even some guide books are quick to say that it is no Tokyo Tower, but Nagoya’s version, at 90 meters, nevertheless offers a panoramic view of the city.

While locals may downplay Nagoya, the city still is worthy of a visit. Being located in the center of Japan allows for easy accessibility to Tokyo (about 1 hour, 40 minutes by train); Mt. Fuji and other nearby mountains for those seeking outdoor adventure; Osaka is just an hour away; and other locales like Hokkaido or Okinawa can be reached via plane from Nagoya’s international airport, Centrair.

The size of the city makes it ideal for tourism as well. It is quite convenient and simple to get from one place to another. The small town atmosphere makes it more homey and the locals more friendly and welcoming than big city folk.

Nagoya is a mix of tradition and modernity – a little bit of Kyoto, a little bit of Tokyo. It is a taste of all things Japanese in one neat shot. Kampai!

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