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The locals deem it a boring city while tourists often overlook this manufacturing hub in favour of Japan’s Golden Route that includes Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto. Strategically located between Tokyo and Osaka, Nagoya is the capital of Aichi Prefecture and the fourth most populated city in the country. Nagoya is the home of Toyota, one of the largest automotive manufacturers in the world and has plenty to offer beyond its deceptively boring reputation as merely a castle town.
Firstly, Nagoya isn’t built for mass tourism. What it lacks in gimmicky tourist traps is made up with authenticity and a more relaxed experience – whether it’s locals stopping to ask if you needed help or a ticket attendant attempting to thank you in your national language. If you’re intent on keeping it wallet-friendly, Nagoya can be a pit stop or a base to explore its surrounding region due to its lower cost of living.
Having visited the Golden Route and several other cities in Japan, I love that Nagoya is a mid-sized city with only two downtown areas (Nagoya station and Sakae), which makes getting around a pleasant experience. For a start, its subway is way easier to navigate than Tokyo’s labyrinth network, the latter of which I find bewildering and intimidating. A one-day Shoryudo tourist pass is your best bet, which allows you unlimited rides on subway and bus as well as discounts to several tourist attractions. To maximise savings, the Shoryudo Bus Pass provides unlimited travel on highway buses across Japan’s Chubu region.
Highlights of Nagoya
Nagoya Public Aquarium
For fans of marine life, the aquarium boasts the world’s largest outdoor tank and serves as an informal classroom on aquatic species. Having stumbled upon the aquarium by chance, I spent hours admiring an array of marine mammals typically found in the Antarctic ocean. Who would’ve thought that beluga whales are one of the most vocal of all whales and are incredibly social? This place isn’t overrun with tourists so take your time to understand the mystery that surrounds the diversity of life forms on earth. *Discount is applicable to Shoryudo one-day tourist pass.
Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology
Did you know that Toyota started as a manufacturer of automatic looms before it transformed to be one of the best selling car brands in the world? Located in an old red brick factory, which is the birthplace of Toyota, this museum offers a glimpse into the history of Toyota and the heritage of industrial modernisation that catapults Japan into a highly industrialised nation.
If you’d like to kill two birds with one stone, the Kamejima station on the Higashiyama subway (yellow) line will make for a productive stop – The Noritake Garden is a stone’s throw away from the Toyota Commemorative Museum. The Asian version of Villeroy & Boch, Noritake is a leader in tableware manufacturing and like most things in Japan, the brand is synonymous with high quality and reliability. Have a picnic or take a stroll around Noritake Garden and soak in the fascinating history of one of the world’s finest ceramics producers. For highly ‘grammable’ shots, plan your visit in spring for a magnificent display of cherry blossom.
The center of Nagoya city is also the best spot for retail therapy – from underground shopping mall to department and luxury stores. Where else would you find a discount store that stays open 24 hours? I was in absolute awe of the diversity of products on display at Don Quijote (Donki in short), a major discount chain store – which extends from groceries to electronics and luxury brands such as Rolex and Louis Vuitton! In Sakae, a quotidian urban life is transformed when evening falls with a myriad of restaurants, bars and nightlife spots (including a semi red light district) that offer the best of Nagoya.
An area known for its famous Buddhist temple that is popular to both tourists and locals alike. The Osu shopping district has been around for 400 years and offers a hodgepodge of styles for fashion seekers on a budget. If brand names tickled your fancy, head over to Komehyo, the largest pre-owned store in Japan that carries anything from vintage jewellery, artistic timepieces, designer goods to cameras.
Reputed to be one of the largest castles in Japan, it is little wonder that the castle town grew to become Nagoya, the fourth largest city in Japan today. Arguably the most prominent tourist attraction in Nagoya, no trip is complete without a visit to the iconic Nagoya Castle. Take a blast to the past and revisit the history of the Edo period in its sprawling garden oasis. *Discount is applicable to Shoryudo one-day tourist pass.