I won’t lie, Nagoya was voted the most boring city in Japan quite a few times, but don’t let that discourage you! It’s the home of Nagoya Castle and Atsuta Jingu: which is the resting place of one of Japan’s scared treasures – the Kusanagi no Tsurugi, a legendary sword. Nagoya Station itself is an impressive sight as one of the largest train stations in the world, and the area surrounding it features really new and impressive architecture, like the Spiral Tower. The temple at Osu Kannon is also quite beautiful and surrounding by an eclectic shopping arcade.
Nagoya is an easy stop between Kyoto and Tokyo on the Shinkansen so if you find yourself traveling between the two, I think it is well worth it to make a stop at this growing city.
One of Japan’s Grand Shrines: Atsuta Jingu
Along with Meiji Jingu in Tokyo and Ise Jingu in Ise, this shrine is one of the holiest places in Japan. As I mentioned before the legendary sword Kusanagi no Tsurugi is on the shrine grounds but unfortunately, you can’t see it (though plenty of other treasures are displayed in the treasure hall). Even when the three sacred objects are gathered for the Emperor’s coronation, they will be covered. Skeptics will say that is because..they don’t actually exist. But the reason given in legends is that they are too powerful to be seen by mortal eyes and those who have laid eyes on it died from strange diseases. I prefer to believe that the sword does exist, because life is more fun that way.
The legend of the sword is that it was found inside the monster, Yamata no Orochi, by the god Susanoo (autocorrect insists I mean Susan, so let’s all share a laugh at that). The sword eventually wound up in the hands of warrior Yamato Takeru, who realized that the weapon could control the direction of the wind. After that its whereabouts and how it ended up at Atsuta become a bit murky, but that can’t be helped as no one is actually allowed to look at the thing.
Whether you believe in Shinto legends or not, you won’t be able to deny that the grounds of Atsuta Jingu have an otherworldly air. Once you pass the large Torii gates at the entrance you have entered the realm of the gods, and it certainly feels that way.
Though this is a very old shrine the buildings as you see them today were constructed in the 50s due to destruction from bombing during WWII. The official website has a lot of good information in English, and it also tells you when all the festivals are.
Nagoya Castle: An Ancient and Modern Marvel
When I first moved to Nagoya years ago, Nagoya Castle wasn’t all that. A replica castle with a small museum inside. Great view from the top, and interesting to look at from the grounds, but it felt too much like a replica. I didn’t get that authentic feeling of this is Japan.
But that has all changed now as Nagoya Castle has dramatically upped its game not only by changing the interior of the castle to better reflect the feel of a traditional castle town. But also due to the construction of Honmaru Palace.
This is a new building that has been painstakingly recreated based on original plans. It is almost entirely made of cypress (so as an added bonus it smells great!) and features really stunning art and fixtures. Japan lost many historical treasures during the bombings so its wonderful to see these ancient buildings come back to life with a little modern ingenuity.
Outside of the castle Kinshachi Yokocho, an Edo-inspired town featuring Nagoya cuisine has recently opened as well.
Nagoya Station – Architecture and Cuisine
Tokyo Station and Kyoto Station are certainly impressive, but I don’t think Nagoya Station is far behind. It serves the Shinkansen, Meitetsu and Aonami Lines, Nagoya Subway, as well as buses and taxis. Basically anywhere you want to go, this station has got you covered.
Inside the station there is Japanese super-mall Takashimaya, which has got you covered for fashion, hobbies, and food. As a general Japan tip, look for food in the basement. Just about every department store will have a basement floor which will contain packed snacks for souvenirs, as well as fresh cakes from the hottest pastry chefs, and fresh food for take out if you want to have lunch at home or at your hotel.
In the JR Gate Tower Mall there’s some fun shops like official Ghibli and Disney stores. There are many great restaurants on the high floors that also feature great views!
If you like exploring, eating, and shopping this is the place for you!
Osu Kannon: History, Culture, and Cosplay
The temple at Osu Kannon is dedicated to Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy. It has a library of over 15,000 religious texts, and also boasts a room of beautiful statues. There is a flea market often there on weekends, and the surrounding area accounts for much of Nagoya’s counter-culture.
Just about every weekend has some event or parade going on. There’s cultural festivals, such as Bon Odori, and a number of cosplay events, including a parade.
The Osu shopping arcade has great deals on electronics, interesting restaurants and cafes, and a number of game centers where you can unwind and try your hand at some crane games. Go for that giant Pikachu! It’s a little out of the way but if you can find it I recommend Jewelry store Sipka – you can find jewels and art created by Japanese artisans. Their collection is really unique and changes regularly.
These are some of the big ones to see if you are in the area, but in the future I’ll likely write a bit more about Nagoya (I did live there for four years after all!).