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Three Perfect Days: Nagoya, Japan

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 ONE / Your first morning in Nagoya finds you 45 floors directly above Meieki, as the city’s main train station is known locally, in the Nagoya Marriott Associa Hotel. The Marriott is in the south tower of the JR Central Towers , one of Nagoya’s most recent landmarks and its tallest buildings—until the Toyota headquarters are completed across the street. You chose the Marriott Associa for its breathtaking view, superior service, and convenient location: The Sakura-dori (Sakura Street) railroad line starts right below you and extends eastward into the heart of Nagoya.

No time to dawdle over the view, though. You have a full day ahead, and it’s time for breakfast. Walk eastward down Sakura-dori and take a right at the second stoplight to the bustle of Yanagibashi Chuo Ichiba

(Central Fish Market). Activity slows down about 8 a.m., so get there beforehand. Inside, take a look around the main market, on your right. To your left is the building where you’ll have breakfast.

Open from 4 a.m., Shokudo Tensue serves traditional breakfasts with rice, miso soup, and the freshest fish in town. Afterward, retrace your steps back to Meieki and catch the higashiyama (yellow) subway line to Kakuozan Station to visit the Nittaiji Temple. At Kakuozan, take exit No. 1 to the sandou (literally, road approaching a shrine).

Take your time walking; these access streets traditionally have an array of shops. Peek into Sumiya Honpo, which claims to be the first shop in the world to sell only charcoal. The substance is for sale in all shapes and sizes, reflecting the Japanese penchant for displaying charcoal, adding it to bath water, and using it as a deodorizer and a bedding material for plants.

Halfway on your trip to the temple you’ll reach Eikokuya, just in time for a morning cup of tea. Eikokuya’s owner, Arakawa Hiroyuki, prides himself on the variety of teas that he selects on his travels to India and Sri Lanka. You can buy packages of Eikokuya’s original blends at the retail shop next door.

Farther up the sandou, the Nittaiji Temple comes into view. Considering the long history of Japanese temples, Nittaiji is new. Built in 1904 and reconstructed in 1984, the temple is significant, yet often overlooked. It was built specifically to house remains of Sakayamuni Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, that were presented to Japan by the king of Thailand. Passing through the large inner gate, you’ll see the five-tiered pagoda where the remains are entombed. On the 21st of every month, the vast area between the inner gate and the main temple is filled with merchants and farmers selling produce and other goods.

On your way back to the station, turn right onto a side street off the sandou to find the old Kakuozan Apartments, now filled with the studios and galleries of artists. This is one of several such locations that have opened recently to house young people who are following in the footsteps of their Muneharu-era ancestors.

Walk around in the galleries and exhibitions, and keep an eye out for art that strikes your fancy; much of the work is for sale.

Back near Kakuozan Station is Tamaya, a typical Japanese diner. Though the restaurant isn’t fancy, the great tastes and ample portions make it one of the most popular spots on the sandou. Time your arrival for after 1 p.m. to guarantee a table. Staying mindful that dinner is coming up, go light and order the kishimen, a tasty, dried fish– based, flat-noodle soup specific to Nagoya.

After lunch, cross the main street and catch a taxi to Tokugawaen, gardens where the Tokugawa family’s residence used to be.

Before touring the gardens, visit the nearby art museum. It proudly houses more than 10,000 items, including nine national treasures, one of which is Illustrated Tale of Genji, a renowned version of a classic early Japanese novel.

Then take a break for tea at Sozanso, a café that was originally a guesthouse for VIPs during the 1937 Pan-Pacific Peace Exposition. Sozanso serves a rare treat: the traditional green tea used in the Japanese tea ceremony. Once rested, wander through the gardens and the Hosa Library.

When you’ve had your fill of premodern Japanese culture, it’s time for dinner nearby at the exquisite Garden Restaurant Tokugawaen, which serves French cuisine with a Japanese influence. Consult your appetite and the English menu; then choose from seasonally set menus.

Round off the evening with a stop by Jazz Inn Lovely, the premier spot for live jazz in Nagoya since 1970. Lovely is in the Sakae Station area, where you’ll be spending some of your time tomorrow. Have a cocktail or two and wind down after a day of exploration.

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