The Far-East’s original motor city, Nagoya, is Japan’s third largest. It is part of a metropolitan area that control’s 1% of the earth’s economy and is home to the world’s largest train station. Nagoya is a dynamic, exciting city, but is somehow often skipped over by tourists for its more famous neighbors. Next time you’re on the bullet train between Tokyo and Kyoto, here’s a few reasons to get off a few stops early.
Sakae is the beating heart of Nagoya, with luxury shopping and foods during the day, and thousands of bars, pubs, clubs, and taverns that come out to play in the night. While not quite as sprawling as its cousin in Tokyo, Sakae is like Shinjuku with 30% more elbow room. A night out in Nagoya means a chance to frolic in Japan’s iconic neon rabbit-warrens without having to suffer through the crowds of Tokyo or Osaka.
Just a quick subway ride away from central Nagoya, Inuyama Castle is the oldest in Japan. With a commanding view of the Kiso River, this is one of Japan’s few remaining original keeps, and was, until 2004, the last privately owned castle in the country. The sometimes claustrophobic stairways and halls in exquisitely preserved wood and stone provide give one a chance to experience a castle just as a samurai would have.
The playground to Nagoya’s weirdos, geeks, punks, artists, and misfits, Osu district is a lively maze of second hand record and manga shops, vintage clothing and toy stores, cafes, street food stalls and bars. Also home to vibrant Brazilian, Filipino, and Chinese communities (and all the delicious things they have to sell), the covered shopping arcade here retains the feel of a Japan from some distant memory. The Osu district is anchored by and named for Osu Kannon temple, which, although a 20th century reconstruction of a 17th century structure, is a beautiful, religiously significant place that boasts the oldest known copy of the Kojiki (the at-least-semi-mythological history of Japan), as well as frequent festivals and flea-markets.
Most cities in Japan take a great deal of pride in their local cuisine, and Nagoya is no exception. While more upscale visitors may come to the city looking to try hitsumabushi, an elegant grilled eel dish, Nagoya perhaps more best known for its boldly flavored pub grub. Tebasaki—unbattered, highly peppered deep-fried chicken wings—are absolutely iconic here, and can be found at any decent watering hole. Another must-try is misokatsu, a local variation of a national classic; this is tonkatsu (panko crusted deep-fried pork cutlet) served with local red miso sauce. Remember to go easy on the miso-sauce, though. In Nagoya, there is a tendency to smother almost anything imaginable in the stuff!
Nagashima Spa Land
Don’t let the dreary name fool you. Nagashima Spa Land is a world-class amusement park easily reachable from Nagoya proper. Its star attraction is the Steel Dragon roller coaster—the world’s longest roller coaster and the sixth fastest. Also at the park is the Steel Dragon’s older brother, the White Cyclone, which at over 20 years old, is still the third longest and seventh tallest wooden roller coaster in the world. The best part about Nagashima Spa Land, though, is the short lines; pick the right Tuesday afternoon, and the park can practically abandoned.