Nagoya Guide

With a population of more than 2.15 million people, Nagoya is the largest city in the Chūbu region of Japan and one of Japan's major cities. It is the capital of Aichi Prefecture and the principal city on the Nobi plain, one of Honshu's three large plains, and metropolitan and industrial centers.

Being the birthplace of Toyota and Pachinko (a recreational arcade game), Nagoya is a manufacturing powerhouse. Although the city’s GDP beats that of many small countries, this younger child has become accustomed to life in the shadow of its older siblings, Tokyo, Yokohama and Osaka.

Highlights

  • Nagoya is Japan’s fourth largest city.
  • It used to be one of the most important castle towns in Japan, with Nagoya Castle at its heart.
  • The Tokugawa Art Museum displays over 10,000 pieces.
  • The museum was built on the grounds of the former feudal residence of the Owaris, the founders of the castle.
  • As of 2015, the JR Central Tower was the second-tallest building in Nagoya and eighth-tallest in Japan.

Travel from Nagoya

While most visitors to Japan will elect to spend their time in Tokyo, Kyoto or Osaka, if you want to see the heart of the country, you’ll have to visit Nagoya. It is Japan's fourth-largest city after Tokyo, Yokohama and Osaka, and one of the nation's major economic centers.

Nagoya has many of its own attractions, and it also serves as a major transportation hub for the central region, with easy access to Takayama, Shirakawa-go and the Kiso Valley.

To get to Takayama, you can go by train. It takes between 2 and 4 hours and costs between 3,000 and 6,000 yen.

To get to Shirakawa-go, you can take the direct Gifu bus. This takes roughly 3 hours and costs about 4,000 yen.

To get to the Kiso Valley, you can go by train. To access Magome, take the JR Shinano limited express from Nagoya to Nakatsugawa Station, which takes about 50 minutes and costs around 3,000 yen. From Nakatsugawa, Magome can be reached via a 30-minute bus ride.

History of Nagoya

Nagoya has a history dating back 400+ years. It began after the battle of Sekigahara in 1600, with the building of Nagoya Castle.

Uniting Japan through his victory in the battle, Tokugawa Ieyasu started construction of the castle and in 1610 instructed residents of Kiyosu to move lock, stock, and temple to the area near the new castle.

Tokugawa Yoshinao, the castle’s first lord, transformed the castle-city into a prosperous town and the Tokugawa family continued to live in the castle for 16 generations. Nagoya developed as a center for production of ceramics, lacquer-ware, cotton, and gunpowder, before becoming a center for modern industry during the 19th century.

Top Attractions in Nagoya

Nagoya’s best-known attraction is its castle, but it also has a large number of museums, gardens, historical temples and shrines. Here are some famous attractions you can visit when in Nagoya.

Nagoya Castle

Nagoya Castle is the city’s most popular tourist attraction and is famous for the two golden dolphins decorating its roof. It is Nagoya’s icon, and cuts a striking profile amidst the surrounding greenery.

It was built at the beginning of the Edo Period in 1610 as the seat of one of the three branches of the ruling Tokugawa family, the Owari branch. It was one of the largest castles in the country, and the town around it eventually grew to become Japan's fourth largest city.

Unfortunately, the original castle was destroyed by bombing during World War 2 and the current building is a concrete reconstruction from 1959.

Tokugawa Art Museum

The Tokugawa Art Museum was founded in 1935 and is a must-visit for anyone interested in Japanese culture and history. It has a collection of over 10,000 items.

The museum was built on the grounds of the Owaris’ former feudal residence and preserves and exhibits several of their treasures, including samurai armor and swords, tea utensils, noh masks and costumes, poems, scrolls and maps.

Among the collection’s 10,000 objects are 10 designated National Treasures, 59 registered Important Cultural Properties, and 46 Important Art Objects. The most famous National Treasure is a 12th-century illustrated scroll of the Tale of Genji, which is only displayed once a year in November.

Tokugawa-en Garden

Next to the Tokugawa Art Museum is the Tokugawa-en. This delightful Japanese garden was donated to Nagoya city in 1931 by the Tokugawa family, but destroyed by bombing in 1945. It is a traditional Japanese garden, good for strolling around, built around a large pond stocked with koi carp, but also with waterfalls, tea houses and bridges.

The garden is known for its seasonal flower/leaf displays; plum blossoms from February to March, peonies in April, irises in late May and early June, and colorful maple leaves in November. It can be visited separately, or with a combined ticket to the museum.

Sakae Downtown District

If you're looking to spice up your night with some shopping or sake, Sakae is the spot for you. The downtown Sakae in Nagoya, about two kilometers east of Nagoya station, is one of the most lively shopping and entertainment districts in the Chubu region, and is popular among overseas tourists.

The district has multiple department stores and malls catering for all kinds of shoppers, as well as a plethora of dining options.

In central Sakae, you can find 2 landmarks; the Nagoya TV Tower and Oasis 21, “Spaceship of Water”. In this neighborhood, you can also find street-level high-end overseas-brand shops and long-established department stores.

Major street-level spots are connected to the underground shopping arcade, which has been extended in all directions, with casual shops lined up in shopping streets.

Osu Kannon Temple

Osu Kannon is one of Nagoya’s most popular Buddhist temples, dedicated to Kannon, the goddess of mercy. The temple was moved to its current site in 1612 by Tokugawa Ieyasu, after the original temple had been frequently damaged by severe flooding. The current buildings are 20th-century reconstructions.

The temple has a wooden image of Kannon that is said to have been carved by the monk Kukai, who was founder of the Shingon sect of Buddhism. Underneath Osu Kannon's main hall is the Shinpukuji Library, which contains over 15,000 classic Japanese and Chinese texts.

Atsuta Shrine

Atsuta Jingu is a large Shinto shrine complex, set in woodland in the Atsuta ward of Nagoya, a popular pilgrimage destination. It is one of Shinto's most important shrines, enshrining the Sun Goddess Amaterasu and storing the sacred sword Kusanagi, which is one of three imperial regalia.

The sword is still understood to be kept at the shrine, but it is not on public display. There is, however, a changing exhibition of more than 4,000 Tokugawa-era swords, masks and paintings on display in the Treasure Hall.

JR Central Towers

The JR Central Towers, completed in 1999, rise gracefully above Nagoya Station. The buildings consist of a 245-meter-tall Office Tower and the slightly shorter and slimmer Hotel Tower. The neighboring Midland Square surpassed the JR Central Towers in 2007 as Nagoya's tallest building.

The buildings’ lower floors are shared between the two towers and house a Takashimaya department store, the Tower Plaza shopping mall and JR Nagoya Station. True to their names, the Hotel Tower houses a Marriott hotel, while the Office Tower provides 30 floors of office rental space.

Side Trips from Nagoya

Nagoya has become an important transport hub, with several railway lines meeting in the city and its busy port providing a vital link to the rest of the world. It serves as a major hub for Takayama, Shirakawa-go and the Kiso Valley.

Takayama

Takayama is a city in Japan's mountainous Gifu Prefecture. It is well-known for its biannual Takayama Festival, going back to the mid-1600s, celebrating spring and fall with parades featuring ornate, gilded floats and puppet shows.

Takayama retains a traditional touch like few other Japanese cities, especially in its beautifully preserved old town. It now ranks as one of the prime candidates among travelers wishing to add a rural element into their itineraries.

Shirakawa-go

The Shirakawa-go region is on either side of the Shogawa River Valley in the remote mountains that extend from Gifu to Toyama Prefectures. Declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1995, it is famous for its traditional gassho-zukuri farmhouses, some of which are more than 250 years old.

Kiso Valley

The Kiso Valley is in Nagano Prefecture, and runs alongside the mountains of the Central Alps. An ancient 70 km trade route called the Kisoji was developed along the valley and served as an important aid to commerce in the area.

In the Kiso Valley, a few post towns, mainly Magome, Tsumago and Narai, have been preserved to look as they did when they served travelers along the Nakasendo trail.

Nagoya Food

Nagoya is arguably home to some of Japan’s best food. It has always been a popular destination for people in the know, with some of the country’s best and most interesting culinary delights.

Hitsumabushi

This dish consists of grilled eel or unagi on rice and is one of the most popular Nagoya dishes. The eel is coated with sweet and savory sauce that enhances its natural taste.

You eat hitsumabushi by splitting it into four portions. Scoop the first portion of eel into the rice bowl and eat it straight. Eat the second portion with condiments added. Season the third portion to taste as before, but add broth to create a type of chazuke. Eat the final portion as you like.

Misokatsu

Misokatsu is basically deep fried pork, called tonkatsu, with miso sauce. This is Nagoya’s version of tonkatsu. Instead of using traditional tonkatsu sauce, a thick, miso sauce is poured on top. The resulting meal has a rich, earthy flavor and a touch of sweetness that compliments the flavor of the crispy, fried pork cutlet.

Misonikomi

One of Nagoya’s representative foods, misonikomi udon, is a staple among staples of soybean miso cooking. The dish's miso-based broth contains extra-thick noodles, and is typically served in individual-sized earthen pots. Popular ingredients include green onions, chicken, mushrooms, raw egg and rice cakes.

Cherry Blossom in Nagoya

Cherry blossoms mark the annual beginning of spring, and the Japanese have traditionally celebrated this with “hanami” or flower-viewing parties held under blossoming cherry trees. Throughout Japan, in parks, shrines, temples, and on river banks, crowds gather to picnic under oceans of pink blossoms.

Below are Nagoya's five most popular spots for cherry blossom viewing.

The first is the Yamazakigawa Riverside. The Shikinomichi or "Path of Four Seasons" along Nagoya's Yamazaki River is arguably one of Japan's 100 best cherry blossom spots. The river is lined by hundreds of cherry trees.

Nagoya Castle is the next spot. There you can enjoy the beautiful contrast of the pale pink of the blossoms against Nagoya Castle's golden shachihoko (an animal with the head of a tiger and the body of a carp) and green roof.

The third spot is Tsuruma Park, where park grounds are planted with 750 cherry trees of the Somei-Yoshino variety. Listed as one of Japan's 100 best cherry-blossom sites, Tsuruma Park hosts enthusiastic crowds during hanami season.

The fourth spot is Nagoya Peace Park. The park has a small forest of cherry trees and two ponds that provide a pleasant space for cherry blossom viewing picnics in the Cherry Orchard section.

The celebrated Inuyama Castle outside Nagoya is the final spot, surrounded as it is by hundreds of cherry trees. There are trees both around the castle keep on top of the hill, and around the base of the hill and Urakuen Garden, another of Inuyama's sightseeing spots.

Getting to and Around Nagoya

Nagoya is easily accessible via shinkansen train. You can get there, for example, from Tokyo, Kyoto, Nagano, Matsumoto or Tsumago.

Tokyo and Nagoya are connected by the JR Tokaido shinkansen. If you travel by Nozomi train, it will take about 100 minutes and if you travel by Hikari train, it will take about 110 minutes. The regular one-way fare is 10,360 yen for a non-reserved seat on any train, and around 11,000 yen for a reserved seat.

Nagoya and Kyoto are major stations on the JR Tokaido shinkansen. Nozomi trains will take about 35 minutes, while Hikari and Kodama trains take around an hour. The regular one-way fare is 5,070 yen for a non-reserved seat and around 5,500 yen for a reserved seat.

Nagoya and Nagano are linked by hourly JR Shinano limited express trains. The one-way trip takes around three hours, and costs about 7,000 yen.

You can take the JR Shinano limited express to travel between Matsumoto and Nagoya. The one-way fare is 7,000 yen for non-reserved seats or about 10,000 yen for reserved seats.

First, you have to take the JR Shinano limited express train to get to Kiso Valley. To access Tsumago, get off at Nagiso Station. It will take about an hour and will cost around 3,500 to 4,500 yen.

Half-Day Nagoya Highlights Tour

On this half-day tour you will explore Nagoya with a local guide.

You will start with a visit to Nagoya Castle, one of the largest castles in the country. Most of the castle buildings were destroyed in the air raids of 1945, including the castle keep and the palace buildings.

The keep at the castle today dates from 1959. There is also a modern museum, with exhibits about the castle's history. The park surrounding the castle keep features two circles of moats and impressive walls with corner turrets. During the cherry blossom season, it is one of the more popular hanami spots.

After the castle, you will head on to the Tokugawa Art Museum. This was built on the grounds of a former feudal residence and preserves and exhibits several local treasures including samurai armor and swords, tea utensils, noh masks and costumes, poems, scrolls and maps.

Just beside the museum is Tokugawa-en, a beautiful Japanese landscape garden with a large pond at its center. A network of walking trails leads around the grounds to a tea house, rest houses, and across several bridges. The garden is best visited in spring, when its peony and iris gardens bloom.

You might like to read

Top Things to Do in Japan

Top 15 Landmarks of Japan

Eating and Drinking in Japan

Traveling Round Japan by Bullet Train