Japan’s dynamic fourth city

Often missed by travellers as they zoom from Tokyo to Kyoto by bullet train, the city of Nagoya has had just as much a hand in shaping Japan’s history. Three of the country’s greatest rulers hail from Nagoya; it is home to one of Japan’s most sacred shrines, the Atsuta Shrine; and is the nation’s industrial heartland. Nagoya’s charms may not reveal themselves so easily as some other cities but delve deeper and there is plenty to see and do.

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Top things to do in Nagoya

Start at the tiered, white Nagoya Castle, originally built by shogun Ieyasu Tokugawa in 1612. It was destroyed by fire during WWII and the concrete replica of the main keep has been faithfully rebuilt, complete with a pair of gilded half-tiger, half-carp statues (known as shachihoko) on the top.

The gardens are one of the city’s best (and busiest) spots for cherry blossom viewing in the spring. In the south of the castle grounds, the decade-long reconstruction of the Hommaru Palace – once one of the finest examples of samurai-style Shoin-zukuri architecture but also destroyed during the war – was completed in 2018.

One highlight is the faithful reconstruction of the 17th-century Jorakuden, a hall built to accommodate visiting shoguns. The exquisite wall panels and sliding door – rescued from the original palace and painted by Japanese master – are the stars of the show. If you are visiting in July, check out the Grand Sumo Tournament that takes place in the nearby Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium.

Nagoya’s skyscrapers and contemporary architecture dominate the skyline from the castle park but a short walk to the south-west the streets around Chokyosan Endoji Temple have a charming, nostalgic vibe. The shopping arcade is Nagoya’s oldest and houses craft galleries, antique and souvenir shops, small sushi counters and a standing sake bar. Nearby, Shikemichi is an old merchants’ street known for its eclectic range of bars and restaurants, which runs along the Hori River: look up and you will see mini shrines, called yanegami, under the eaves of the old buildings. These shrines are a local custom and usually contain an amulet from Atsuta Shrine, one of Japan’s most sacred Shinto sites, located in the south of the city.

Second in importance only to the Great Shrine of Ise, Atsuta’s treasure hall is filled with swords, scrolls, exquisite kimonos, paintings and lacquerware belonging to generations of shoguns and the Imperial court (there are so many that the display is rotated every month). Admire the 1,000-year-old camphor trees, beautiful vernacular-style structures and the distinctive, arched Nijugocho – the oldest stone bridge in Nagoya.

Nagoya is renowned for its honest, hearty fare such as kishimen flat noodles in broth, hitsumabushi (grilled eel on rice), tebasaki (deep fried chicken wings) and tenmusu – small rice balls wrapped in dried laver with prawn tempura inside. Red miso is widely used: try the miso katsu (pork cutlets in red miso sauce) at one of the branches of Yabaton (just look out for a pig wearing a ceremonial sumo apron). Or hop on a train to nearby Okazaki and see how miso is made at the Maruya Hatcho Miso factory.

Families will enjoy the Toyota Museum (the company was born in Nagoya), Legoland, and the SCMaglev and Railway Park near the port where visitors can see the maglev alongside some wonderful early bullet trains.

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