Nagoya is the fourth largest city in Japan. However, it is often overlooked and unappreciated. While sumo fans flock to Nagoya in the summertime, many others leave this eclectic city off their itineraries. It’s a shame because sporting events, entertainment venues, museums, shrines, temples, parks, and gardens are all within easy grasp in the city. Nagoya is safe, clean, and extremely welcoming to foreign travelers and expats. Melissa and I lived just outside of Nagoya for fourteen months exactly ten years ago. We moved to the suburbs of Nagoya in order to work our first full time jobs after meeting and dating at the University of New York at Albany. During our time in Nippon, we lived in three separate apartments and called two towns home.
Our first bed-town was called Kozoji and is located in Aichi Prefecture. Later we moved across the prefectural line to Tajimi, a small city renowned for pottery and ceramics located in Gifu Prefecture. Teaching English in Japan was a life altering experience. Eating Japanese food taught us that you can eat food that tastes good and is healthy for you.
We’d often hit the big city for weekends and parties with our friends. Nagoya has all of the draws of a modern metropolis. Whether you are in town for the Grand Sumo Tournament or contemplating a journey to Nagoya here are some places worth checking out.
Nagoya Castle and Nagoya Noh Theater
The Grand Sumo Tournament in Nagoya is held every day from the first Sunday until the third Sunday in July. It is one of six major annual events and is held at the Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium. The gymnasium is on the grounds of Nagoya Castle and you have to pass between giant stone walls to attend the matches. Nagoya Castle is definitely worth a visit, especially due to its proximity to the sporting venue. Ieyasu Tokugawa, one of the most important figures in Japan’s history, ordered the construction of Nagoya Castle. The original was completed in 1612, but was burned down during WWII. The reconstructed castle has exhibits and you can walk to the top for magnificent views toward every direction in Nagoya.
In addition, there is a Noh Theater on the property. Noh Dramas are a unique form of performance which combine elements such as music, dancing, and acting. It is not the fastest art form as performers move slowly and deliberately with each twitch of their muscles. Noh Dramas are considered by many as the oldest existing variety of theater art in the world.
Osu Kannon Temple and Shopping Arcade
1612 was apparently a busy year for Tokugawa. It was in that year that he ordered Osu Kannon Temple to be relocated to Nagoya from nearby Gifu Prefecture. The Buddhist Temple was transported because Nagoya was to become an integral outpost. Nagoya held significant importance for approximately sixteen generations. Today’s version of Osu Kannon stands in stark contrast to the concrete buildings surrounding it and the blue skies above Nagoya. It gleams bright orange and starched white. It is still a house of worship so be mindful when you are snapping photos. Two intimidating guardian sculptures stand guard at the front entrance and a small kiosk sells birdseed on small metal trays. If you want to feed the many pigeons that call Osu Kannon home, be warned that sharp claws may dig into your arm during their frenzied swarm. If you can’t resist the photo opportunity then try to wear a sweater to protect you from scratches.
Osu Kannon leads to a covered shopping arcade that creates a labyrinth of several parallel and intersecting streets. This area is terrific for people watching as Japanese shop, eat, and play there. A flea market is held at Osu Kannon on the 18th and 28th of each month, so this may be the ideal time to check out the market as well. The covered shopping district makes a nice stroll on rainy days, and is close to Nagoya’s electronic district.
Atsuta Shrine and surrounding park
Generally speaking, most Japanese identify with two major religions for spiritual purposes. To me that is one of the most impressive aspects of Japanese culture and society. In a world full of idiots who love to fight verbally and physically in the name of religion, it is welcoming to witness a nation and society that can meld the ideals of different ideologies. When visiting houses of workshop, keep in mind that while Buddhists in Japan build temples, Shintoists construct shrines.
Atsuta Shrine in Nagoya is one of the most important in the entire country. That says a whole lot considering that Japan has about 100,000 recognized Shinto Shrines. Atsuta-jingu is located in a verdant park in a southern section of Nagoya. It houses a sacred sword named Kusanagi which is unfortunately off limits to the public. Atsuta also enshrines the Sun Goddess Amaterasu.
Check out Dragons at the Nagoya Dome
The Chunichi Dragons baseball team calls the Nagoya Dome their home. The team was founded in 1936 and play in a section of Nagoya called Ozone. The stadium is accessible via subway or on the JR Chuo Line. While sumo is considered the most important sport in Japan, baseball receives a rabid following. When local-born hero Ichiro Suzuki moved to Seattle to play with the Mariners, Japanese sports shows would play reels of his every at bat. The Nagoya Dome is a pleasant venue to check out baseball even though the sport bores me to tears. It’s interesting to see a game and compare sporting traditions with norms for attending a sporting event in your own nation.
There was a famous movie with Tom Selleck called Mr. Baseball, in which an aging baseball star from the United States is traded to a Japanese team and forced to try and fit in with the team dynamic and Japanese society. In the movie, Selleck was traded to the Dragons. So I guess in the early 1990’s getting sent to play baseball in Nagoya was the equivalent of being stationed for the winter in Siberia. Same old story. Nagoya was under-appreciated and overlooked just like that ballplayer form the states. If you want to be like everyone else, go to Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka. If you want to be an independent traveler and learn about a modern day commercial powerhouse, stray from the norm and visit Nagoya, Japan.