Monday, November 30, 2009

24 Hours In Nagoya

Right, so this past weekend was the last of the long weekends before winter vacation. In contrast to the rest of the three day weekends I had this fall, I decided to actually get out and do something. Yes, let's out with the truth, I've haven't been blogging because writing about sitting on my arse and playing video games just isn't all that fun or interesting. But enough self loathing, on to the good stuff.

Monday was "Labor Thanksgiving Day" here in Japan. Leave it to Japan to take two holidays, combine them, and make them more efficient. Taking advantage of this extra time off, I decided to head off somewhere I've been wanting to go to since this summer. On the way to Tokyo we made a short stop in Nagoya and I realized I hadn't visited yet. I put it on my to-do list and promptly forgot it. This past weekend the stars of time and money aligned and off I went.

I made a late start as I wanted to clean up a bit before heading out. Around noon I headed off to Namba station (a hub station one stop down the line from my apartment) and took the Kintetsu Limited Express headed for Nagoya. The trip took a little over two hours and was quite scenic. Clear chilly skies brought vivid colors in the mountains and country side. Living in the city it's really easy to write-off or forget how beautiful the country is. I wouldn't want to live out there. but it's nice to look at once in a while.

The first thing I wanted to do, thinking about the time frame in which I'd arrive, was to photograph Nagoya castle at sunset. The clock was pushing towards three o'clock when the train pulled into Nagoya station. I checked a super-handy app on my iPhone which told me that sunset was going to happen around 4:41, with twilight ending just after 5:11. If I was going to make it to the castle before dark, I'd have to hustle. I couldn't find the information booth in the Kintetsu station so I wandered outside and down the street to the JR station where a nice officer pointed me towards the JR station information booth. The lady at the counter was extremely helpful and gave me a city map and a subway map (both in English) as well as superb directions to the castle.

I arrived outside the castle at 3:30 with over an hour's light left, but only one hour left before the castle grounds closed for the day. All in all I'd rate Nagoya castle somewhere between Osaka castle and Hiroshima castle (making it the third best castle I've visited in Japan… out of four.) Not to say it was "bad", actually it was quite nice, but has obviously been heavily renovated and remolded (and has Osaka castle's ancient-castle-with-a-modern-elevator-sticking-out-of-it… issue.) A few interesting points were: the inner moat has been drained for many years now. Instead of water, it's filled with tall grass. To keep the grass cut, they keep deer in the moat. Weird. Also, not just Nagoya castle, but Nagoya in general has a… healthy population of crows. We're talkin' like more crows than pigeons.

The main tower of Nagoya Castle.

Nagoya Castle at sunset.

4:30 rolled around and I decided to walk back towards the inner downtown area. As I walked, night set in. I found a theater playing a movie I wanted to see and bought a ticket for the late show. The next order of business was to track down some "Kishimen" (Nagoya's famous dish) for dinner. After much, much more walking I finally found a little hole-in-the-wall ramen joint that advertised kishimen. Long story short, I dislike kishimen. The noodles (which set it apart from other Japanese noodle dishes) are long and flat (and tasty.) Unfortunately those noodles are topped with fried tofu, boiled spinach, and katsuo (bonito flakes.) none of which I particularly like. Thankfully hunger is the best seasoning and I managed to consume almost the entire bowl I ordered.

After dinner I walked around some more, did some window shopping, planned the next day's destinations, and generally killed time before my movie started.

It was after eleven when the movie let out and I headed down the street to a capsule hotel I'd passed hours earlier. Yet again (as in Tokyo) I was impressed with the quality my ~$40 a night got me. The hotel had a Japanese style bath, a large relaxation room with comfy chairs and big TVs, massage service, 24 hour food service (with a free all-you-can-eat breakfast), 90 minute dry-cleaning, and of course tiny capsule beds.

Forgoing the hotel breakfast in the morning I went downstairs to my favorite (Japanese) doughnut shop. Shortly after 9am I set out into the chilly morning under a cover of light, high clouds. My first destination was Shirakawa park, which totally underwhelmed me. My next stop, the Osu Cannon Shrine, was more interesting as it happened to be in the center of a big shopping district. I was a bit early, but it was fun to walk around and watch all the shops setting up for the day. I also managed to find a Mexican restaurant… but tacos on top of doughnuts just seemed… like a bad idea.

This bar's name made me chuckle.

Hmmmm, me thinks this isn't the same Good Will shop as back home...

Moving uptown a bit I rode to the top of the Nagoya TV tower (evidently it was the first of it's kind in Japan… so IT doesn't look like Tokyo tower… Tokyo tower looks like IT!) The observation deck was quite nice and offered a vantage point from the very heart of Nagoya. And, though it wasn't good for photography, there's an open-air deck above the regular observation deck floor.

Nagoya TV Tower.

Crazy park building thing with a fountain on the roof.

Part of Nagoya's extensive canal system.

My hunger for climbing tall buildings never sated, I headed back across town to the Midland Square Building after lunch. The recently completed Midland Square is the tallest building in Nagoya and has a unique observation deck. The top two floors are open (have no roof.). You start on a walkway and make one loop before you come to stairs that lead to the observation deck floor. Not a place for those feint of heart or afraid of heights, my vertigo was kicking in pretty hard while on the walkway part.

Best observation deck ever? Questionable. But still pretty cool.

This, however, is the coolest looking design school ever.
(The building actually houses 3 different design schools.)

Looking over downtown Nagoya towards the TV tower.

Finally, around 3pm I boarded a non-stop limited express train back to Osaka (which, for whatever reason actually makes 2 stops before arriving.) Thus ending my day in Nagoya.

Overall, I enjoyed my visit to Nagoya. It has a mush less congested feeling than Osaka. It's pretty wide and flat, and it's constrained by terrain as much as Osaka is. Although there are few sky scrapers, the ones that are there offer fantastic uninterrupted views. Nagoya is also home to a wide range of architectural specimens. Buildings of almost every modern design can be seen. The information desk people I spoke with were incredibly helpful and almost every announcement I heard was recited in both Japanese and English. Lastly, though I didn't visit any, there are many wonderful museums in Nagoya. (A word to the wise, if Monday's a holiday… museums are closed the next day instead.)

That's all for now.
Ja Mata Ne.