I finally took my late summer vacation recently, hoping for cooler weather but well, thanks to the typhoon again, we “enjoyed” a humid and hot trip in Nagoya.
It was a pretty last-minute decision to visit Nagoya, after my brief visit 15 years ago. Back then, it was actually part of my first trip to Japan, a package tour I signed up for to visit Tokyo-Nagoya-Kyoto-Osaka, the “golden route” for most first-timers. I only remembered visiting Nagoya Castle (a random change of plan from Osaka Castle) and Oasis 21.
Due to this experience, my impression of Nagoya is a big city with a few “touristy” spots worth going. But in recent years, I noticed that 2 of my favourite restaurants in Tokyo originated from Nagoya so probably it’s worth rediscovering this under-rated city.
List of Must-Visit Places
For the benefit of those who may have a limited number of days to visit Nagoya, I’m grouping some “must-visit” places as part of what we have in our itinerary so that it’s more efficient to travel to a couple of places in the same vicinity.
We were interested in porcelain, chinaware, etc. so knowing that we visited this place Noritake Garden where they have a garden, museum, craft centre here, it’s actually a pretty cool place to hang out and if you are interested and have time, you can also participate in their workshop to paint some cups and plates.
Toyota is probably one of the most famous manufacturers in Japan, and proudly originated from Aichi prefecture. With their global business, their museum at Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology is super huge, extensive with a lot of historical and technical information.
I enjoyed their automobile museum the most, where they showcase some old models and also a demonstration of the assembly process of their cars with robots. I think if we have more time, we can actually spend a whole day here too.
Back to Sakae area
Featuring all the huge department stores like Mitsukoshi, Matsuzakaya, PARCO, you can spend a lot of time in Downtown Sakae Shopping District admiring at the window display or the fashion of the passers-by. You can also drop by Oasis 21 or Nagoya TV Tower for some photos.
If you can walk, there is this famous miso pork cutlet restaurant called Miso-katsu Yabaton just around next station from Sakae. I think the selling point is probably more the miso sauce since there are much better tonkatsu or pork cutlet dishes in other restaurants. Worth a visit, and they sell many cute piggy souvenirs too!
Just next to Yabaton, you can enjoy some Taiwan ramen at this restaurant called Misen.
Be ready to smell like the food there since it’s an open kitchen concept. If you can take spicy stuff, go for the regular Taiwan ramen. It is super spicy and steaming hot given the layer of oil. Try not to slurp because you will kill your throat… which I think is a very difficult practice for Japanese since they like to slurp their noodles. So you will hear many people coughing and also sweating and also with red faces from all the spicy ramen.
Not an expert on shrines/temples, but Atsuta Shrine is probably one of the more notable shrines, which owns many swords and daggers, and well-known for housing one of the three sacred treasures (“sword”) from the Imperial Palace. We went to the museum but it was much more compact than we expected.
But other than that, it reminds me of Meiji Shrine a lot, and I believe it should be very nice to stroll around this area when it’s cooler. We were there when the temperature was 34 degrees, but with the greenery around, it was still bearable.
Close to Atsuta Shrine, is this old restaurant Atsuta Houraiken that serves “hitsumabushi” which is basically grilled eel on rice.
We arrived at the restaurant around 11:30am and there will be staff to take down your name / no. of people and pass you tags for your shoes. Yes! Please take off shoes at the entrance… so wear something that is easy to take off and wear on. I’m just glad I can sit on a chair, not on tatami… (old people…) We got in around 11:50am which was considered a short wait. Can’t tell how long it will take if you go later during lunch peak hour.
Those who like unagi will enjoy this dish, as I call it the “theme park” of enjoying grilled eel.
The Nagoya style of grilled eel is to grill it without steaming, the ones that I usually have as “una-juu” (comes in a square box) or “una-don” (comes in a bowl) in Tokyo are first steamed then grilled, which gives it a fluffy white fish taste. “Hitsumabushi” may have a stronger grilled fragrance and crispy taste to it.
The best part is when you can enjoy this dish on its own, mix it with other condiments like seaweed / sliced leek / wasabi or have it all in and pour in “soup” to enjoy it like “ochazuke”. Well, this is why it’s a “theme park” right?
No sansho pepper?!
The only downside is I was trying to find my sansho pepper… why no sansho?!?!?! In my opinion, unagi and sansho need to come together for that extra spice.
I actually prefer another restaurant called “Bincho Hitsumabushi” more than Atsuta Houraiken, and this is the one you can find near Nagoya train station area or even in Tokyo Ginza.
If you have been to Asakusa in Tokyo, Osu Shopping District & Osu Kannon Temple will probably be an upgraded version because of its variety of un-orchestrated line of shops. They have a good mix of cafes, traditional Japanese sweets shop, Taiwan-style and Korean-style street food shops, tapioca drink stores, beer and wine bars, Italian restaurants, etc. And also comes with a very fancy modern temple fully equipped with LED monitors and water-spitting dragons for scheduled shows. LOL
While walking along Osu shopping district, we found this good-looking cafe, Matsuya Coffee, with a decent collection of coffee beans and coffee making machines. We decided to drop by for some coffee break and was pleasantly surprised by the cozy atmosphere. We only found out it has a history of over 100 years.
I was looking through the menu and this “coffee zenzai” caught my eye, which is literally “coffee red bean soup”. I was curious to know how it will taste like and I’m glad I ordered this! I’m not a black coffee person, so usually I need sugar + milk in my coffee, but this “coffee zenzai” has this mild sweet red bean flavour (comes with actual red beans in the coffee too!) which you don’t need any additional sugar. Truly enjoy my coffee break here.
Breakfast service – “Morning”
FYI, in Nagoya during breakfast when you ordered a cup of coffee, they will serve you toast and jam/egg, etc. as part of the breakfast service, which means no extra charge.
One of the more famous brands from Nagoya is Komeda Coffee. Go in the morning so that you can enjoy the Nagoya style breakfast, but beware that some cafes may get crowded, and unfortunately many cafes in Nagoya still allow indoor smoking, even though they do separate smoking and non-smoking areas, it’s still the same space of air. So depending on where you are seated, the tobacco smell may be a little annoying.
Along the way, I also spotted this fast food ramen restaurant, Sugakiya. This is also a very old brand in Nagoya, founded in 1958. Basically, if the restaurant is really like a fast food restaurant and they also serve disturbingly cheap ramen at around 300 JPY. The taste is what I expect too when you eat any instant noodles or cup noodles in Japan. The only surprise is getting a spork in the bowl!
In case you don’t have time to go eat in the restaurant, don’t worry! Just go get their cup noodles in the supermarket! I think they actually taste the same or even better!
We started the next day travelling down south, almost all the way to Nagoya Airport. 2 stops before the airport, we arrived at JR Tokoname Station. This neighbourhood is a pottery town, has a giant maneki-neko called Tokonyan.
INAX Live Museum
Due to time constraint, we took a taxi straight to the INAX Live Museum . They have a world tile museum which we spotted a section featuring Japan-made majolica tiles. There are some very familiar tiles that we see in Singapore, Malacca and Penang based on the Peranakan culture. It’s interesting how trading and culture connect like this. 🙂
Nagoya City Archives
Last year we visited Taiwan last year and visited a few historical landmarks like the Taichung City Hall, so the Nagoya City Archives also reminds me of that. This building is also featured in movies and dramas when they need to depict some rich family’s house, i.e. Hana Yori Dango 2.
Nagoya Castle (missed!)
We didn’t make it in time to pass through the gate to see Nagoya Castle since it closes at 5pm, This should be one of the first places to visit, especially if you are a first timer!
I’m a fan of aquariums, and they are the perfect getaway to escape from rain or hot weather. On our last day in Nagoya, it was drizzling from time to time, so it was the perfect time to visit the Port of Nagoya Public Aquarium.
Once we arrived a little past 11am, we went straight to the 3rd floor stadium to watch the dolphin performance. It was said to be one of the biggest dolphin performances but I’m not sure since the one in Yokohama Hakkeijima Sea Paradise was pretty impressive to me.
I think what was comical was to see the big screen do replays of the dolphin performances, almost like a soccer match. It was also the first time I see killer whales. Such beautiful and intelligent creatures.
Since it was a weekday, there weren’t huge crowds but we did encounter many school children on their excursions.
Tokugawa Garden (Missed!)
We didn’t get to visit Tokugawa Garden this time as it was located a little further from the city centre. But judging from the pretty pictures we see online, I bet it’s an interesting garden to visit especially during autumn.
Other Nagoya food
Other than the food mentioned earlier, we also enjoyed a lot more calories from the below varieties which you can easily find in downtown area.
My favourite out of all the Nagoya food this time is definitely the tenmusu. They are a little different from your usual rice balls or onigiri. It comes with shrimp tempura in your rice ball wrapped with seaweed. The result is heavenly!
They also come in slightly smaller size than the usual rice balls, so it’s usually sold in packs of 5 or 10. Once you pop, you can’t stop… not to mention the pickled kyarabuki that comes with tenmusu.
There are 2 types of tenmusu, led by famous brands “Senju” (salt version) and “Jiraiya” (shoyu version). I prefer the salt version, but too bad they don’t sell this in Tokyo… my tenmusu craving can only be satisfied by visiting Nagoya again.
Chicken wings anyone?
Nagoya is also well-known for its fried chicken wings. It’s like the must-order dish if you visit their izakaya. There are 2 famous restaurants which you can find them. One is Sekai no Yamachan and another is Fuuraibou.
Personally I prefer the chicken wings in Yamachan, combined with their “Super Lemon Sour” drink, it’s unstoppable. Just need to control the portion to avoid getting a lot of pimples the next day. LOL
More carbohydrates for carbo lovers
Apparently, ankake spaghetti is another Nagoya “soul food”. In case you are thinking Italian spaghetti noodles, this one is more like Chinese yellow noodles. If you want to try the authentic one, please visit Spaghetti House Yokoi, it’s a huge portion and pretty interesting taste.
Besides Taiwan ramen, they also have Taiwan mazesoba, it’s a different version of bak chor mee, only that you get thick noodles that come with a lot of condiments/spices/garlic. Please make sure you don’t have any important meetings after this meal. The pioneer of this dish who founded Menya Hanabi was actually trying to make Taiwan ramen but failed and ended up with this dish.
Miso nikomi udon
By now, you may notice that Nagoya is very into miso. They specialise in red miso, which is different from the white miso soup that is more commonly served. Personally, I love red miso soup.
From the photo, you may think this miso nikomi udon is very salty, but actually it’s not. Interestingly simple dish. We tried the one from Yamamotoya Honten, and you can find a few branches around Nagoya station or Sakae Station.
We actually wanted to visit the original restaurant in Nagoya for this fish restaurant, Suzunami. We had to give up because we went on our first day which is a Sunday during lunch hour, and the line is incredibly crowded. I guess I just have to continue enjoying them in Tokyo where they have 2 branches in Roppongi and Hibiya.
We bought some Nagoya-specialised seasonings and snacks which were very unique to this area. Just tried the “Oriental Curry” this evening and it was really good, not too spicy and taste more like stew.
Seems like Nagoya is under-rated, and I guess many people will wonder why I will visit Nagoya for vacation. It was worth a re-visit for sure since we discovered a lot of interesting places and Nagoya food culture. If there’s a trip plan to Osaka and Kyoto next time, probably I will drop by for my tenmusu in Nagoya.