Nagoya Japan Guide – Everything You Need to Know
A lesser-known city in Japan, Nagoya’s charm is undeniable. Our comprehensive travel guide has everything you need to know from accommodation to attractions.
Few travelers place Nagoya at the top of their lists of must-see destinations in Japan. Why? The city suffers a reputation similar to those of Detroit, Birmingham or Essen – it is imagined as an industrial center or a mere way station between Kyoto and Tokyo, and little else. In sum, it is unfashionable in comparison to the Kanto megalopolis, quaint Kyoto or quirky Osaka. Is this fair?
No, is the short answer. Like the aforementioned European cities, Nagoya offers much to the traveler unperturbed by precedence. The city’s historic and contemporary uses enrich the experience of a visit; complemented by unique attractions, excellent cuisine and much more. Keep reading for this diatribe against misconception to blossom into a fully formed travel guide to the delights of Nagoya; including a brief history of the city, a run-down of the must-see attractions plus vital information on transportation, accommodation and food.
Brief History of Nagoya Japan
In the early 17th century Nagoya became the capital of Japan; deemed a strategic location preferable to the prior site at Kiyosu. Construction of the still-famous castle was undertaken around the same time, with a settlement comprised of the residents of the former capital developing around it. Nearby, on the road between Edo (modern Tokyo) and Kyoto, the Atsuta Shrine was erected as a pit-stop for travelers. The amalgamation of the castle and shrine settlements formed the basis of modern Nagoya.
As the nation started along the road to industrialization in the 19th century, Nagoya became its focal point. The area was renowned for its pottery and gunpowder until their eclipse by the motor industry led by the Mitsubishi and Toyota firms. Aichi Prefecture, of which Nagoya is the capital, is still known domestically and internationally as the home of these firms.
During the Pacific War the city’s industry was turned over to military production; becoming one of the leading aircraft manufacturers in the country. 25% of the workforce labored in plants engaged in military activities, many of which were centrally located. Consequently, the city became a prime target for allied bombing raids, which involved heavy use of firebombing tactics. Indeed, the US Air Force set a somber record over the skies of Nagoya – dropping 3,162 tons of incendiaries in a single mission. Ultimately, a quarter of the city was destroyed over the course of the war, including the castle.
In the aftermath of the war, the reconstruction of Nagoya became an acclaimed example of modern city planning – turning the city into the pleasantly original (compared to other Japanese cities) urban center we have today.
Weather of Nagoya Japan
Top Attractions in Nagoya Japan
Contemporary Nagoya has tried to cultivate the image of a modern, forward-looking city with attractions to match. Places such as the Science Museum and aquarium compare well with similar attractions elsewhere in the world and concurrently draw great crowds and reviews. The rich history of the area is also well covered; the castle, shrines and industrial museums ensuring the city’s proud history is not lost to the wind. We’ve compiled a list of our favorite spots for your leisurely perusal:
1. Nagoya Castle
When first built, Nagoya Castle was one of the largest of its kind in the country and certainly impressive. Unfortunately, the complex’s war-time use as a barracks marked it out as a key bombing target, ultimately resulting in the destruction of key parts of the structure, including the keep and palace buildings.
Post-war reconstruction returned the castle to its former glory, though this is ongoing. A visit to the castle’s adjoining palace (Honmaru Goten) today allows one to peek at the progress of an ambitious project began in 2009 (and scheduled to reach completion in 2018) which aims to restore the building using only traditional materials and techniques. This is certainly a welcome element to the visiting experience – fleshing out distant history and excusing the slight nuisance building work can cause.
Immersive historical education is the name of the game at Nagoya Castle; the extensive museum spread over multiple floors of the hulking keep providing interesting but accessible insights into the buildings past. Work your way up to the top and be rewarded with great views of the surrounding city that contrast nicely with the old castle itself. From here, you’ll also get a good overview of the castle’s park; the two moats and high surrounding walls still secreting an air of menace, fortunately offset by the delicately manicured flora and fauna elsewhere. Relax in the park to your heart’s content and mull your surroundings.
Website: Nagoya Castle
Price: 500 yen
Access: 3 minutes from Shiyakusho Station on the Meijo Subway Line
2. Atsuta Shrine
Shrines are a Japan tourism staple and can sometimes become a touch repetitive. The Atsuta Shrine, however, is well worth a visit – being as it is one of Japan’s most sacred and important Shinto shrines. Built in the third century under the reign of Emperor Keiko, the shrine has been adjusted at several points in its long history, including in the wake of significant fire damage inflicted during the war.
Despite this, the shrine retains a deep feeling of authenticity, helped in part by its continued centrality to modern Shintoism. This centrality revolves around the site being the resting place of Kusanagi no Tsurugi, an ancient sword that is one of the the Three Sacred Treasures of Japan (the other two being the mirror Yata no Kagami and the jewel Yasakani no Magatama). The sword is said to represent the authority of the Emperor and although unavailable for public viewing, the spirit of this sacred object resonates around the shrine complex as a whole.
Above all, the beauty of the shrine and its grounds are hard to beat; the cypress trees lining the traditional approach providing the requisite calm you’d expect from a place so revered. If you only go to one shrine in Japan, make it this one.
Website: Atsuta Shrine
Access: within walking distance of Jingumae Station, Jingunishi Station and Atsuta Station
3. Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology
A vast complex dedicated to the glorification of the Toyota company – the most famous child of Nagoya – this museum is an excellent day out for motor enthusiasts and the previously ambivalent alike.
Sakichi Toyoda founded the company as a manufacturer of looms, beginning the journey that would end with the company being a world-leader in the production of motor vehicles. The museum proceeds through this history at a welcome leisurely pace, interweaving the history of the Toyoda family with wider social, political and economic developments that elevates the museum beyond what could have been a mere exercise in vainglory. Though certain areas go curiously unexplored (worker perspective, WWII), the overall experience is an enjoyable one.
The museum culminates with entry into an airy hangar-like structure home to the best from the Toyota production line over the years, as well as various pieces of machinery used in their production. In terms of aesthetics alone, this is a great end to the experience.
Price: 3 minutes from Meitetsu Sako Station and 10 minutes from Kamejima Subway Station
Access: 500 yen
4. Port of Nagoya Aquarium
Though still one of Japan’s largest working ports, part of the area – the Garden Pier – has led the way in Nagoya’s project of redevelopment over recent years. Its stand-out attraction is the Port of Nagoya Aquarium; a relatively small complex perfect for a family day out or rainy day activity.
The aquarium houses dolphins and whales as well as a whole host of fish varieties – exploring the five aquatic zones between Japan and the Antarctic. Daily feeding and training shows are a crowd pleaser, especially those involving the dolphins.
Website: Port of Nagoya Aquarium
Price: 2000 yen for an adult ticket
Access: Nagoyako Subway Station (30 minutes from central Nagoya)
5. SCMAGLEV and Railway Park
Trainspotting is big business in Japan and it’s easy to see why. The country is home to some of the most advanced and interesting trains and train infrastructure in the world and has long been a world leader in this field. To learn more about the countries trains you could have a chat with the fanatics often seen poised on a platform edge, camera in hand, or you could head to the SCMAGLEV and Railway Park. It’s up to you.
The latter option comes highly recommended. The museum of Japan Central Railways has been designed to educate the public on Japan’s system of high-speed rail (the shinkansen) yet also offers visitors a history lesson in steam locomotives and a vision of the future of train travel. The museum offers something to the train obsessive and casual appreciator alike – with the train simulators a particular highlight.
Website: SCMAGLEV and Railway Park
Price: 1000 yen
Access: next to Kinjofuto Station (25 minutes from central Nagoya)
6. Tokugawa Art Museum
Built on the site of the dynastic Owari families feudal estate – the Tokugawa Art Museum is home to a collection of treasures and artifacts paralleled in few other places. The nine rooms of the impressive complex house samurai regalia, lavish furnishings, paintings, ceramics and a plethora of other historically significant items.
As with the castle, the museum if a great entryway for exploring the city’s distant past and should not be missed. Whilst there the surrounding Tokugawa-en gardens are an excellent place to unwind. Originally designed for lords in retirement but destroyed during the war, the gardens were reopened in 2004 and include several walking trails, ponds and bridges.
Website: Tokugawa Art Museum
Price: 1350 yen for the museum and garden, 1200 yen for the museum alone
Access: ten minutes from Ozone Station (10 minutes from Nagoya Station)
7. Nagoya City Science Museum
Feeding into Nagoya’s image of itself as a forward-looking modern city is it’s Science Museum. Boasting a central location and seven stories of exhibits this is a great way to spend an afternoon. The enormous silver globe of the museum houses a world-leading planetarium, open to the public for special star-gazing demonstrations and exhibits. Away from this, the permanent exhibitions offer interactive fun and the oft-changing temporary exhibitions always offer something fresh.
Though mostly in Japanese, the museum’s interactive bent makes the experience open to all.
Website: Nagoya City Science Museum
Price: 400 yen
Access: 5 minutes from Fushimi Station
8. Osu Kannon Temple and Flea Market
Though a 20th-century reconstruction, this Buddhist Temple in the heart of the city is nevertheless a top draw for tourists and worshipers alike. The looming statue of Kannon, the God of Mercy, is particularly impressive for its intricacy and craftsmanship. What’s more, the Shinpukuji Library, also on the site, is a major depository for classic Japanese and Chinese texts. A particularly special item is an early copy of Kojiki – a text detailing Japan’s origins and it’s myths.
Twice a month (18th and 28th) the area is also the site of a flea market selling an array of trinkets and souvenirs for visitors and locals both. With over 60 stalls, idle browsing can be an excellent way to get a feel for the city.
Website: Osu Kannon Temple and Flea Market (Japanese only)
Access: adjacent to Osu Kannon Station
9. Chunichi Dragons Baseball Game
Known as one of Japanese professional baseball’s core teams and locally adored, the Chunichi Dragons are hard to ignore when you’re in town. Playing at the Nagoya Dome, a giant example of Japanese stadia, getting to a game is highly recommended.
Baseball games in Japan are all about relaxing and having fun. Tickets are cheap, outside food and drink are allowed and to see the creative ways the fans get behind their team is priceless. Unless the game is one of particular importance, turning up to the ground on game-day should be enough to bag yourself a ticket so no need to plan too far in advance.
Website: Chunichi Dragons (Japanese only)
Price: seats in the outfield start at around 1500 yen
Access: adjacent to Nagoya Dome-mae Yada Station
10. Higashiyama Sky Tower
Situated in the lush Higashiyama Park, a trip up this landmark of Nagoya’s east-side offers excellent views of the extensive park as well as toward the Central Alps, Mt. Ontakesan and Mt. Ibukisan in the distance. Let’s face it, everyone likes staring out of windows from up high and you’ll no doubt get a kick out of this particular observation deck.
Head up during the day and sample some of the treats on offer at the cafe, or hold off until after dark for spectacular night-time gazing.
Website: Higashiyama Sky Tower
Price: 500 yen
Access: 3 minutes from Higashiyama Koen Station
Check out our article (Things to Do in Nagoya – Top 20 Attractions in Nagoya) for more things to fill your day in Nagoya.
Food in Nagoya Japan
The rich resources of the Nagoya area have given it a reputation as an industrial powerhouse, but equally, as a region of distinct and delicious culinary offerings. Food in Nagoya is seen as moreish and hearty – the soul food of Japan. Make a point of trying some of the specialties below:
It’s sweetly rich dark sauce distinguishing this from the more common tonkatsu, this is a regional staple. Fried pork cutlets in breadcrumbs are dipped in or smothered with the miso sauce and served on a bed of shredded cabbage and rice. Find this dish at high-end restaurants, holes in the wall and in konbini bento boxes alike.
Spicy, crispy, fried chicken coated in sesame seeds – a real delight. Served at most izakayas nationwide, Nagoya does this dish best of all, so don’t pass up the opportunity when in the city.
A Nagoya delicacy that might set you back a few thousand yen, made up for by the ceremony and taste. This is freshwater eel (unagi) cut into segments served with broth and rice. The traditional way to eat this dish involves four steps which I’m certain any restaurateur will gladly guide you through. A classic and supposedly energy-giving dish.
Udon noodles, green onions and chicken in a miso broth with a lineage older than you or I, miso-nikomi is a dish the people of Nagoya take particular pride in. A fantastically warming and rich noodle dish that powers you on for hours.
A simple yet majestic classic: simmered chicken thighs in a soy-sauce broth, complemented by a last minute egg. Words don’t really do justice this one.
Accommodation in Nagoya Japan
As a compact city, your choice of where best to stay in Nagoya is relatively straightforward. Though hotels proliferate throughout the city, most are situated around the two main hubs of Nagoya Station and Sakae. These spots are just 5 minutes apart by train and offer everything you’re going to need as a tourist.
Nagoya Station, by floor area, is the largest in the world. The station sits as the heart of the area more widely which offers an abundance of entertainment, drinking, dining and shopping options. Several department stores and luxury hotels service the high-end, whilst love-hotels, capsule-hotels and cheap izakayas service the other – creating a mixed environment perfect for pretty much anyone. For a visitor, the station is a gateway to everything the city has to offer so perfect for those who want to avoid as much unnecessary train travel as possible. Check here for a full listing of available hotels in the area.
Sakae, the city’s downtown, is another convenient yet bustling spot worth considering. Again, Sakae offers shopping, dining and drinking options in good measure with the added bonus of the TV Tower landmark and Oasis 21 bus station/shopping complex very close by. What’s more, the station also has good train and bus links only slightly lacking in comparison to Nagoya Station. For hotels of any budget, check here.
Transportation in Nagoya Japan
Getting to Nagoya
As a major urban hub, Nagoya is well connected to the rest of the country by high-speed rail, local trains and road.
The JR Tokaido Shinkansen connects Tokyo to Nagoya, and it’s the quickest option. The journey takes around 1 hour and 40 minutes with a non-reserved standard fare and costs 10,360 yen. Reserving a seat pushes the price up to 11,000 yen. These are one-way tickets but return and other options are available, check the official JR page for more details. Taking local trains is a less expensive option but is likely to take around 6 hours and involve 3 changes. To plan a journey and for prices using local trains, use the Jorudan Train Route Finder.
A good option for saving some money is the highway bus. There are various companies and services that offer day-time and overnight trips starting at around 2500 yen and taking 5-6 hours. One of the more popular services is the Willer Express.
Getting Around Nagoya
Navigating Nagoya is made easy by a comprehensive system of JR trains, subway and buses.
As a tourist, the subway should be your primary form of transportation. There are a total of 6 subway lines spanning the city and all vital information is displayed in English. The subway connects all the must-see tourist attractions and entertainment districts. Follow the link beneath the above image for a close-up look at the subway map.
The Meguru Bus Loop is another well-thought-out service that caters primarily to visitors. The loop links many of the top attractions (including the castle, Tokugawa Art Museum and Sakae), with buses running every 30-60 minutes on weekdays (except Mondays when the museums are closed) and 20-30 minutes on weekends . A single journey ticket is 210 yen and an unlimited day pass 500 yen.
Various JR Lines and private lines also operate out of the city’s main train stations – connecting the city to its outlying suburbs. These lines should not feature much in a short stay in the city, though all information is available here if you should need it.
General Travel Tips for Nagoya Japan
Nagoya is a great city with lots to keep you occupied, but additionally serves as a great start point to an exploration of the surrounding area and neighboring cities. Nagoya, Kyoto and Osaka are all reasonably close together and transport between them is plentiful and inexpensive. A great idea would be to hop between each over the course of a short holiday.
The city is roughly a tenth of the size of Tokyo in terms of population and is consequently far less crowded, and for some, far less daunting. If you’re not one for crowds, Nagoya is a good bet, with many of the attractions of Tokyo without the stress. Visit Nagoya early in a trip to Japan and it could perhaps act as a warm-up for the bigger cities, allowing you to acclimatize and get comfortable for before venturing on.