I was dreaming of an Indonesian island and cultural escapade to cross off South East Asia on my travel map. But since it’s a year-end travel, why not something authentically oriental? I thought, I want the kind of New Year celebration with festive traditional food in dropping temperatures… I knew could not go wrong choosing winter in Japan!
I spent two weeks in Japan from Dec 26 – Jan 5, traveling solo. My entry point was Nagoya, then I went for a quick stop in Kyoto before spending a couple of days in Osaka to meet my long-lost friend. I went further south to Hiroshima and Miyajima, then to mountainous Shirakawago for New Year’s Eve — a.k.a. for a legit snow experience. I went on a relaxing trip in Takayama and then finally toured lively Tokyo before heading home to Manila.
Follow this #JapanSeries for tips on places I visited, accommodation I stayed in, food I devoured, transit I used (or misused haha!), and the over-all journey of being lost in translation in the Land of the Rising Sun!
Winter is probably the most dreaded season for most Westerners and East Asians. While backpackers and travelers alike flock beaches to bathe all day under the sun for their “winter escape”, tropical souls like me finds thrill being in a place with a temperature colder than what an AC offers.
First stop of my Japan leg: Nagoya
More than a winter OOTD in mind, I spent my 2 days in Nagoya endlessly walking to see a castle, nerd up in a museum, get claustrophobic in a gyoza place, and got left behind by a Shinkansen (bullet train) going to Kyoto.
Nagoya is Japan’s fourth most populated city with over 2 million inhabitants. It is the capital of Aichi Prefecture and the principal city of the Nobi plain, one of Honshu’s three large plains and metropolitan and industrial centers.
I ticked-off one major item in my bucket list when I saw the Nagoya Castle, constructed in 1612, where the lineage of the Tokugawa family resided. During the World War 2 air raids, most of the structures of this castle were burned down. Luckily, there were some parts that have survived including three corner towers, three gates, and most of the paintings on the sliding doors and walls in the Hommaru Palace, which are now handed down as important Cultural Assets.
The Main Donjon has 7 floors, houses different exhibitions and artifacts like the Golden Dolphin or Kinsachi, a symbol of the feudal lord’s authority. On the top floor is the observation deck for a 360 view of downtown Nagoya andthis is where you can buy souvenirs as well.
Outside, you’ll find different corner stones. Photo above is Kiyomasa Stone, the biggest among all the stones constituting the Castle’s stone walls. It is said that the stone was put in place by Kato Kiyomasa, who was known as the master of stone wall construction.
So I’ve seen a castle and I’ve been inside it. Check!
Another main attraction in Nagoya, and I admit, one of the most memorable places I’ve visited in Japan is the Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology.
The Toyoda family started out a Textile Machinery Business in 1911 until Kiichiro Toyoda established the Automobile Department in 1933. From completing an A-type model to marketing its first ever G1 Truck to an AA Passenger car to opening a public contest for a new mark, hence to what we know now as Toyota, the world’s largest Automotive Manufacturer.
I enjoy going to museums, a nook where you can just wander through an almost endless gallery of stories and masterpieces. Japan has lots! My Dad and my brother are car enthusiasts that I got infected for to appreciate it as well. While the Toyota museum showcases the beginnings of Toyoda in the weaving industry, I got more curious with its Automotive foundation. Its development is displayed in chronological order, from blueprint to various car parts to evolution of car models to the future of automotive: the Ultimate Eco-car with Hybrid Technology.
Any food place in Japan is a pot of gold that even convenience stores offer a well-crafted meal. I survived the first few days of my travel eating to-go from Family Mart. But since the Japs have high regard for their gastronomical culture, you will find a cute little restaurant serving traditional street foods like gyoza or yakitori wherever you go. I’m guilty of stopping by most of the time to devour a wee bit 😉
- Getting Around
Any station in Japan, be it train or bus, has hundreds of free maps for travelers. You can get one and it’s going to be your bestest friend! I availed JR Pass because it’s the most economical option since i’m going from one Prefecture to another (I will write about Transportation in Japan in a separate post). In Nagoya alone, I did not take a train nor a bus from Nagoya Castle to Toyota Museum, I literally just walked a good 30mins, one way (probably around 40km in total from Hotel and back!). My legs got tired but the scenery while walking and the cold weather made the soreness worth it 🙂
I booked all my accommodations in my Japan leg via Booking.com and I was more than satisfied with the service. The ultimate upside: free cancellation in most rooms, it’s especially helpful on flight delays or emergency trip cancelations. I stayed at Glocal Nagoya Backpackers. Their ground floor cafe serves good-tasting pastries and coffee plus, staff speaks good English and are very helpful on your where-tos around the city!
It was 8 degrees when I landed in Chubu Centair International Airport, Nagoya. I underestimated the cold by wearing just a jacket and a bonnet. When I got off Nagoya Central station to my hotel, I was freezing and could not walk straight. Lesson learned: Equip yourself with more layers and extra warmers. Two layers, Jacket/Coat, Scarf, Mitts, and Boots. And by the way, make it fashionable. Japanese are very mindful of their couture!
5. Places to visit
Nagoya has lots of attractions. If you have more than two days to spend in the city, might as well check out these places:
- Nagoya Castle
- Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology
- Railway Museum
- Tokugawa Art Museum
- Atsuta Shrine
- Osu Kannon Temple
Sharing with you the travel video I made for my Nagoya-Kyoto leg with snippets from what to expect inside the Toyota Museum, around the castle, and how crowded Fushimi Inari Shrine can be during the holidays! Kyoto post coming up following this 🙂