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Nagoya - Japan
Most descriptions of Nagoya fail to capture the atmosphere of the place, but always mentioned are its wide thoroughfares, world-class industries, and central location, which make it a crossroads for the nation. Despite being the fourth largest city in Japan in terms of population, as well as the nucleus of the third largest metropolitan area in the nation, however, it has a reputation for being conservative and provincial, and as a result is often the butt of jokes in the media. Residents here, however, know Nagoya as a pleasant place to live that possesses many of the conveniences and advantages of a major city, while offering relatively easy and quick access to the countryside. Forests, mountains and beaches are all within two hour's travel either by public transportation or private vehicle, and while it may lack some of the glamor of other major cities in Japan, Nagoya offers the international visitor an excellent look at both modern and traditional Japan.
Many of the city's dynamic business and shopping areas are located downtown, concentrated along the axes of the Higashiyama and Meijo subway lines, with Nagoya Station and Sakae forming a nucleus for the city. Nagoya Station is served by the Shinkansen, Japan Railways, and the Meitetsu and Kintetsu railroad lines, as well as the Higashiyama and Sakura-dori subway lines. The station's most conspicuous landmarks are the brand-new, 64-story JR Central Towers' Takashimaya Department Store and the Nagoya Marriott Associa Hotel. Numerous other department stores, movie theaters, business offices and underground shopping malls also dot the area, while nearby, the Nagoya Nagoya International Center provides a wealth of information about everything from sightseeing to employment to visas in many languages to foreign visitors who are looking to become familiar with the area. Nakamura-ku is also where some of the finest hotels in Nagoya can be found, such as the Nagoya Castle Plaza Hotel.
Development of the business and shopping district of Sakae took off when the city's first subway line was completed between it and Nagoya Station in 1957. In the decades since, Sakae has been the city's premier shopping spot with the "big 3-M" department stores of Matsuzakaya, Mitsukoshi and Marui. Today, it still serves as the focus of a shopping paradise that runs north to Hisaya-odori subway station and south to Yabacho and Kamimaezu subway stations.
Between Nagoya Station and Sakae is an area with a unique reputation. Many of the city's financial institutions, including major banks and securities companies, are located along Nishiki Avenue, a high-rent neighborhood. With all the business in the area, one also finds a large number of watering holes (bars, cocktail lounges, cabarets, etc.), which have traditionally served to facilitate business in Japan by "lubricating" relationships.
On the north side of Naka-ku is Nagoya Castle, from which the Meijo (an abbreviation of Nagoya Castle in Japanese) subway line takes its name. In this area you can find many local and national government facilities, including both the Nagoya City Hall and the Aichi Prefectural Government Office. Several of the city's other sightseeing spots in Naka-ku include Meijo Park, the Nagoya City Archives, the Nagoya Nohgakudo (Noh Theater), and Nagoya TV Tower, which looms above the beautiful Hisaya Odori Park.
The region where Nagoya is located is known as an industrial powerhouse, supplying the world with automobiles, machinery, aerospace parts and a wide variety of other products. This is illustrated in the fact that the Port of Nagoya, while not the largest in Japan, perennially handles the largest volume of international cargo of any port in the nation. This does not mean, however, that the city is a barren industrial wasteland. Just south of the city center in Atsuta-ku is one of Japan's oldest and most important shrines. Located on a beautiful site surrounded by 1,000-year-old evergreens, Atsuta Jingu is home to the Atsuta Festival, a wonderfully noisy and vibrant festival in which thousands participate, held every year on June 5th. Even if you miss the festival, however, the Atsuta Jingu Treasure House should definitely be on your itinerary. Full of many notable Japanese artifacts, this oldest of shrines also houses the highly revered Kuasanagi-no-Tsurugi, a sword reputed to have been handed down to the first emperor by the sun goddess Amaterasu.
Nagoya also boasts numerous opportunities for visitors to escape the fast pace of the downtown area. Located on the eastern side of the city, Chikusa-ku offers a number of places that will prove ideal spots for some quiet repose, such as the Higashiyama Zoo and Botanical Gardens, one of the largest zoos in Asia, which easily requires at least a day to explore completely. Another option is Heiwa Park, with its notable statue of Kannon, goddess of mercy, 1,000 beautiful cherry trees, and a large wooded area with hiking trails and several small ponds. Even the city's main shopping district is graced with several tree-lined boulevards. But for those who desire a more spiritual form of relaxation, a visit to Nittaiji Temple, which houses some of the bones of the Buddha Shakyamuni, can't be passed up.
The term crossroads may be a cliché but it admirably suits Nagoya. If you are traveling by automobile or train between the eastern metropolises of Tokyo and Yokohama and the western ones of Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto, you will pass through Nagoya. The Tomei Expressway, running along the Pacific coast, and the Chuo Expressway, which cuts through the mountains west of Tokyo, both meet up with the Meishin Expressway at Nagoya to go on to Kobe. Conventional trains and the famous Shinkansen Bullet Trains also pass through Nagoya. A local joke is that almost all international visitors to Japan spend some time in Nagoya—about three minutes, the time the bullet train pauses at Nagoya Station to take on passengers on its run between Tokyo and Osaka.