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Nagoya - Japan

Most descriptions of Nagoya fail to capture the atmosphere of the place. Always mentioned are its wide thoroughfares and world-class industries. Also noted is that it is centrally located and serves as a crossroads for the nation. And, 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, 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, with 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 an hour or two's travel either by public transportation or private vehicle. 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.

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.

That does not mean, however, that the city is a barren industrial wasteland. Right in the middle of the city is one of Japan's oldest and most important shrines, Atsuta Jingu, surrounded by 1,000-year-old evergreens. The city also boasts Higashiyama Zoo and Botanical Gardens, one of the largest zoos in Asia, which easily requires at least a day to explore completely. Even the city's main shopping district is graced with several tree-lined boulevards.

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 landmark is the brand-new, 64-story JR Central Towers building, the largest building in Japan, which houses a Takashimaya Department Store and the Nagoya Marriott Associa Hotel. Numerous hotels, department stores, movie theatres, business offices and underground shopping malls also dot the area. Nearby are the Nagoya Nagoya International centre and the Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology. 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 located here. Today, it still serves as the focus of a shopping paradise that runs north to Hisaya-odouri subway station and south to Yabacho and Kamimaezu subway stations along a tree-lined park-like area in the very centre of the city. 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, so a Nishiki address is recognised by people from other parts of Japan as a high-rent neighbourhood. Locals, on the other hand, have a different view. 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. So, the local impression of the area is a little more down-market.

North of Sakae is Nagoya Castle, which gives the Meijo (an abbreviation of Nagoya Castle in Japanese) subway line 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 sightseeing spots, including Meijo Park, the Nagoya City Archives and the Nagoya Nohgakudo (Noh theatre) are also located here.

The term crossroads may be a cliché, but it admirably suits Nagoya. If you are travelling 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 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.
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