Monday, March 27, 2006

24 Hours in Nagoya

24 hours is not enough time to get a feel for a place, but 24 hours is all we had in Nagoya, so we did our best to see the city.

We arrived Sunday afternoon around 3. From Nagoya Station we took a cab to the hotel that Eri had arranged for us. We could have easily walked, but the thought of dragging our luggage through the city was numbing.

The taxi dropped us off in front of the Nagoya Supa Hoteru. There is a hotel of the same name in Takaoka (sans the Nagoya part). You can see it from our apartment balcony. It looks anything but super.

Checking in was quite an experience. Instead of paying at the front desk, we had to feed money into an ATM machine in the lobby. Then, instead of having a key to open our door, we were given an access code.

Fun!

It turned out not to be so bad (in Nagoya at least, I can’t vouch for Takaoka). The room was small, but adequate, and the bathroom was smaller, but clean and bright with an endless supply of hot water. And all this for the low price of 5980 yen.

The hotel was only minutes from the station and a glance at my trusty Fodor’s Japan guidebook told me that we were within walking distance of Nagoya Castle.

I told Emily that if we could just go look at the castle that I would do whatever she wanted for the entire evening. She agreed.

Nagoya StationJapanese 711As the sun started to set, we walked through the city towards the castle. Nagoya is a huge city of about 2 million people. The biggest cities I have ever lived in are Orlando and Richmond, and Nagoya made them look like villages. It was great.

The castle grounds were already closed when we arrived, so I got to look at the castle poking out from behind the castle walls and then we jumped in a cab back to Nagoya Station.

My guidebook says that there are two sections of Nagoya known for shopping and entertainment. The first is central Nagoya and the other is the station.

Next to the station are two 50 story towers. The first 11 stories of one of the towers is dedicated to a department store called Takashimaya. This made Emily very happy. The 12th and 13th stories of this same tower have a bunch of restaurants, several of them with patio seating.

That is where we spent most of the evening.

We took the elevator up to the 12th floor and then wandered around until we found a Starbucks. Coffee in hand, we found a seat and spent an hour people watching.

Then we walked through both floors of restaurants trying to figure out where we wanted to eat. None of the restaurants were Western chain restaurants. It was great. We ultimately decided on an Italian place where we both got one of the set menus accompanied with a glass of wine.

The food was delicious. My only complaint would be that the servings were too small.

After dinner we went back to the hotel and went to bed.

I woke up really early, pumped to spend the day in Nagoya and to fly to Saipan later that evening. I immediately packed up our stuff and got us ready to check out.

There wasn’t really a check out procedure. The Supa Hoteru is really a kind of fancy hostel. You pay in advance (using the ATM machine) and are expected to vacate the room by 10 AM (even if you are staying another night). If you are staying another night, I guess you just pump more money into the ATM and if you are leaving, you just leave.

We could have just left, but we needed someone to watch our luggage for the day. Eri had called ahead to make sure that Supa Hoteru offered this service, which they did. It was really embarrassing trying to squish all of our bags behind their tiny front desk. Sumimasen. Gaijin desu. But what could we do?

Before heading out for the day we dove head first into the continental breakfast. We filled up on egg salad sandwiches (with the crust cut off) and coffee.

Then it was time to hit the streets.

We agreed that we would split up for the morning and then meet up at 2 PM for lunch. I wanted to see the castle and maybe a shrine and Emily wanted to go shopping. There was no way we could have gone together and accomplished all of that, so splitting up was the way to go.

Emily spent the morning at the department store, Takashimaya. She bought herself a starbucks mug and a pink lacoste dress.

I, on the other hand, went to visit Atsuta Jingu and Nagoya Castle.

I visited Atsuta Jingu first. It is supposedly the second most important Shinto shrine in Japan. It was amazing. The other shrines that I have visited were tiny in comparison. This shrine was at least the size of Kojo Park in Takaoka, if not Kenrokuen in Kanazawa.

I am so not qualified to give a run down of how one shrine compares to another, so I won’t even try.

Shinto Tori GateShinto PriestSake BarrelsJapanese PondI did notice a few things though.

At most other shrines you see lots of cedar trees. I saw a lot of camphor trees at this shrine. I don’t know if that is because my experience is generally limited to what I saw in Hokuriku or what.

There also seemed to be a lot of shrines within this shrine. I followed an old couple around for a while and observed them worshipping at each of the shrines. I particularly liked one stretch of shrines that were lined up together. Worshippers walked down the line of shrines and bowed to each shrine in consecutive order. Kind of like praying the rosary, perhaps?

Shinto ShrineOh yeah, I got a stamp, too.

Next up was Nagoya Castle. I was running short on time, so I had to take a cab from the shrine to the castle gates. I’m glad I did, because the taxi drove straight through central Nagoya. I saw the Gap, Toni & Guy’s, a Hummer, and a ferris wheel built into the side of a building. Too cool.

Central NagoyaJapanese GapJapanese DennysThe castle was unbelievable. I’ve been reading James Clavell’s novel Shogun for the last few weeks and visiting this castle really helped me to visualize the things that the Anjin-san must have seen (although in the book he goes to Osaka castle and not Nagoya castle…details, details).

I had to pay an entrance fee to get in and in exchange I was given a pamphlet guide in English. The pamphlet suggested taking a counter clockwise stroll through the grounds, so I went on a counter clockwise stroll.

Nagoya Castle Rock GardenI couldn’t have asked for a better day or a bluer sky. The weather in Nagoya is much nicer than in Takaoka. I don’t think Takaoka has seen such a nice day in about 3 years.

Japanese Festival LanternsI took more pictures of sakura blooms than I care to admit. I noticed that the umi were already dying. It made me smile. Back in Takaoka I was so excited about the umi beginning to bloom, but here in Nagoya there were already dying.

Plum BlossomsMy favorite part of the castle was the main building (the proper word escapes me…it starts with a d). You can walk up if you want, but I took the elevator up to sixth floor for a panoramic view of the city. Breathtaking. Even in 2006, you felt like you were on top of the world. I can’t imagine how it must have felt to be the daimyo of this castle in the 1600’s….well, maybe I can.

Nagoya CastleNagoya CastleI took about two hours to stroll through the grounds. I would have liked to have stayed longer, maybe write a few haiku or something…yeah right. But I had to get back to the station to meet Emily.

I met here at 2 PM just as we had arranged and we found a nice restaurant on the 13th floor of the tower next to the station. We sat out on the patio with a spectacular view of the city. I ordered beef and she ordered fish. When the food arrived, she ate my beef and I was left to munch on the fish.

When we finished lunch it was about time for us to start thinking about getting to the airport. We knew where to find the shuttle because we had stumbled across it earlier that morning. We saw a bus with this painted on the back:

Nagoya Airport BusThe bus pulled into the train station parking lot and stopped in front of this sign:

Nagoya Airport ShuttleWe were a little confused by the arrow on the right side of the sign. The bus was right in front of us and the only thing behind was McDonalds and the train station. We turned around anyways and saw this:

Nagoya Airport ShuttleOK, no problem. Isn't this country convenient? We just had to go back to Supa Hoteru to get our bags and buy our tickets.

It wasn’t easy, but we dragged our luggage to the station and bought our tickets. I think they were 1000 yen each. The bus ride took about an hour. We drove through the city for a bit, but we started seeing farms after about half an hour. It was a nice ride. We both opened our windows to take in the fresh air.

The airport was amazing. It wasn’t nearly as busy or as big as Narita, but it had the coolest shopping center I’ve ever seen in an airport. It was designed to look like a city. One side looked like an old Japanese village and the other side looked like Italy. I don’t get it either.

They were doing a photo shoot on the Italian village side. There was a girl with a shockingly pink jacket and a guy with a Japanese fashion mullet. We kind of looked at them, shrugged, and said, ‘hey, that’s pretty cool.’

By the way, if we show up in some fashion ad or an ad for the airport in the upcoming months, it is because they sat down next to us while we were having a snack and started snapping pictures while we were in the background.

The only bump we hit was on our way through immigration. The immigration officer asked Emily to turn over her gaijin card, which she claimed she didn’t have.

She honestly didn’t think she had it, but this answer obviously wasn’t good enough, because they pulled her into the office off to the side.

Not the office off to the side!

They started making phone calls to God knows who and in the meantime, Emily started a frantic search through her carry on for the card, which she eventually found. Disaster averted.

Then we were off. To Saipan!

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