A few weekends ago, I went on my first solo trip out of my prefecture. After a month of planning with my good friend, Katy, she and several of our other Toronto JET friends decided to visit the city of Nagoya in Aichi Prefecture.
If you haven`t been to Japan, It`s quite possible you have never heard of Nagoya, however it is actually the third largest city and the fourth most populous metropolitan region in Japan. It is home to 2.25 Million people within the Nagoya core, with a population density of 7000 people per square kilometer (compared to my small city which has a population of 70,000 and a density of 392 people per square km)
It is located near the pacific coast of the Chubu region on the central island of Honshu. I live on the same main island and it took me about 6 hours to get there via overnight bus.
The overnight bus is one of the most interesting forms of transportation in Japan. It is basically exactly what it sounds like –
you take a bus which leaves very late at night, and arrive at your destination sometime in the morning. It`s great because its often
quite a bit cheaper than taking the train, and it allows you to get some sleep before beginning your trip. I definitely recommend it.
On the night of my departure, I went up to Takasaki station and hopped on the overnight bus to Nagoya Station at 11:30 pm. The bus ride was relatively comfortable and after catching a few hours of sleep, I arrived at Nagoya in the wee hours of the morning at 5:20 AM, before
the first train had even begun to run. With nothing to do and nowhere to go, I went into the only open place open at the station –
Mcdonalds. The Mcdonalds was filled with other sleepy, like minded people, most likely also on a trip due to the fact that it was a long
This was at the Nagoya Station towers. You can see Nagoya Castle in the background.
Walked around for a bit outside the station. It was a very rainy day.
Finally, my good friends Omar, Rebecca and Katy began to pile in. We all met at the BIC Camera across the street from the station. BIC Camera is an electronics store similar to Yamada Denki. Omar brought an unbelievably huge camping backpack that probably weighed half a ton. By comparison, Rebecca arrived with only her purse. Katy and I being the rational ones of the group came much more realistically equipped with normal sized bags packed with only the bare essentials.
First stop of the day was lunch. It seems that every single place in Japan has its own local specialty, and one of the things Nagoya is
best known for is Miso-Katsu. Miso-Katsu is breaded fried pork cutlet (katsu) coated in a miso flavoured sauce. Curious to sample this taste
of Nagoya, we wandered around the underground shopping mall by the station and eventually came across a line with a half an hour wait
that served Miso-Katsu.
Half an hour later (sigh..we waited), I had my (rather expensive) bowl of miso-katsu in front of me. It was pretty tasty, but nothing
After lunch we hopped on the tour bus and made our way to the Toyota Museum of Technology. I`m a big fan of Toyota so I loved seeing the history of the company and how they transformed from a loom making company to the largest automaker in the world. The museum presented a very romanticized view of the rise of Toyota, and one gets the impression that Toyoda-san; the man who almost singlehandedly made Toyota one of the most powerful Zaibatsu in all of Japan was a much loved folk-hero and man of the people. I`m sure the company was just presenting a rose-tinted view of its history, but I totally ate it up.
In any case, I relished the opportunity to see what goes into making a car, and how far the technology has advanced. The amount of technical expertise, leadership, vision, and just millions and millions of man hours that have gone into the corollas and camrys in mine and your driveways today is just staggering.
After the trip at the museum, our next stop was to visit a local craft house that made clay works of art and fine china. We were afforded a
fascinating look at the artisans of Japan (some of whom are designated living Japanese treasures) create their wonderful works of art. Sadly
pictures were prohibited, but being the rebel that I am, I managed to snap a couple of shots.
We had planned many more visits for the day, but underestimated the amount of time we would be spending at each place. After the craft house, we took the bus back to the station in search of dinner and accomodations. And so began the first fiasco of the trip.
Unfortunately due to the last minute finalization of our trip, we were unable to book accommodations in advance. We figured this wouldn`t
be too bad as obviously there had to be some hotels somewhere, and if there weren`t, we could stay at a manga cafe, capsule hotel, or if it
came down to it; a love hotel.
Unbelievably, EVERY SINGLE PLACE IN NAGOYA was fully booked. In what was the most ridiculous hunt for a place to stay ever, Rebecca and I
sat agianst a pillar in the middle of the station and went through a list of 50 or so hotels while Omar, Timmy and Katy went on a journey up and down the streets of Nagoya hoping to find a manga hotel or some sort of place where we could stay the night.
An hour and a half later, Omar, Timmy and Katy returned with one result – a manga cafe down the street. Rebecca and I had no hits at all (although by that point we had gotten really good at asking if there were any rooms available). Unable to decide what to do next, I
made the call to venture back over to the manga cafe and inspect it. I suppose I should explain what a manga cafe is.
A manga cafe is pretty unique to Japan. The ones we visited were sort of a combination between manga cafes and lan cafes. You pay a price per hour and you get a booth with a computer and access to a massive library of manga (comics). In many manga cafes, it is possible to stay
overnight for a set price of maybe \1500-\2400. Some places even have showers, making it an actual viable option for travellers on a budget.
The place we checked out was actually pretty decent. Aside from the perpetual haze of cigarette smoke that lined the ceiling, it was clean, quiet and well organized. They even had a room big enough for the 4 of us to squeeze in (Rebecca would be going home for the night so only the other 4 of us needed to find a place). All in all, this place would have been perfect, but the problem was we couldn`t reserve it for later. We would have to come back at the end of the night and try our luck.
After the hunt for accomodations, we met up with our other Toronto JET buddy Malcolm (henceforth known as Windy for the rest of the night due to his windswept studly hair) and a couple of his friends at an izakaya for dinner. The 8 of us piled into a booth made for 4 (4 Japanese people, not 8 foreigners). It was cozy to say the least, and since Omar`s massive backpack was perched perilously above us on a shelf half the width of the bag, we were under constant fear of being crushed to death the whole night.
4 or 5 beers and a stomach full of Japanese goodness later, we all dragged ourselves to the obligatory Karaoke bar down the street. In Japan there seems to be some unspoken rule that during a night out, you go sing Karaoke.
Several hours and many more drinks later, we stumbled back onto the streets and bid Windy and our new friends goodnight. We had originally planned to hit up the night life of Nagoya and go clubbing, but a full day of walking everywhere had left us completely exhausted. Sadly, the manga cafe we planned to make reservations at was no longer available so we were on the verge of being screwed. The 4 of us debated the merits of sleeping out on the street that night, with one person staying awake to keep watch, when at the last second, Omar managed to find a hotel with two single beds for about $100. Unfortunately, because hotel rooms are usually booked per person in Japan, we had to find a creative solution. Thus, Omar and Katy went to the front desk to book the room and pick up the keys, while Timmy and I slyly snuck past the front desk and managed to get onto the elevators. I have no idea how we pulled it off, but somehow we did and managed to get a room. We all pretty much passed out on the spot as soon as we got in.