Nagoya, Japan: Before the (G)old Rush

Time flies and before I knew it, I have less than eight months left as a student in Japan.

Let’s rewind to January in 2019. I just learned that the MEXT Scholarship committee has decided to send me to Nagoya University, so I wrote this post about my trip to Nagoya as a tourist in 2015 for reflection purposes. I thought Nagoya isn’t an impressive city, but it still has some nice attractions and is rich in samurai era history, despite not looking like it what with its strong industrialized image and mostly modern buildings. During my 2015 trip, I traveled in Nagoya for only one day and mainly used the city as a base while I explored the bigger draws nearby like Inuyama, Takayama, and Shirakawa-go, so I promised myself that after moving to Nagoya in April, 2019, I would take my three years as a student as the opportunity to get to know Nagoya better.

While I am still going to continue writing about Hokkaido, I want to throw in some posts about Nagoya and nearby from time to time since I haven’t been writing enough about where I live and my three years in Japan are almost over… It has also been so long since I last made a film photography post, so it is time for a Nagoya article with the first batch of film photos I took in Japan in October, 2020. I was back from Bangkok for about a month, the COVID-19 situation in Nagoya improved, and the autumn air was pleasant, so what better time to test the Kodak M35 reloadable film camera I bought when I went back to Thailand. It was also a good time to visit the uncrowded and underexplored places in Nagoya that I hadn’t been to for photography inspirations. The photography trip ended up being very interesting for me and I enjoyed the different vibes from the Nagoya attractions that I visited in 2015. More laid-back and more local overall and also historic. It was a lovely surprise that embodies “old is gold”. But unlike the gold rush, most of these old spots in Nagoya haven’t been discovered yet by the majority of international travelers. I hope these places won’t become too commercialized, but they do deserve more attention, so when the pandemic is over and you can come to Nagoya, do consider visiting these hidden gems before Nagoya experiences the (g)old rush. If that still doesn’t sound appealing enough, let me tell you that all these places are free to enter and conveniently located near subway stations.

Before we get to the nitty-gritty, I would like to give credits to this treasure trove of information about Nagoya and around by Kikuko-san (one of the kind Nagoya locals who came to help international students at Nagoya University on our first week), official local tourism websites Nagoya Info (Instagram) and Aichi Now (Instagram), and Nagoya expats’ blogs like Nagoya Is Not Boring and Kawaii Aichi. Without these insiders, I wouldn’t have known about these wonderful spots in Nagoya and their interesting history. I still remember Nagoya’s boring reputation among international students when I newly arrived (I also later stumbled upon many unflattering articles that Nagoya is the most boring city in Japan), but these local websites are working hard to change that image and promote tourism in Nagoya and nearby, so please check them out for alternative perspectives.

And as a heads-up, my apologies for many low-quality photos… I was new to film photography back then (still learning even now) and through this photography trip, I learned the hard way that using a low ISO film like Cinestill 50D with the unadjustable Kodak M35 camera isn’t a very good idea when shooting townscape and smaller details. Many photos turned out underexposed or have weird colors, even though some of the settings weren’t particularly low-light in my opinion (maybe I misjudged). On a more optimistic note, I consider this a “successful failure” since this experience taught me to be more careful about the environment when shooting film and I made fewer mistakes with the rolls I used after. Good thing I had the foresight to bring my mirrorless camera for taking indoor photos and Doyoung and Jaehyun doll photos, so there are some decent shots.

01NagoyaKakuozan

02NagoyaKakuozan

Starting with Nagoya’s up-and-coming neighborhood not too far from Nagoya University, Kakuozan. It is quiet, but there are some retro-looking cafes, restaurants, and art and craft shops hidden among the residential streets and alleys.

03NagoyaKakuozan

You can also spot shops selling items used in Buddhist rituals because at the end of the main street is Kakuozan Nittaiji Temple (Nittaiji Temple for short). In fact, Kakuo is Japanese for Buddha.

Some elements at Nittaiji Temple aren’t what you would usually see in Japan. The gigantic wooden gate of the temple seems characteristic of Japanese temple gates, but upon closer look, the two guardians standing at Nittaiji Temple’s gate aren’t the wrathful-looking benevolent kings Agyo Nio and Ungyo Nio. Instead, I saw the calmer faces of two of the most prominent Buddhist monks, Mahakasyapa (Kasho-sonja in Japanese) and Ananda (Anan-sonja).

04NagoyaNittaijiTemple

Once entering the temple complex, the 30-meter tall five-storied pagoda and the Dharma Hall (Honden) stand out the most. Inside the Dharma Hall is another rare sight in Japan.

06NagoyaNittaijiTemple

The thousand years’ old statue of Buddha Shakyamuni looks more like something from Thailand rather than Japan, right? Because it does come from Thailand. Built in 1904, Nittaiji Temple symbolizes friendship between Thailand and Japan. The temple was initially name Nissenji Temple (Japan-Siam Temple, since Siam is Thailand’s former name) and after Siam has become Thailand, the temple was then renamed to Nittaiji Temple (Japan-Thailand Temple). In regards to Japan-Thailand’s friendship in Buddhism, Japan received parts of the Buddha’s relics from Thailand (which in turn received the relics from British archaeologist team in India in 1890). Japan specially constructed Nittaiji Temple to enshrine these sacred ashes of the Buddha and it is the only temple in Japan that does not belong to one sect of Buddhism. For administration, a chief is chosen from one of the 19 Buddhist sects every three years.

07NagoyaKakuozanApartment

After admiring Buddhist art at Nittaiji Temple, let’s switch to the more modern one and check out the biggest art and craft shop in Kakuozan. Or rather, the biggest cluster of art and craft shops. Kakuozan Apartment is an apartment-like building that houses a dozen of independently run art and craft shops and there is a myriad of goodies to buy.

08NagoyaKakuozanApartment

09NagoyaKakuozanApartment

From postcards, magnets, and dolls to accessories, bags, and even bigger items. I recommend Kakuozan Apartment if you are looking for cool souvenirs for friends too.

11NagoyaKakuozan

12NagoyaKakuozan

As one of Kakuozan’s claims to fame is food, it would have been weird for me to leave the area without trying one of its restaurants or cafes. One of the recommendations is Eikokuya, which is divided into Indian restaurant and tea shop selling a variety of foreign tea, including tea from South Asia.

13NagoyaKakuozan

I dropped in for their creamy shrimp curry and naan. Eikokuya’s interior has eclectic decorations from various Asian countries though. I even spotted something from Thailand. Some reviewers said the curry tasted more Japanese than Indian and though I have only eaten Indian food in Thailand, I agree my curry tasted Japanese. Well, it was delicious though.

Having polished off my naan and curry, I still had enough stomach space for sweets, so… I decided to make the most of my Kakuozan visit and try one of the cafes too.

Zarame’s exterior caught my eye the most and I saw donuts, so I entered the cafe.

14NagoyaKakuozan

Chocolate rarely goes wrong for me, so that was my order. Since Halloween was coming, Zarame had Halloween-themed donuts and I chose the chocolate-flavored one with a touch of pumpkin. I really love Zarame’s stuff. Hopefully, I can go back and taste something one more time before I go back to Thailand next year.

15NagoyaOchoboInariShrine

We are still in Nagoya, not Kyoto or Tokyo. Established in 1952, this is the Nagoya branch of Chiyobo Inari Shrine in nearby Gifu Prefecture or better known locally as Ochobo Inari Shrine or Ochobo-san. I discovered Ochobo Inari Shrine by chance just a month before I visited. While the university bus that picked up stranded international students from Narita International Airport was heading for Nagoya University, I looked out the bus window and saw Ochobo-san’s row of torii gates. While red torii gates are typical of Inari shrines and certain shrines in Kyoto and Tokyo have a lot more torii, I was still surprised to see a row of them in Nagoya, let alone being less than ten minutes on foot from the university. The perk of visiting a small shrine like Ochobo Inari Shrine is that it is very peaceful.

We can’t not talk about samurai eras since, as mentioned in my first Nagoya article, the city is the birthplace of two of Japan’s three greatest warlords that would go on to become the unifiers of the country and all three of them had ties to Nagoya. I already covered major locations related to Tokugawa Ieyasu like Nagoya Castle and also his birthplace in the neighboring city of Okazaki, so in this entry, let’s explore the birthplace of Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598) in Nakamura Park area.

While Nagoya Castle is the city’s most famous tourist attraction, Nakamura Park is much more low-key and I didn’t even know about it when I first visited Nagoya. Get off the subway at Nakamura Koen Station and walk for about five minutes and you will reach the leafy park. Don’t forget to look at a 24-meter tall red torii gate near the subway station, but I doubt anyone will miss it.

18NagoyaNakamuraPark

There is the torii gate because Nakamura Park is home to Toyokuni Shrine. With Nakamura Park area being Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s birthplace, Toyokuni Shrine was established in 1885 to enshrine Hideyoshi’s spirit.

19NagoyaNakamuraPark

The gourd-shaped wooden wishing plagues are modeled after the warlord’s crest.

Toyokuni Shrine is believed to bless prayers with success in any career, as well as for tea ceremonies and construction work. Hideyoshi was interested in the way of tea and for construction, it is possibly a connection to Hideyoshi’s cousin and most trusted general, Kato Kiyomasa (1561-1611), who served Tokugawa Ieyasu after Hideyoshi’s death and led the construction of iconic castles including Nagoya Castle.

21NagoyaNakamuraPark

It is also said that Kato Kiyomasa was born in Nakamura Park area. In addition to Toyokuni Shrine, the park has the statues of Hiyoshimaru (Hideyoshi’s name when he was young) with his friends, Josenji Temple (believed to be where Hideyoshi was born with his statue and gourd-decorated purification fountain), and Myogyoji Temple or the spot said to be Kiyomasa’s birthplace.

23NagoyaNakamuraPark

The statue of Kiyomasa at Myogyoji Temple feels different from the one at Nagoya Castle. At Myogyoji Temple, the statue’s attire seems even more warrior-like.

Nevertheless, Myogyoji Temple is still a testament to Kiyomasa’s architectural skills. Completed in 1610 just one year before his death, the temple was actually built out of leftover wood from the time Kiyomasa oversaw the construction of Nagoya Castle.

24NagoyaNakamuraPark

(On a more personal note, I am glad to finally have visited the area Toyotomi Hideyoshi was born. Samurai is a well-known Japanese word, but Hideyoshi was the first samurai I have known by name. His name was mentioned in passing in a manga, but has somehow stuck with me… before I was introduced to more samurai references (albeit not that accurate) from Prince of Tennis like Ryoma and Sanada Yukimura. I also wouldn’t have thought Hiyoshi Wakashi could come from Hiyoshimaru if I didn’t come to Nagoya, though maybe the author was only inspired by hiyashi wakame or seaweed salad, haha. Hyotei is my second most favorite team after RikkaiDai and I am fond of Hiyoshi, so I am going to think Hiyoshimaru is a possible inspiration for Hiyoshi’s name…)

Moving on to the bustling area around Nagoya Station. Prior to living in Nagoya, I never ventured out of the station building. After I moved here, I visited a few stores and eateries less than three minutes from the station. But after reading the local websites, I walked a few more minutes to Keihoin Temple, a very small temple off the main street with this curiosity.

25Nagoya

Named Guchikiki Jizo, this jizo statue has an interesting pose that is telling of his power. Guchi is complaint and kiki is from kiku or listen, meaning that he is all ears for your complaints. Feel free to rant and pray with Guchikiki Jizo.
Our next stop is only a few subway stops from Nagoya Station, but it feels a world away from the domineering modern highrises there.

26NagoyaShikemichi

27NagoyaShikemichi

Once a wooden bridge that is a relic from the Great Kiyosu Move when Tokugawa Ieyasu changed the capital of Owari Province from Kiyosu to Nagoya, Gojo Bridge has been rebuilt with concrete, but it still occupies the same spot over Horikawa Canal. This man-made canal was also developed during the Great Kiyosu Move for transferring materials for the construction of Nagoya Castle and for merchants to transport their goods. Nowadays, Horikawa Canal is devoid of activities, but we can cross the Gojo Bridge and step into Shikemichi, the most traditional-looking district in Nagoya where some samurai era legacies have been preserved.

29NagoyaShikemichi

I was severely mistaken all this time that Nagoya Castle and Atsuta Shrine are the only noteworthy historic landmarks in Nagoya. Built around the same time as Nagoya Castle in 1610, Shikemichi is a merchant district with old merchant-style machiya houses and warehouses. Although it isn’t big if we compare it to the more famous old districts in Japan, it is an interesting place to learn about Nagoya’s way of life in the olden days.

28NagoyaShikemichi

In the times where most buildings were constructed with wood, the merchant district was no exception to fire risks and it was destroyed by the great fire Genroku no Taika in 1700. After the blaze, the fourth Owari lord Tokugawa Yoshimichi prevented future fires in the city by having the streets widened and the warehouses reinforced with thick mud-plastered walls.

30NagoyaShikemichi

Apart from seeing traditional fireproof techniques, Shikemichi displays Nagoya’s own style of deity worship. On the second of floor of a few houses in Shikemichi, we can see a small rooftop shrine or altar called Yanegami or Yanegami-sama for worshiping the deities of three revered shrines, including Atsuta Shrine. Yanegami-sama is believed to protect people from disasters and diseases.

Some of the traditional houses in Shikemichi have been transformed into restaurants and cafes and though I didn’t eat there, I came across an art gallery by chance. The entrance of this art gallery is inconspicuous and there is only a small sign stuck by the entrance that it is called Esplanade Gallery.

31NagoyaShikemichi

But when I entered, I was awed by this work of art in the dim hallway.

32NagoyaShikemichi

The main exhibition room is quite small and it seems Esplanade Gallery is a place for temporary exhibitions. It was still a very nice opportunity to see beautiful artworks for free. The exhibition at the time was created by Ida Noriko and according to Google Translate, the artist has displayed her works several times overseas. Ida-san was also at the venue when I was visiting and saw me writing in her guestbook. Although I couldn’t speak Japanese and she spoke limited English, it was nice to talk to her and she said she was happy to meet a foreigner at her exhibition in Japan during this time.

A stone’s throw away from Shikemichi is yet another historic district that flourished around the same time, Endoji Shotengai or Endoji Shopping Street. It is one of Nagoya’s three biggest shopping districts and is also the oldest one, with some of the current shops in business for almost a hundred years. Keep your eye out for the statues of the three unifiers of Japan, Tokugawa Ieyasu, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Oda Nobunaga too.

33NagoyaEndojiShoppingStreet

Endoji Shopping Street has seen its glory days and has fallen, but the long-term residents and new tenants have been trying to revive the district. Now the 700-meter-long shopping arcade is flanked by not only long-standing eateries and groceries but also new Japanese and international restaurants, even a kabuki cafe. I arrived past lunch hours though, so most restaurants were on their break hours until dinner time…

34NagoyaEndojiShoppingStreet

35NagoyaEndojiShoppingStreet

We can visit the small shrines and temples in the area at all time though. My favorite spot is Konpira Shrine. I read that you can get omikuji (fortune-telling paper) in Nagoya dialect for 100 yen. I didn’t even know Nagoya has its own dialect.

36NagoyaEndojiShoppingStreet

My other favorite place is Matsukawaya, a souvenir shop with an English sign to welcome international travelers. The nostalgic small shop is chock-full of Japanese-style souvenirs you will find at tourist attractions as well as what you can’t find. The owner is a very friendly uncle who doesn’t speak English, but he obviously likes talking to foreigners and also has prepared a guestbook for us. Once again, my Japanese is very bad, but I could catch and understand what the owner said a bit, so I ended up typing on my phone and using Google Translate to show him my replies. Interestingly, one of our topics included Thai politics and the corrupt system in my country… I wish I understood his questions and responses fully, so I could explain better. It was such an unexpected talk. When I purchased a bunny keychain, the uncle also gave me a discount. Thank you very much!

I was very hungry after exiting Matsukawaya and couldn’t wait for more restaurants to reopen, so I went into one of the few places that aren’t on a break.

37NagoyaEndojiShoppingStreet

In spite of its modern-looking facade, Nagonoya was actually first established as a cafe in 1931. After closing in 2013, Nagonoya reopened as cafe, restaurant, and hostel rolled into one. Nagoya surprised me for the nth time. I didn’t expect to find a hostel in Endoji Shopping Street. With its convenient access to subway and close location to Nagoya Station, Nagonoya could be a good choice for your next holiday in Nagoya. Even if you are going to stay elsewhere, go there for their delish original egg sandwiches and other golden oldies in Endoji Shotengai.

39NagoyaCityArchives

40NagoyaCityArchives

41NagoyaCityArchives

To see part of Nagoya’s more recent past, Nagoya City Archives is a beautiful National Cultural Asset near Nagoya Castle. The neo-baroque edifice was constructed in 1922 (an example of growing Western influences in Taisho period from 1912-1926), boasts beautiful stained glass, and formerly functioned as court of appeals.

43NagoyaCityArchives

As the name Nagoya City Archives suggests, the building now exhibits some artifacts of Nagoya, but it shows traces of its past as a courthouse too. Visitors can see the old courtroom as well as the conference room and other features.

49NagoyaOasis21

I intended to focus on old subjects around Nagoya, but since there were a few exposures left on my film roll, I decided to return to modern Nagoya and use the remaining exposures in Oasis 21 area.

50NagoyaOasis21

51NagoyaOasis21

52NagoyaOasis21

I can’t stop people from calling Nagoya boring because this kind of thing is subjective and our preferences vary, but it definitely isn’t boring for me and I believe it doesn’t deserve to be called Japan’s most boring city either. It may be true that there is less to see and do compared to more popular cities like Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto. However, I am thankful for the opportunity to live in Nagoya, which pushed me to look for travel and photography inspirations from local websites and blogs. I had fun avoiding the crowds and exploring these hidden gems. Not all cities can be universally impressive, but perhaps the so-called unimpressive ones can be still be enjoyable. This post doesn’t contain all there is to Nagoya and I still have other fun experience about the neighboring cities and prefectures that I want to share, so please look forward to future articles about them along with my Hokkaido travel stories.

Guide

Kakuozan Nittaiji Temple
When to visit: 5am-4.30pm, daily

How to get there: Take the Subway Higashiyama Line and get off at Kakuozan Station. Exit the station to Kakuozan area and the temple is less than three-minute walk.

Kakuozan Apartment
When to visit: 11am-6pm, Thursday-Monday

How to get there: Also located in Kakuozan area.

Eikokuya
When to visit: 10am-8pm, Wednesday-Monday

How to get there: Located in Kakuozan.

Zarame
When to visit: 9am-8pm, daily

How to get there: Located in Kakuozan.

Chiyobo Inari Shrine (Ochobo Inari Shrine Nagoya Branch)
When to visit: Always accessible

How to get there: Take the Subway Meijo Line to Nagoya Daigaku Station.

Toyokuni Shrine
When to visit: 8.30am-4.30pm, daily

How to get there: Take the Subway Higashiyama Line to Nakamura Koen Station. From the station, walk for about five minutes to Nakamura Park and Toyokuni Shrine is the closest shrine to the entrance.

Josenji Temple
When to visit: Always accessible

How to get there: Located in Nakamura Park.

Myogyoji Temple
When to visit: Always accessible

How to get there: Located in Nakamura Park.

Keihoin Temple Guchikiki Jizo
When to visit: I can’t find opening and closing time, but Japanese temples usually open early every day, so visiting after 9am will likely guarantee that you can enter.

How to get there: Take the Subway Higashiyama Line to Nagoya Station.

Shikemichi
When to visit: Always accessible

How to get there: Take the Subway Sakudori Line or Tsurumai Line to Marunouchi Station. You can also take the Sakuradori Line to Kokusai Center Station.

Esplanade Gallery
When to visit: 12pm-6pm, weekdays; and 1pm-6pm, weekends

How to get there: Located in Shikemichi.

Endoji Shopping Street
When to visit: Always accessible

How to get there: Located a few minutes away on foot from Shikemichi.

Matsukawaya
When to visit: 11am-5pm, daily

How to get there: Located on Endoji Shopping Street.

Nagonoya
When to visit: Cafe and restaurant hours from 11am-6pm, daily

How to get there: Located on Endoji Shopping Street.

Nagoya City Archives
When to visit: 9am-5pm, Tuesday-Sunday

How to get there: Take the Subway Meijo Line to Shiyakusho Station.

Oasis 21
When to visit: 10am-10pm, daily

How to get there: Take the Subway Meijo Line or Higashiyama Line to Sakae Station.

This post is part of the #giftograph_film series (roll #3: Cinestill 50D with Kodak M35 film camera, though most indoor shots and doll photos were taken with my Fuji X-A3 mirrorless camera.)

This post is also part of the Lens-Artists Photo Challenge (week #160: Your Inspiration).

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