In major Japanese cities, urban life isn’t just about what we see on the ground. The undergrounds and the sky-high buildings are just as happening.
Japan isn’t the only place in the world where the urban environments are characterized by well-utilized underground space and eye-catching skyscrapers. Still, I find many Japanese underground passages and high-rises interesting and I think we can’t talk about big Japanese cities without mentioning them.
To explore some aspects of these Japanese urban environments, come with me to Nagoya Station, locally known as Meieki. There is much to discover under, inside, around, and above this biggest train station complex in the world.
There is a reason why I want to start with photos of underground views. Nagoya has an extensive subway system all over the city and the most important stop of all is Nagoya Station, the city’s transportation hub that is also served by Shinkansen high-speed railway, local train, and bus lines. Many people in Nagoya start their easy journey to the city center by taking the subway from their neighborhoods to Meieki. Same for me while I lived there. Being a business and entertainment district, the subway exits of Nagoya Station are conveniently connected to some of the Nagoya’s biggest office buildings and department stores by underground passages lined with shops, restaurants, and cafes. So it might not be a stretch to say that the underground arcade is the first view many people see when going to the city center.
Take for example this underground passage called Dinard. It creates easy access to Dai Nagoya Building across the street from Nagoya Station. (Due to the amount of photos I have collected from several trips to Nagoya Station area for three years, I will save my guides to eating and shopping in Nagoya Station area for another time.)
The most interesting underground passage in Japan for me is also in Nagoya Station area. Lucent Avenue, which is Meieki’s underground link to Nagoya Lucent Tower, doesn’t have any restaurant or shop, but it is adorned with creative illumination series called A Tale of Stray Kittens. The 290-meter long public art is divided into multiple sections by different environment concepts illuminated by different colored lights. Let me share some of my favorites.
It must be cool to walk under a monster on your way to work every day.
Eternal sunset in the Oasis section.
Nagoya Lucent Tower itself is pretty cool too. The underground floor is installed with these blinking, color-changing light panels. The light panel area isn’t that big, but the mirror wall makes the area look bigger.
Time to go up to the ground level. I like how this Nagoya Station entrance looks in the morning light.
Nagoya Station has Sakura-dori (East) and Taiko-dori (West) Entrances/Exits. The Sakura-dori side concourse is a popular meeting point with the Gold Clock and iconic four escalators while the meeting spot of Taiko-dori side is marked by the Silver Clock. On one of my trips outside Nagoya with my friends, we agreed to meet up early in the morning in the Sakura-dori side concourse. It is almost always crowded there, but weekend mornings are the exception. Since 2020, the escalators are decorated with seasonal faux flowers.
I took this photo while waiting for a friend in front of the Gold Clock during a busier hour in 2019, hence no flowers back then.
Also on the Sakura-dori side is a complex with Nagoya’s bus hub aka Meitetsu Bus Center, the terminal Meitetsu train station or Meitetsu Nagoya Station, and Meitetsu Department Store. I went to Meitetsu Nagoya Station and Meitetsu Bus Center a lot, but I used the underground passage most of the times, so I rarely got to see Nagoya’s fashion icon in front of the complex.
Standing 6.10 meters tall, Nana-chan Doll has been the ambassador of Meitetsu Department Store since 1973. Apart from advertising special sales, seasonal festivals, events, and fashion trends to passersby, the mannequin occasionally promotes movies and anime by cosplaying as the main characters and participates in social campaigns. It is a pity I never caught Nana-chan during her anime cosplay moments, but here is her picture during a road safety campaign. There is even an archive of Nana-chan Mannequin’s previous costumes. If you are interested, you can check it out here.
KITTE Nagoya is home to Nagoya Central Post Office and some more shops and restaurants. Occasionally, KITTE Nagoya displays public art for visitors like these lanterns with traditional Japanese patterns.
Across the street from Meieki’s Sakura-dori Exit are Nagoya’s highest and most iconic buildings. Reaching 247 meters, Midland Square (also called Toyota-Mainichi Building) is Nagoya’s tallest building and also home to the open-air observation deck called Sky Promenade. I have never been up there though.
Dai Nagoya Building, an office building with a lot of restaurants.
Not far from Dai Nagoya Building and Midland Square is the most unique modern building in Nagoya in my opinion, Mode Gakuen Spiral Towers. It houses three vocational schools including Nagoya Mode Gakuen, which is among the three largest specialized training colleges in Japan alongside Tokyo Mode Gakuen and Osaka Mode Gakuen.
Meieki area stays busy into the night.
Let’s move onto the western side of Nagoya Station or the Taiko-dori side. From across Taiko-dori Exit, we can still see the skyscrapers on the Sakura-dori side.
One of the two JR Central Towers with the day moon.
Mode Gakuen Spiral Towers and the clouds.
While Nagoya Station’s eastern side boasts many office high-rises, higher-end hotels, and bustling shopping malls, the western side feels more down-to-earth but no less lively. There are still a lot of restaurants and shops, including a huge Bic Camera store where everyone can enjoy tax-free shopping experience of various Japanese goods from food, toys, video games, bags, toiletries and beauty products, electrical appliances, cameras, and even have films developed. The last one was why I frequented and got to explore Nagoya Station area better while waiting for my photos.
Personally speaking, I like the Taiko-dori side more than the Sakura-dori side overall. The facades of some local shops and restaurants on the Taiko-dori side are pretty photogenic.
Because Taiko-dori is the western side, it is also a good spot to see the sunset.
As well as offering a good rainy night view when it doesn’t rain too heavily.
One of the things I really enjoyed in Japan was the country’s huge variety of convenient stores. Bangkok and some other cities in Thailand have ubiquitous convenient stores that are open for 24/7 like in Japan, but we are lacking in variety. And we don’t have any Ministop. I miss Ministop tempura rice bowl, seafood rice bowl, and soft ice cream so much.
This red clock grabbed my attention every time I went to the Taiko-dori side at night.
Lastly, we will enjoy some views of Meieki area from above.
Thanks to its location opposite Nagoya Station, Dai Nagoya Building Sky Garden lets visitors get a good look at the twin JR Central Towers for free. Rising 245 meters on top of Nagoya Station building, JR Central Towers are the city’s second tallest building and the world’s tallest railway station building.
The beauty of Sky Garden changes seasonally. A bunch of artificial flowers and other decorations are added among the real bushes and trees in the garden.
I was going to visit a sunflower field near Nagoya during my last August in Japan, but the timing didn’t work out. At least, I got to see the Sunflower Sky Garden Festival at Dai Nagoya Building, which lasted until September.
Naturally, I will wrap up this post of Nagoya’s urban environments with the city’s skyline.
Although the best view can be seen from Midland Square Sky Promenade that I mentioned earlier, I stumbled upon a small viewpoint at JR Nagoya Takashimaya Department Store. I can’t remember what floor it was (I am sorry!) and it was a just glass window instead of a proper observatory. However, it is free of charge and we can get a pretty nice view of Nagoya Station’s Sakura-dori side with the Japan Alps and Suzuka Mountains in the background.
Snow on the mountains looking pretty thick still in spring. I wonder how Nagoya skyline would look like at night. I am sad I discovered this window too late. Just a few days after that, I got so busy with moving back to Thailand that I never got to visit JR Nagoya Takashimaya Department Store again, let alone traveling for leisure.
I saw that Japan is considering reopening the borders for international tourists without the need to join group tours this time. If they will fully reopen for real, for those who want to travel to Japan soon, please keep your eye out for more official updates in a few days from now.
When to visit: Accessible for as long as the train and subway lines run. Usually from around 5.30am to slightly after midnight.
How to get there: Tokaido Shinkansen bullet trains from Yokohama, Tokyo, Kyoto, or Osaka will be the fastest way to reach Nagoya. Nagoya is located between Tokyo and Kyoto. There are several JR local trains (Tokaido Main Line, Chuo Main Line, and Kansai Main Line), Meitetsu trains from other cities in Aichi Prefecture, as well as Kintetsu limited express and local trains from other cities in Aichi Prefecture and Kansai region (Osaka and Nara areas).
If you are already in Nagoya, Higashiyama Subway Line, Sakuradori Subway Line, and Aonami Train Line are your best choices depending on where you are.
Nagoya Lucent Tower and Lucent Avenue
When to visit: 7am-11pm, daily
How to get there: Walk for about five minutes from Nagoya Station.
When to visit: Always accessible
How to get there: Walk for about five minutes from Nagoya Station. Located in front of Meitetsu Department Store, Meitetsu Bus Center, and Meitetsu Nagoya Station complex.
Nagoya KITTE Building
When to visit: 10am-11pm, daily
How to get there: Connected to Nagoya Station building.
Dai Nagoya Building
When to visit: 11am-11pm, daily
How to get there: Located across the street from Nagoya Station
Mode Gakuen Spiral Towers
When to visit: Always viewable from the outside.
How to get there: Walk for about three minutes from Nagoya Station.
JR Nagoya Takashimaya Department Store
When to visit: 10am-8pm, daily
How to get there: Connected to Nagoya Station.
This post is also part of the Lens-Artists (week #216: Urban Environments), Flower of the Day (recent challenge), One Word Sunday (High), Photographing Public Art Challenge (recent challenge), Thursday Doors (recent challenge), and Which Way (recent challenge) Photo Challenges.