> Chubu—Central Honshu
Nagoya is a castle town, with Nagoya Castle still dominating its center. It also boasts one of Japan's most important Shinto shrines, a museum of treasures that once belonged to the Tokugawa clan, and other attractions. Japan's fourth-largest city, with a population of 2.25 million, Nagoya is also one of Japan's leading industrial centers, with a fine network of streets and wide boulevards running through the modern city. Sumo tournament take place in Nagoya every July, Kabuki drama is staged at Misonoza Theater every April and October, and Noh takes place frequently at the refined Nagoya Noh Theater.
Nagoya Station is a modern, 50-story building containing Takashimaya department store, offices, a hotel, restaurants and an observatory. The station is connected to other office buildings in the area via an underground shopping arcade that stretches 6 km. (3.7 miles) and houses 600 shops, restaurants and bars. The Sakae downtown quarter, two subway stops from Nagoya Station, serves as a traditional shopping district by day and a lively nightlife center at night, with many shops, restaurants, department stores and bars.
The Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology, a showcase for Nagoya's technological and industrial businesses that have made
the city famous, traces the development of Toyota through its early years as
a producer of textile machinery to the company's most updated automobile assembly
equipment. The nearby Noritake Garden provides visitors the opportunity to see the production of the world-famous
Noritake china and to shop for high-quality pieces and discounted seconds.
Castle is Nagoya's most conspicuous attraction, occupying a prime location
in an expanse of green in the city center. It was first constructed in 1612 for
one of Tokugawa Ieyasu's sons but was burned down during World War II. Reconstructed
in 1959, it's a faithful replica of the original castle, except for its modern
interior, which serves as a museum for some of the castle's treasures and describes
what life was like during the feudal age. The top floor provides a panoramic view
of the city, while adjoining Ninomaru Garden is one of the few remaining castle
gardens in Japan, offering visitors the chance to relax in a teahouse.
The Tokugawa Art Museum is the city's most impressive museum, housing samurai gear, swords, lacquer ware, pottery, Noh costumes and other items once owned by the Tokugawa clan. Beside the museum is a garden restored to its former splendor, when the property belonged to a member of the Tokugawa family.
Atsuta Shrine dates from the 2nd century but was rebuilt in the 20th century. Together with the Ise Grand Shrines, it has been revered as Japan's most important shrine since ancient times because of a single treasure it contains, the Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi (Grass-Mowing Sword). The sword, along with a sacred mirror (in the Ise Grand Shrines) and jewels (in the Imperial Palace in Tokyo), constitutes the three legendary Regalia of the Emperor, said to have been given to the Imperial family by the Sun Goddess herself. The shrine is simple but stately, surrounded by 1,000-year-old Japanese cypress trees.
Osu Kannon Temple is a lively temple district similar to Asakusa in Tokyo, with an amusement quarter that was once the most prosperous in Nagoya. An antique market is held at the temple on the 18th and 28th of every month, while the Osu Shopping Arcade is home to discount shops and stores selling everything from old kimono and antiques to imported foods and electronics.
The Port of Nagoya Public Aquarium, located in a leisure-oriented area of Nagoya that also contains an amusement park, maritime museum and shopping complex, is famous for its penguins, turtles and Beluga whales in addition to the usual sea life and also boasts an IMAX theater.
Side Trips from Nagoya
Just a short distance from Nagoya are Arimatsu, Seto and Inuyama, towns with attractions of their own.
Arimatsu, now a suburb of Nagoya, was once a village on the old Tokaido Highway connecting Edo (present-day Tokyo) with Kyoto. To serve the needs of travelers, inhabitants produced a type of tie-dyed cloth as a cottage industry, for which Arimatsu is still famous. Several historic homes remain from the Edo Period, preserved along a 1-km. stretch of what was once the Tokaido Highway. There's also a museum describing the craft of tie-dying, with women on hand to demonstrate the painstaking techniques.
Seto is a well-known pottery town, producing one-fourth of the country's total pottery ware. A porcelain and pottery center remains the main attraction, where visitors can browse displays and shop for fine products.
Inuyama is a small town famous for its diminutive feudal castle, which has the distinction of being the oldest castle in Japan and designated a National Treasure. Constructed in 1537, it sits on a bluff overlooking the Kiso River, where cormorant fishing takes place in summer. The traditional method of catching ayu, or river smelt, has been passed down from generation to generation for more than 300 years. Spectators can board long wooden boats nightly from June through September, except on nights following a heavy rain and when there's a full moon.
Meijimura (Meiji Village), accessible by bus from Inuyama Station, is one of Japan's best museums dedicated to architecture. Its expansive grounds are home to more than 65 buildings and structures dating from the Meiji Period (1868-1912) and transported here from various parts of the country. Highlights are the Imperial carriage of Emperor Meiji, the mansion of Marquis Saigo Tsugumichi, St. John's Church, and the front façade and lobby of the old Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, designed by the famous American architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1923. The village is open daily 9:30am to 5:00pm (to 4:00pm Nov to Feb).
Ise-Shima National Park spreads over 520 sq. km. (200 sq. miles) on and around Shima Peninsula, noted for its bays and inlets, pearl cultivation and the Ise Grand Shrines, the most venerated of all Shinto Shrines in Japan.
The ancient town of Ise boasts the Ise Grand Shrines. It consists of an Outer Shrine (Geku), founded in 477 and dedicated to the goddess of arms, agriculture, food and sericulture, and the more important Inner Shrine (Naiku), dedicated to the goddess of the sun. The Inner Shrine contains the sacred mirror, said to embody the sun goddess herself and therefore the most significant object in Shintoism. The mirror is never on view, and the shrines themselves are torn down every 20 years and completely rebuilt in a simple but elegant style. Yet pilgrims have been making faithful treks to the Ise Grand Shrines for centuries. Ise's historic district of Oharai-machi, near the Inner Shrine, still contains old buildings and warehouses dating from the Edo Period, many now housing restaurants and shops.
Toba is a small town best known for Mikimoto Pearl Island, where Kokichi Mikimoto succeeded in cultivating the world's first cultured pearl in 1893 and the world's first perfectly round pearl in 1905. Visitors can tour demonstration halls depicting the pearl's cultivation and selection for jewelry, see fantastic objects and jewelry fashioned from pearls, observe women divers demonstrating traditional methods for obtaining abalone and other edibles, and shop for pearls. Next to Mikimoto Pearl Island is the Toba Aquarium.
Gifu has long enjoyed fame for its traditional cormorant fishing, held nightly on the Nagara River from May 11 to October 15 (except on nights following a heavy rain, when the water is too muddy, and when there's the harvest moon). This unique method of fishing uses a dozen tame cormorants to dive for ayu, or river smelt. The cormorants are attached to ropes, with cords around their necks to prevent them from swallowing their catch. Spectators board long wooden boats, gaily illuminated with paper lanterns, to observe the spectacle.
Takayama is an old castle town spread on a wide plateau in the Hida Mountains. Although the castle is no more, the charming historic core of the town itself remains remarkably unchanged, with narrow streets lined with traditional buildings arranged on a gridiron design as in Kyoto, earning Takayama the nickname "Little Kyoto." Takayama boasts a surprising number of unique museums, shops selling local crafts, and historic buildings, making this a favorite destination for Japanese and international travelers alike. Takayama is also famous for the Takayama Matsuri Festival, which is held on April 14 and 15 for the Spring Festival, and October 9 and 10 for the Autumn Festival. This is one of the three grandest festivals in Japan, featuring 12 exquisite floats in the Spring Festival and 11 in the Autumn Festival, which attract many tourists.
Two morning markets, the Takayama Jinya Market and the Miyagawa Market, are popular attractions for visitors and feature booths selling local vegetables, crafts and souvenirs.
San-machi Suji is the old historic quarter, a delightful area of preserved homes and buildings, many of them now housing shops selling local handicrafts, restaurants, inns and museums. Of the homes open to the public, two of the most popular are the Kusakabe Mingeikan, a merchant's home built in 1879, and the Yoshijima House, built in 1907 for a family of sake brewers. Museums worth noting are the Hirata Folk Art Museum with its extensive collection of folk art, the Inro Museum with its exceptional collection of small, portable medicine cases, and the Hida Takayama Museum of Art with its priceless collection of mostly European glassware from the 16th to 20th centuries.
The Takayama Jinya, or Historical Government House, is the only feudal-era government administration building still in existence and boasts Japan's oldest and largest rice granary, important during the Edo Period when taxes were paid in rice. Bilingual guides are on hand to provide free tours of the complex.
Hida no Sato, Hida Folk Village is an open-air museum of more than 30 thatched and shingled farmhouses and out buildings, transported from various places in the Hida Mountain range and placed here in a picturesque setting that resembles an actual village. The houses, many characterized by their steeply-pitched, thatched roofs designed to withstand heavy snowfalls, are filled with farming implements, household items, furniture and other objects that illustrate daily life in former times. Artisans demonstrate their crafts, including those engaged in woodcarving and tie-dyeing.
Nestled in a rural setting reminiscent of ancient Japan, Shirakawa-go is world famous for its steep, thatched-roof "gassho-zukuri" style of traditional farmhouses, some of which offer an overnight stay as family-run inns. The village is a listed UNESCO World Heritage Site.
the largest city in the Hokuriku district, is famous as the former castle town
of the powerful Maedas (16th-19th centuries), the second-largest clan in feudal
Japan. The Maeda clan encouraged the arts, with such pursuits as Noh drama, silk
dyeing, and the production of Kutani porcelain and lacquer ware prevalent even
today. Some of the old city remains as it was, with old samurai mansions, geisha
quarters and, most famous of all, Kenrokuen Garden. Dating from
1822, the garden is the largest of what are considered to be the best three gardens
in Japan (the others are the Kairakuen in Mito and Korakuen in Okayama). Ponds,
groves, hills, rocks and trees are arranged in a spacious and pleasing manner,
with footpaths providing ever-changing views. Adjacent to the garden is Seisonkaku
Villa, built in 1863 as a retirement home for a widow of the Maeda clan,
while nearby are three excellent museums dedicated to the arts: the Ishikawa
Prefectural Art Museum with treasures once belonging to the Maeda family, the Ishikawa Prefectural Museum for Traditional Products and Crafts,
with explanations of Kanazawa's many crafts and their production, and 21st century museum of contemporary art, Kanazawa, unique designed facilities itself, exhibits hands-on type contemporary arts that visitors can touch, or sit. Samurai homes
can be found in the Nagamachi Samurai District, while the Higashi
Chaya District is one of three old geisha quarters in Kanzawa.
Noto Peninsula Quasi-National Park is a unique-shaped peninsula jutting into the Japan Sea, its long coastline boasting a wide variety of geographical features. Its "outer coast" is rugged, with huge rocks twisted in grotesque shapes like at Noroshi, Sosogi Coast and Noto Kongo, while the "inner coast" is rich in bays and inlets engulfing tranquil waters. Because of its geographic isolation, the area is known for its unique customs and folklore. Tsukumo Bay and Wakura Spa are the major tourist attractions.
Wajima, at the north end of Noto Peninsula, is the cultural heart of Noto Peninsula and is noted chiefly for its Wajima-nuri lacquer ware, morning and afternoon markets, and female divers who gather shellfish and other edibles at a nearby island.
Eiheiji Temple was founded in 1244 by Dogen, credited with introducing Zen Buddhism to Japan from China. Today it's considered the leading temple of the Soto Zen sect in Japan, with more than 70 buildings, each connected by corridors and extending deep into a mountain forest of Japanese cedars.
Niigata is a major industrial town on the Japan Sea coast, serving also as an important port since it opened to international trade in 1868. Its many canals are relics of its old port-trading days, when small boats laden with goods made runs from anchored ships to merchants' shops. Niigata is the base for visiting Sado Island.
Sado Island is Japan's eighth-largest island, with two mountain chains running parallel down its spine and separated by an extensive plain filled with rice farms. The island is famous for its gold mines, now tourist attractions, for its many Noh stages, and for its world-renowned drummers.
Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route is a magnificent alpine route that stretches from Tateyama Station (terminus of the local Toyama-Chiho Railway) over the center of the Northern Japan Alps to Omachi in Nagano Prefecture. Visitors travel by cable car, bus, ropeway and trolley to complete the route, with magnificent mountain scenery along the way.
Central Mountain Area
Chubu-Sangaku (Japan Alps) National Park is Japan's foremost mountain park, with alpine peaks topping out at 2,400 m. (7,900 ft.) or more. Mountain streams coursing for centuries over plateaus and through valleys have created lovely gorges and ravines, with thick-wooded forests, alpine flora and rugged rock cliffs providing scenic accents to the impressive views.
Kamikochi is known throughout Japan for its mountain hiking trails, which some consider to be the best in Japan for its scenery of soaring peaks and the crystal-clear Azusa River. It's also well known for its cool, pleasant summer weather due to high altitudes, making it an ideal summer resort.
Matsumoto serves as a gateway to Chubu-Sangaku National Park. As the economic and transportation center of the area, it is also known for its prosperous silk-spinning and precision-instrument industries. It also boasts one of Japan's finest feudal-age castles, with the oldest existing keep in Japan and designated a National Treasure. The Japan Ukiyo-e Museum offers visitors changing exhibitions from the nation's largest collection of woodblock prints. The center of the old town is marked by many kura, or warehouses, some preserved as restaurants and shops.
Jo-Shin-Etsu Highland National Park is noted for its many spas, winter resorts, mountains covered with primeval forests, active volcanoes and Lake Nojiri, popular for trout and carp fishing, swimming in summer, and skating in winter.
Karuizawa, located at the southern end of Jo-Shin-Etsu Highland National Park, is 1,000 m. (3,300 ft.) above sea level and is one of Japan's most popular summer resorts, due to its ultraviolet rays, cool climate and easy accessibility.
Yatsugatake-Chusin Highland Quasi-National Park is an ideal sport and resort park, offering skiing, skating, hiking and camping year-round.