Visiting Nagoya: Everything You Need to Know

by Megan Taylor Stephens

Nagoya, Japan is a must-see destination for your travels! It is replete with natural wonders, cultural relics, and modern attractions. Let’s review some details about what Nagoya is like, what it is famous for, and what to do in Nagoya if you are visiting.

Nagoya is the fourth largest city in Japan, boasting a population of approximately 2.4 million. It is about 160 miles southwest of Tokyo. Nagoya is located in Aichi Prefecture on the main island of Honshu and borders Ise Bay along the Pacific Ocean.

The kanji characters that make up Nagoya are 名古屋. It is theorized that the name Nagoya may have come from the Japanese adjective nagoyaka, or calm.

History of Nagoya

Nagoya revolved around Nagoya Castle, which was built in 1610 by Tokugawa Ieyasu, a shogunate who ruled during the Edo period (1603-1867). Tokugawa ordered the imperial capital to move to Nagoya and a castle was promptly built.

The castle became a hub of commerce and culture, making a name for itself in ceramics, textiles, and the arts. The successive rulers of Nagoya embraced a peaceful way of life and a move away from feudalism. Kabuki theater, sumo wrestling, and tea ceremony took off during this time. The Tokugawa family were so successful and content there that they lived in Nagoya for 16 generations!

Being situated on a bay naturally translates to being involved in shipping and manufacturing. Sure enough, during the Meiji era (1868-1912), trade borders opened and business blossomed. Nagoya was transformed into a crucial port and transport center. Nagoya became known for its production of metals and machinery, partly fueled by the need for weapons during World War II. Toyota, Honda, Mitsubishi, and Kawasaki all have headquarters in Nagoya, and the Port of Nagoya is now the busiest in the country.

Traveling to Nagoya

Nagoya has it all: the ocean, rivers, forests, and plains. Although much of Nagoya is flat due to being situated on the Osaka Plain, Mount Togoku is a popular tourist destination in northern Nagoya.

Nagoya has always been an ideal midway point between Tokyo and Osaka, and it is considered the gateway to the Kansai area. Nagoya is well connected to other cities in Japan by highways. From Tokyo, you can hop on a shinkansen (bullet train) and be in Nagoya in two hours. There are also shinkansen between Nagoya and Osaka or Kyoto, both less than an hour’s ride.

An international airport in Nagoya (Centrair) offers flights all over the world via Tokyo.

Top Things to do in Nagoya

There are numerous temples and shrines to visit in Nagoya, from Atsuta Shrine to Osu Kannon Temple. Here are a few other attractions to put on your list:

Nagoya Castle—Nagoya-jo (jo means castle) is what got Nagoya started as a settlement. Come see the magnificent Hommaru Palace, Ni-no-maru Garden, various watchtowers, tea gardens, and other structures that were refurbished after WWII.

Toyota Techno Museum—Also known as the Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology, this museum showcases the trajectory of Toyota as a humble textile company with cutting edge looms to a powerhouse of automotive excellence. There are many interactive exhibits to learn about everything from steering to suspension to transmission.

Noritake Garden—Experience what Nagoya became famous for in its early days: Ceramics! Noritake is the top shelf version of China dishware. You can watch how this exquisite pottery is made, shop in the gift shop, eat at the restaurant, and wander the gardens. All of this is a 15-minute walk from Nagoya Station.

Legoland Park—Don’t pass up a visit to this giant outdoor theme park featuring the popular and versatile building block! Check out Miniland, a miniature Lego town that has replicas of Nagoya Castle, Tokyo Station, and other famous Japanese landmarks.

Foods of Nagoya

Nagoya is well-known for its seafood, and hitsumabushi is at the top of the list. Some people might not be thrilled to hear that this is actually made from grilled eel, but it’s absolutely delicious with its sweet soy sauce glaze.

Aka miso, or red miso, is another Nagoya specialty. It is made with soybeans that are fermented up to three years. It is the star of the favorite Nagoya dish called miso katsu, or deep-fried pork cutlets, and many other local dishes.

There are too many Nagoya dishes to cover, including ten-musu, a triangle of rice with tempura shrimp in the center that can be thought of as Nagoya sushi.

Cross-cultural contact has influenced Nagoya’s cooking, from Taiwan ramen to tebasaki chicken wings and kishimen noodles. Another way to experience Nagoya’s internationally inspired palate is to buy these cookies that scream Nagoya and—better yet—don’t require any travel costs or mess in the kitchen!

Nagoya Caramel Sandwich Cookie consists of a rich and crumbly butter cookie with a light cream filling dotted with raisins. Chez Shibata is the master confectionery that created this perfect fusion of Japan and France in pastry form. This cookie is delicious with a nice cup of tea!

Nagoya Kinsyachi Langue de Chat is another French-inspired dessert created by Chez Shibata. Kinsyachi, or Kinshachi, is the symbol of Nagoya: a carp with a lion head. Langue de chat means cat tongue in French because of the elongated shape of the cookie that it originally had. This cookie is made with a round butter biscuit and several layers of heavenly white chocolate and cream cheese filling. The hint of salty cheese flavor makes this pastry pair well with a glass of wine!

Chocolate lovers will want to try Kinsyachi Chocolate cookies. This light and crumbly square-shaped chocolate butter cookie is filled with sweet, rich chocolate cream. The packaging is printed with the Kinsyachi symbol of Nagoya, making it a perfect Japanese memento for a friend… or just for you!

Author Bio

Megan Taylor Stephens interest in the Japanese language, culture, and food goes way back. She was a Japanese exchange student in high school. Then she studied Japanese and linguistics in college, returned to Japan to work through the JET program (Coordinator of International Relations), and was an interpreter and translator for a while. Megan taught English as a Foreign Language in Japan and other countries before getting a Master's degree in ESL and becoming an ESL teacher. She then pivoted to becoming a school-based speech-language pathologist, so still gets to be immersed in the field of applied linguistics and loves working with bilingual students. Megan enjoys writing on the side for companies like Bokksu. A love of language, culture, travel, food, and learning never dies, it only gets more intense--just like cravings for ramen and Pocky!