Nagoya, in a Nutshell
It used to be that Nagoya (名古屋) could not evoke any sort of interest in us. That would have totally explained why despite it being one of the five SIA Japan destinations (the other four being Tokyo Narita, Tokyo Haneda, Fukuoka and Osaka Kansai), we never made plans to visit the capital of Aichi Prefecture (愛知県) despite our love for Japan. That was until the decision to explore parts of the Japanese Alps (日本アルプス). It then made sense for us to fly into Nagoya Chubu Centrair International Airport. A blessing in disguise, no less, since detailed research revealed that Nagoya actually has a lot to offer.
Nagoya is yet another food paradise, just like Tokyo! It may not have as many swanky uptown restaurants or Parisian patisseries as Tokyo has, but it more than makes up for it with a plethora of regional specialties that outnumber most other Japanese cities, Tokyo included. Planning the detailed itinerary for our 3 full days in Nagoya was most fun, especially where meal-planning (trying out different foods) was concerned. In sooth, I identified more foods than meals we had to take so much so that some elimination, in consultation with the mister, had to take place.
Excited doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt prior to departure.
How We Got There
Nagoya is a lot more compact in size than Tokyo, the other Japanese city we are intimately familiar with, is. The city centre is a mere 33-minute away by a limited express train, or slightly under 30 minutes by µSky train. And it is easy for a first-timer to navigate around Chubu Centrair International Airport since there is only one terminal building. Also, the wait for the next train is never long, in addition to our observation that these city-bound trains are almost always never full. All in all, taking the train is definitely the most convenient and least expensive mode of transport we recommend for travellers who fly into Centrair Airport, to get to Nagoya city centre.
We got into an hilarious episode with the train conductors while waiting to board our train to Nagoya city centre. After waiting for the passengers to alight from the train, we then naturally boarded it and started looking for luggage space. That was the time when we were spotted by one of the 3 train conductors inspecting the train interior and were instantly shoo-ed out of the train. We immediately thought it was because the train conductors wanted to ensure that the train interior was speck and clean before allowing the next set of passengers to board. Then, the seats got all turned around to face the direction of travel. An ‘Eureka!’ moment for us when we realised what it was all about. And utterly impressed at how thoughtful the Japanese are at such things considering how we have been visiting Japan annually for the past few years, and still The Land of the Rising Sun manages to throw up more pleasant surprises each time we step onto the land.
Where We Stayed
As per our habit, I booked a reasonably priced room in a hotel chain close by Nagoya JR Station. To be precise, Nagoya Ekimae Mont Blanc Hotel was the hotel we put up at. It was a simple non-smoking double room without much of a view outside the window. Not exceedingly small, and functional with ample space for our medium-sized luggage to be laid out on the rack. Might be quite a stretch if we had brought along two rolled luggage. The bathroom also came complete with all the necessary amenities including the mister’s favourite toilet seat bidet, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, toothbrushes and toothpaste. I was at the receiving end of quite a long, hard stare when the mister realised that we had lugged our toiletries from home in vain. I just pretended not to notice. Tehehe.
It was not so straight forward booking this hotel because an account had to be created before I could make a reservation. And if my memory did not fail me, it was all in Japanese. But not to worry, the form was simple to fill out, and when in doubt, Google Translate is your best friend. Our double room cost 9,500¥ per night, without breakfast because we figured we would rather explore Nagoya for the myriad of food it offers. And best part of the deal? Wi-Fi access in the room and at the lobby area that allowed us to stay connected with the rest of the world!
Just be careful if you intend to book this same hotel because Mont Blanc chain has another hotel in Nagoya close by, named Nagoya Fushimi Mont Blanc Hotel.
What We Did
We spent 3 days in Nagoya at the start of the trip, and then the last day back in this city again. It’s rather atypical of our style as we usually like to head straight off to another location after landing, and returning to spend the last few days in the city nearest to the airport. This is of course to facilitate mad shopping at the final destination prior to returning home. I was rather upset we couldn’t do it the usual way for this trip, but with the restriction that we had to spend the weekend in Shirakawa-go (白川郷) and Gokayama (五箇山), it was the only way out.
There were too many things to see and do in Nagoya. After spending a few hours at the few stores we always visit in Japan including Tokyu Hands and Bic Camera, we made our way back to the hotel in the early afternoon to check-in and freshen up. Then we found the bed too inviting we laid our weary heads down to nap for a bit. And woke up with a start. It was the 28th, one of the two days of every month (the other being the 18th) where a flea market would be set up on the temple grounds of Osu Kannon Temple (大須観音), a very popular temple originally located in the neighbouring Gifu (岐阜) Prefecture. We didn’t want to miss it, but because of the nap, we were dismayed to find out we were just in time to see the vendors pack up their wares.
Disappointment aside, we explored the temple a bit before adjourning to the adjacent shopping arcade. It appeared that the temple was undergoing some restorative works and it was rather messy, if not physically then asthetically. The shopping arcade reminded me much of the one in Kichijoji (吉祥寺) in Tokyo. Then again, there was also a similar one I came across in Osaka. Perhaps shopping arcades in the suburbs all look somewhat like this.
There were many, many shops in the shopping arcade selling myriad of wares but we were mostly interested in the ones selling food and tidbits. Can’t blame us; it was cold (hovering around 3°C) and we get hungry easily in cold weather. But we held out, anticipating a good dinner at a renown Ramen restaurant chain – Ichiran Ramen (一蘭).
Ichiran Ramen is a phenomenally popular Tonkotsu (豚骨), or pork bone Ramen chain originating from Fukuoka (福岡) on the northern shore of Kyushu (九州). Not surprisingly then, that they have outlets all over most parts of Japan, including Tokyo, our favourite city. Strangely though, we have not tried Ichiran despite the numerous visits to Tokyo. Truth is, there are simply too many delicious cuisine to hanker after that we usually have no ‘tummy room’ for yet another famous Ramen chain.
But Ichiran is not like any other Ramen chain in Japan. In fact, it is famed for something else other than their absolutely delectable Tonkotsu Ramen, and we finally decided to visit one of their outlets in Nagoya to experience it for ourselves. Read on if you are not aware of what it is.
With individual booths, Ichiran has tried to make the whole dining experience an extremely personal, even coverted, affair. While I am not entirely certain why they introduced this concept, one could hazard a guess – they want their patrons to concentrate on the taste of their ramen without being distracted by what goes on around them. Which I am not sure if is necessary, considering that they are afterall situated in Japan, a country where people are noted for minding their own businesses. To me, what makes a dining experience to a Ramen joint complete, particularly in Japan, is observing how the staff work cohesively, efficiently and systematically in an extremely tight space. The way an Ichiran outlet is laid out has completely devoid me of this joy.
Furthermore, you just do not tell an atco and an ex-atco to shut out surrounding distractions. This is exceedingly counter-intuitive to what we are used to doing, especially to the mister. His livelihood literally depends on his heightened situational awareness.
Suffice it to say that I could not totally immerse myself in the unique experience of dining at Ichiran. It did not help, that the joint was not at all quiet when we visited, what with a huge group of Taiwanese tourists jostling to get into the restaurant. However, I am in no way saying that I did not enjoy this quirky experience. The booth did make me feel somewhat claustrophobic, but it was interesting to sit quietly in my booth and listen intently to the cacophony that was going on around me. So much for concentrating on my Ramen, eh?