This blog has been hibernating for yet another week but at least this time I have a vaguely defensible reason for that. I’ve spent the past seven days the same way it always seems to go around this time of year, i.e. enjoying the ever-so-lovely Japan. The past few years have always been either about Tokyo or Osaka. This year, I wanted a little variation and decided to check out what Nagoya has to offer. Some have described this manufacturing powerhouse of Japan as the country’s most boring city that isn’t even appreciated by its own denizens. Even if my trip wasn’t a complete success, the city’s hardly to blame. So, here’s a compact(-ish) travelogue of my ups and downs throughout the journey.
Getting there was an ordeal, as usual. Since I live in the backwoods, it took two and a half hours on train just to reach the airport. Then a flight of over nine hours with no real chances to get proper sleep, one more hour to reach downtown from Chubu airport, and then killing time until 3PM to be able to check in to the hotel. Since the flight was overbooked, two volunteers were bribed with 300 and 500 euro gift certificates to fly to Nagoya via Seoul. That would’ve “only” meant an extra three hours but the distance between Finland and Japan is bad enough as it is. Also, I’ve pretty much never had a good experience with connecting flights, so even if the offer was a generous one, I stuck to my original plan of a direct flight.
The arrival itself was most pleasant. There are considerably less foreigners arriving in Nagoya when compared to the bigger cities, so the immigration formalities were over in mere fifteen minutes. Chubu airport was delightfully easy to navigate and I had no problems finding my way downtown. For accommodation, I had chosen Nagoya B’s Hotel mostly because of its location and fair prices, but it turned out to be even better than I expected. Sure, the rooms were small even by Japanese standards but on the other hand they had free breakfast, Wi-Fi, gym, spa, vending machines, and even a separate room for us smokers who still prefer non-smoking rooms for themselves. All this was just a fifteen minute walk from Nagoya station, and a five minute walk to the nearest metro station of Fushimi, from where all central metro lines were easily within reach. 10/10, would book again!
Even if jetlag was severe enough to tempt going to bed right after checking in, past trips have proven that it’s better to get adjusted to the new timezone as soon as possible, no matter what it takes. Thus, after unpacking and a quick shower, I lurched my sleep-deprived zombie body outside and headed off to the nearby Kululu Meieki, a superb restaurant serving Nagoya’s famous Cochin breed chicken in all sorts of delectable ways. After a couple of tasty entrées, a kind older lady arrived to cook a lovely bowl of sukiyaki right in front me, and an equally kind bartender taught this baka gaijin to the art of dipping the wonders of that hot pot in whipped raw egg. All in all, it was perhaps my most tasty chicken dinner ever!
After that, I spotted a quaint little festival right next to the river near my hotel. Music was blaring and countless market stalls sold various snacks and, most importantly, sake. Even if the cherry trees on the river bank were not yet blooming, the locals were clearly ready to welcome this year’s hanami season. The atmosphere was pleasantly mellow, and in hindsight I regret not paying more attention to this event. My body was, however, keenly reminding me that I had missed an entire night of sleep.
Since the night was still young and a gamer is a gamer, I ventured a couple blocks further to pay respects to the gaming bar culture of Nagoya. And boy, was it worth it! Critical Hit, hidden downstairs in a secluded alley, instantly became a regular joint for the entire trip. Especially for those of us not speaking Japanese, it’s probably the best representative of its ilk in the entire country. Nice decor, retro music, bar counter with several SNES consoles, loads of games, and reasonable prices (500 yen or one drink per hour) all made me feel cozy the moment I stepped in. The owner of the place, Alex Fraioli, was a most attentive and wonderful host, and this really is a place where you’re free to be just as social or withdrawn as you like. Still, after only a couple of beers I had to admit that I had finally ran out of charge, so back to the hotel to sleep everything off. Whatever the case, this was the best arrival day ever!
The second day was when everything start to go downhill. Even if I managed to triumph over jetlag, it rained throughout the day and the temperature stayed below ten degrees. Granted, I had arrived a little too early this year but come on! The program for the day was mostly indoors, though, so it was up and away to test out the Nagoya subway network. My Pasmo IC card that I got from Tokyo six years ago was still working just fine, and traveling between the clearly marked stations was extremely easy and fast.
The first stop of the day was the aquarium in the harbor area of Nagoya. Of course, I should have known that if a tourist has come up with a nice way to spend a rainy day then about a million others have come to the same conclusion. The line to the ticket booth was almost an hour long and I began to worry if the visit would be as stressful and crowded as it was in Osaka. Thankfully the place was vast enough to cope with the huge number of visitors and it was quite possible to enjoy everything without a fuss. A mighty orca, seals, porpoises, penguins, gazillion sardines, jellyfish, giant tortoises… An aquarium might be just an aquarium but this was still a splendid way to spend the morning.
The quality of the nearby food court was poor. Still, a cheap portion of yakisoba and takoyaki gave me enough energy to keep on going. The second stop of the day was the SCMAGLEV and Railway Park, and it sure was cool! They had more than twenty trains and carriages up for display, ranging from early wooden 20’s models that did a hundred kilometers per hour to the very latest Maglev that does 581 km/h. Winning a lottery would’ve given a chance to try out a virtual simulator of such trains but since the lines were long and it probably would’ve been a bit awkward thanks to the language barrier and all, I enjoyed the action from the sidelines. An authentic cabin and a massive widescreen made it look really neat, though.
Aside from just casual strolling here and there, that’s pretty much all this gray day had to offer. I ended up having a dinner at the local Outback but that one’s a habit I really should get rid off. A proper steak and grilled shrimps were decent, sure, but nothing more than that, and the quality/price ratio is woeful. An ordinary burger probably would’ve sufficed and only the after-dinner Baileys coffee is something that could be recommended.
This vacation had barely started when my hip began to shout loud objections towards plenty of walking. It was a small comfort that my hotel also had automatized massage chairs that sported so many servos, pneumatic cushions, and nodules that I almost expected a tentacle or two to shoot out from somewhere. Didn’t happen, but at least I felt a little better for a while. All in all, however, the day was just cold, wet, and painful, so I went to sleep not in the best of moods.
My third day was reserved for Osu, which is supposed to be the equivalent of Tokyo’s Akihabara and Osaka’s Den-Den Town. In other words, a nerdy day full of anime, manga, and game awsum. The skies were crystal clear once more but that was pretty much the only upside. Osu’s covered shopping streets were idyllic as such but as for gaming, there’s very little to be experienced. Sure, gamers’ local pilgrimage point, Super Potato, is there and a couple of other retro game stores reside in its instant vicinity but the overall feeling of Osu was decidedly “Oh, so this is it?” Taito only has one three-story arcade in the district and even that one mostly focuses on modern games that us westerners have no hope to comprehend. Thankfully the second floor of the massive Phoedra, right across the street, sports enough arcade cabinets both retro and new. Granted, Nagoya is smaller than Tokyo and Osaka but I still expected Osu to be much, much more. No can do; Akihabara is Akihabara and the others come waaaaaaaaay behind.
Not only were my hip and lower back screaming mercy throughout the day, I was further put down by my credit card allegedly not working. In Japan, cash is always king but no matter how big a budget you plan out ahead, there’s always so much enticing stuff to buy that a credit card would come in handy. It was quite mortifying to bring a bunch of games to the cashier only to find out that your card is bust and that most of your cash is (needlessly but just in case) back in the hotel. I begged the clerk to swipe the card a few more times but it just didn’t work. The only option was to apologize profusely and return back to home base to do some math of what is still affordable. No two ways about it, this was another shitty day.
After all this needless punishment, everything thankfully got loads better. The fourth day started with a stroll through the Nagoya castle, and it sure was impressive. The top floor offered nice views throughout the city and there were historical artifacts and dioramas aplenty. It was rather amusing that the castle also featured some weird Star Wars exhibition. Because Japan. Wonder if Ieyasu Tokugawa would have condoned such blatant frivolity…
From there, I headed to Nagoya City Science Museum, which turned out to be a bit of a letdown if you don’t understand Japanese. Children had dozens of interactive points of interest for some hands-down demonstration of physics but as heartwarming as it was to witness their excitement, the place wasn’t anything special. It had a neat mini-tornado and a cold room where you could experience what -30°C feels like but from a Finnish point of view, that’s hardly an experience.
After a quick bite of fried chicken, I paid a visit to the Nagoya station to check out the Midland Square observatory. Even at 250 meters, it was once again impressive how the metropolitan cities just keep on going no matter where you look. Very cool! As the evening fell, I headed to the ever-bustling Sakae to catch a few more glimpses of the city from the 180-meter-high Nagoya TV Tower. The city bathing in neon was truly a sight to behold.
After a pleasant (and budget friendly) day, I ended up in what might be the best steak joint in the city. Midtown BBQ (former Sienna) had received so much praise online that it was a stop on my original itinerary. What came as a most pleasant surprise was that just a week ago, the place had not only renamed but also moved from back of Sakae right to the same block as my hotel. Lucky! After an absolutely heavenly portion of Angus ribeye steak and the crunchiest fries ever, this traveler called it a day with the biggest of smiles on his face.
Day five, and it just kept on getting better. After breakfast, I decided to see if the nearby 7-Eleven ATM would recognize my credit card and, lo and behold, it did. Yay! With money woes behind me, I took a little side trip to the outskirts of Nagoya to visit Toyota Automobile Museum. It took half an hour of traveling but the place is well worth it. There are more than 160 cars on display, ranging from the very first times of automotive history to the very present. As a bonus, there’s even an amusing annex exhibit of a wide range of utility articles from the 60’s to the 80’s.
By the early afternoon, I finally located Nagoya’s only owl cafe, Fukuro no Iru Mori, which I had already hunted for a couple of days. Hidden in the fourth floor of a nondescript office building, it was a truly charming experience. For an hour, you get to admire and photograph over a dozen owls and once you’re done, you can pose with the one of your choice. Compared to other owl cafes in the country, this one was the most serene. Even if it’s questionable whether an urban environment is good for owls, the local residents seemed quite pleased with themselves.
From there, it was back to Osu to resume shopping before another enjoyable dinner at Midtown BBQ. For once in my life, I celebrated Japan with a proper 10oz steak of wagyu, the caviar of beef. As Vincent Vega might say, I don’t know if it’s worth its price but it was pretty effing good steak! I spent the rest of the night with more beer and video games back in Critical Hit and ended another day on a high note.
The final day went the exact same way it always goes when in Japan: ditching all modesty and burning through the remaining travel budget. As the temperature reached 18°C for the first time during the trip, I also visited the nearby Tsurumai park to see if there would already be even a hint of sakura. Unfortunately I had to admit that I was in Japan a little too early while the cherry blossoms were a little too late. The park certainly had plenty of market stalls and people enjoying a sunny day but the explosion of pink still hadn’t quite started. Oh well, I’ve experienced it before so it wasn’t that big of a deal.
Lousy timing had its benefits, though. The return flight wasn’t even half full, and with no one sitting next to me, being able to lower the seat without annoying anyone sitting behind me, and not having to wait to use the loo all meant that the ten hour flight was a breeze. Aside from those couple of crappy days this year’s trip was definitely a success. Granted, it’s questionable whether Nagoya is worth an entire week but vacations are at their best when you never have a single day planned out hour by hour. I had a great, stress-free time just chilling and wandering about. Now that I’ve come to know the city, though, it could probably be squeezed into a compact 2-3 day side visit on some longer trip. After all, I have a feeling this still wasn’t my last trip to Japan, provided I get my back in better shape for future travels.
So what about the loot? It was a joyful pile striking balance between retro and new. My GBA collection grew with the quintet of Crayon Shin-chan: Densetsu o Yobu Omake no To Shukkugaan! (or something along those lines), Kuru Kuru Kururin, Gunstar Super Heroes, Klonoa G2: Dream Champ Tournament, and Rhythm Tengoku (I must be a masochist). After pondering it long and hard, I finally gave in and bought the ridiculously expensive but also really quite rare PS1 shooter Harmful Park. As for the more modern stuff, there’s Taiko no Tatsujin: Dokodon! Mystery Adventure for the 3DS, and a shameless PS4 quartet of pure fan service; Senran Kagura: Peach Beach Splash, SG/ZH: School Girl Zombie Hunter, The Idolm@ster: Platinum Stars, and Musou Stars. That one was delayed from early March but was luckily released on my final day of travel. There’s probably going to be more about these as soon as I get rid of jetlag and back pain.