Nagoya is usually a city that visitors gaze at only briefly through the window of the bullet train as they whizz between Tokyo and Kyoto.
Its reputation as a manufacturing centre and a hub for carmakers makes it hard to imagine visitors arriving in droves. But Japan’s third-largest city has its charms, with numerous reasons to visit – from its historic multi-tiered castle in the heart of the city to the delights of slurping its delicious red miso noodles, not forgetting its pet cafes.
Here’s a selection of the very best Nagoya experiences to add to your itinerary.
THE GAME: Pachinko
One of Nagoya’s more unusual claims to fame is that it is the birthplace of pachinko, the Japanese pinball game. Today, a concentration of eardrum-burstingly loud, smoky, neon-lit pachinko parlours – crammed with very serious-looking gamers – can be found in the Naka district. The curious (and the brave) should visit Zent Nagoya Kita, billed as the biggest in Japan, with 1,200-plus machines.
THE SUB CULTURE: Cosplay
Nagoya has a reputation for sub cultures – the Osu Shopping Arcade is the birthplace of the World Cosplay Summit, which each summer celebrates the niche activity of dressing up as cartoon characters. Those visiting out of season can take part in a professional manga drawing class at a local manga school in the Osu district.
THE RITUAL: Breakfast
Nagoya is known for a very specific breakfast ritual, which involves queuing at a local cafe for a ‘Morning Set’ – normally coffee plus a basket of toast and a boiled egg. Look out for outlets of the popular Komeda cafe chain across the city.
THE MOST INSTAGRAMMABLE SPOT: Mocha
Head to Mocha, a new cat cafe with huge cute appeal thanks to its feline residents. The cats wander among the tables or lounge in gold hanging baskets as customers sip tea, causing their iPhones to go into meltdown due to photography overload. Hardcore cat lovers shouldn’t miss the 11am and 7pm feeding times.
THE FLOWER: Plum blossoms
Winter is too early for the iconic cherry blossoms – but it’s possible to enjoy Nagoya’s flowers from late January, with the arrival of the much-revered plum blossoms. Top spots for viewing the flowers – which come in a spectrum of hues from white to pink to red – include the grounds of Nagoya Castle (nagoyajo.city.nagoya.jp/13_english) and Higashiyama Zoo and Botanical Gardens (higashiyama.city.nagoya.jp/14_english).
THE SOUND: Noodle slurping
A visit to Nagoya is incomplete without a bowl of earthy miso noodles. Join the city’s chorus of slurping noodle lovers by heading to the nearest branch of the city’s famed noodle chain Yamamotoya Honten and ordering a dish such as miso-nikomi udon – thick noodles stewed in a rich red miso broth.
THE RESTAURANT: Garden Restaurant Tokugawaen
Perhaps Nagoya’s most atmospheric venue, Garden Restaurant Tokugawaen is a serene enclave overlooking an elegant lake and Edo-era landscaped gardens, complete with a network of traditional Japanese buildings linked by lantern-lit stone garden walkways. French food is served in the grand restaurant, while there are also contemporary Japanese tearooms.
THE SHOPPING MALL: Nagoya Parco
Tokyo is not the only place that excels at shopping. Nagoya has a range of top retail outlets – among them the Nagoya Parco complex, home to several buildings housing 300-plus shops. It’s home to a string of Japanese fashion boutiques, including Journal Standard, Issey Miyake, Comme des Garcons, Tsumori Chisato and Beams.
THE HOTEL: Prince Hotel Sky Tower
The icing on the city’s luxury hotel cake is the Nagoya Prince Hotel Sky Tower, which opened last October, designed around the lofty concept of ‘a ship floating in the sky’. It’s certainly high: the opulent 170-room hotel spans levels 31 to 36 of Global Gate skyscraper, with views across the city.
THE MUSEUM: MRJ Museum
In a nod to Nagoya’s industrial heritage, Mitsubushi Heavy Industries’ new MRJ Museum opened its doors in November. The space is devoted to the MRJ, Japan’s first passenger jet, which the company is currently developing. Its location is a sprawling hangar on the company’s aerospace premises, offering a rare insight into its manufacturing base.
THE THEME PARK: Legoland
Nagoya is home to Japan’s first Legoland theme park, which opened last April. Don’t miss Miniland, created from 10 million plastic Lego blocks, with highlights including mini versions of Tokyo Tower, Kyoto’s Kiyomizudera temple and Nagoya Castle.
THE LANDMARK: Nagoya Castle
Nagoya’s castle is one of the city’s most iconic landmarks. Completed in 1612 (although rebuilt almost entirely after the Second World War), Nagoya Castle has plenty more than just a historical atmosphere: a ninja training school opened a few years ago, and every weekend the castle hosts a ninja show. Spot the castle’s golden kinshachi (mythical tiger-headed carp) from the 14th century, which symbolised the feudal lord’s authority.
● Arriving at Chubu Centrair International Airport, it’s fewer than 30 minutes by train on the Meitetsu Kuko line to Nagoya. A taxi ride into town is pricey: generally more than ¥13,000.
● Nagoya is well connected with the rest of Japan: the fastest bullet train to Kyoto takes just over half an hour, while Tokyo can be reached in 100 minutes.
● A visit to Nagoya Castle should be high on the list: those interested in meeting a local (and learning a bit about the castle) should join a free English-speaking tour offered by the Aichi Goodwill Guides Network. nagoyajo.city.nagoya.jp
● Nagoya is easy to navigate, with a network of six subway lines. The Meijo line forms a loop, making it easy to access a number of key attractions. A one-day subway pass is good value for exploring. kotsu.city.nagoya.jp/en/pc
Cathay Pacific flies to Nagoya from Hong Kong and Taipei 21 times a week