Published: November 3rd 2011November 2nd 2011
The train from Osaka to Nagoya only took a little over an hour, but this time I expected the short commute. Nagoya station, where I arrived, reminded me in many ways of Osaka station, and may have been even bigger. It took a few minutes to walk outside of the station where I was greeted by a pair of twin towers and a twist tower. My time was running out in Japan, but I still wanted to explore Nagoya at least a little to get a feel for the city. I had also been in contact with a friend of a friend, Ben, who lived in Yokohama, a city just outside of Tokyo. Ben graciously offered me a place to stay and to show me around Yokohama. That meant I could spend one full day in Nagoya and one full day in Yokohama before flying back home.
For my one night in Nagoya, I found a cheap room at the Washington Hotel Plaza. However, when I arrived the staff had some trouble finding my reservation. Even though I had prepaid 10% of the room cost, I was willing to rent another room on the spot just to get settled somewhere,
Nagoya Castle Tower
but after a while they finally found my reservation. The room was labeled “Standard Twin Suite”, so I knew it would be small. Sure enough, it was about as compact as could be. From the door a narrow hallway led past a closet and bathroom before opening up into the main room, which was a little less than twice the width of the bed and exactly as long. The bathroom was proportionally just as small as the bedroom, complete with an authentic Japanese toilet. The next day I would have to check out at 10 am, tour Nagoya, and board a bus for Yokohama at midnight, so I spend the rest of that night relaxing and getting work done.
The hotel did not offer free coffee, but had plenty of vending machines with coffee, so I guess it was time to get that experience. The vending machines offered soft drinks, coffee, beer, and some small snacks in can-shaped paperboard containers. It was common to see beer offered in vending machines just about everywhere. Two of the coffee choices were labeled cold while about 10 were labeled hot. The coffee with milk was only offered hot, and it definitely came
(Cloudy) view from the top of Nagoya Castle Tower.
out hot. I carried the can of coffee back to my hotel room wrapped up in the tail of my shirt because it was too hot for my hands. The double-walled can would have allowed the outside to cool while keeping the contents warm, but there was a mug in my room that I used instead.
After packing back up the next morning, I checked out and headed toward Nagoya station to begin my exploration. I found the bus stop where I would meet that night, and stowed the bulk of my baggage in a nearby coin locker. My first stop was to the north at Nagoya Castle. Nagoya Castle was the original city grounds and was surrounded by… you guessed it, a wall and a moat. I entered the castle grounds through a large gate and wandered to the far corner where a lookout tower sat. An old man greeted me at the entrance to the tower, and asked me to remove my shoes before entering. Once I took off my shoes and put them into my backpack, I was handed a pair of slippers that were very much not one-size-fits-all. With my toes jammed and my heel
hanging out the back, walking up the steep staircases was a bit challenging. This tower was built with gutters that went straight outward off of the roof so that they could also be used to pour hot tar onto aggressors below. Though the windows were open to give visitors a good view outside, and they were originally covered with wooden lattice for extra protection of gunners within the tower.
From the guard tower, I moved onto the main tower, where the ruler lived, and which now housed a history museum. The main tower was built on a higher mount then the rest of the castle grounds, and was only reachable through another guard tower just west of it. I walked through the guard tower to the second floor where a walkway led up another flight to the first level of the main tower. So far, Nagoya Castle had reminded me a lot of Osaka Castle, and the museum was no exception. Folding screens depicted battles and other scenes from the era of the castle’s construction. Models of the castle grounds were on display in glass cases as well. At the top was a 360 view of Nagoya Castle and
the surrounding city. Most of the rest of the castle grounds were barren gardens which would have been beautiful in the spring during the blooming season. A statue depicted a general on top of a rock in the form he was famous for, which was standing on top of rocks as the slaves towed them toward the castle ground to form the walls. One such stone was so much bigger than the rest that it had a sign dedicated to it.
From Nagoya Castle I headed toward the northern point of Central Park. This park ran along the center of a major boulevard for probably 2-3 miles. Statues toward the northern end looked like they were moved here from Native American tribes, rather than from Japanese history. This was confirmed as I came to a giant stone Aztec Calendar. Near the calendar was a bridge leading over a cross-street. As I crossed the bridge I looked down to find starred tiles, as in Hollywood stars like outside Grauman’s Theater. They even had American celebrity names like Olivia Newton-John. Further down, and about in the center of the park, stood the TV tower. This looked like a standard TV tower
built in the 50’s, including an elevator that went to the top. Though I didn’t go to the very top, I went far enough up to see an oval terrace covering an underground mall. The mall wasn’t that interesting, but its cover made for interesting scenery from the surface.
As I continued past this mall I heard the faint sound of live music being played in the distance. Following the sound I came upon a band of two guitarists, a drummer, and a singer playing a set for a small gathering of passersby. One audience member, an old man, was dancing with no shame. I listened to the rest of the song, then continued on my path only to overhear and find another live band playing just a bit further down. Now it wasn’t raining hard, but the sprinkling was constant, and I found it peculiar that neither of these bands were covered or worried about it. By this time I still had a few hours until my bus came, but my legs were tired and nothing else in Nagoya seemed to promise a new experience. Like I said, the city reminded me very much of Osaka, so I
was trying to find things that were different than what was in Osaka. I would have loved to have taken a tour of the Toyota plant, which was only an hour away by public transit, but it was closed on weekends.
As I wandered around the station in search of internet, an old annoyance began aggravating me. A lot of restaurants and coffee shops will advertise free WiFi, and I could see unsecured access points on my phone, but upon connecting none of them would allow internet access without a login from one of the Japanese cellular companies. I don’t understand exactly how this is free, but a lot of places seem to do it. Eventually, I was able to pick up internet access off of an open access point, where I kept myself occupied until it was time to catch my bus.
This bus was much more accommodating for sleeping than probably any other bus I’ve ridden. The seats leaned back and a leg rest arose from under the seat. A hood folded down from above the seat around my head to block out the light while sleeping. At first I thought it was too short as
The Landmark Tower is the tall one.
the top of my head pressed against the wires holding the shape of the hood. However, as I leaned the seat back the hood became much less burdensome. Not only were all the windows blocked by thick shades, an equally thick curtain hung in front of the first row of passengers, blocking out the windshield. I slept a good half of the way there, which was a lot more than usual, and arrived at 6 am near the Yokohama station. From there I took the subway a couple stops down to the Sagicha station, where I had planned to meet Ben.
Ben had me picked out before I even started looking for him, and led me back to his apartment. It was a typical Japanese one-bedroom, which is much smaller than American counterparts. Upon entering, I removed my shoes and stowed them in the shoe locker at the entrance. The “living room” was little more than a hallway between the bedroom and the bathroom with a kitchen area at the head. The shower was actually spacious compared to my shower at home, complete with a standing area and a tub area. I would have thought I was just supposed
to stand in the tub to shower, but the shower head was not over the tub making that a difficult option. Ben explained that the hot water had to be turned on prior to showering, and should be turned off after, but there was no waiting time for the water to heat up. The water-heater was a tankless system, which was how most of the apartments that he knew of were set up.
The bedroom was the largest room, at about 3 times the size of his bed, with a desk at the opposite end, and a balcony opposite the “living room”. The balcony was small as well, but had enough room for a few people, and a had a great view of the port area of Yokohama, where most of the skyscrapers were. These included the Landmark Tower, the tallest building in Japan. Since it was still very early, we both crashed for a couple more hours of sleep before starting the day.
After lunch, a bunch of Ben’s friends and some other guests came over for midday Halloween party. About 15 people in total showed up, which made the apartment a little crowded, but the wide-open balcony door kept things cool. Many of the people were Americans from the same program as Ben. A few Japanese girls came too, but only one of them spoke English with confidence. This wasn’t a problem for anyone else as the Americans all spoke at least conversational level Japanese. I enjoyed talking to these guys about life in Japan, and they were curious about my take from my first experience in Japan. At one point, I was asked what the weirdest Japanese thing I thought was. I didn’t have an answer at the time, but I think I do now. The weirdest thing I thought was the strict adherence to pedestrian traffic signals. I only met a few people that would just cross the street when it was clear.
After the party, the group minus the Japanese girls moved onto to the Curry House for a meal before a night out in the port area. Any order at the Curry House could be made spicy on a scale of 1-10, which surprised me as I had previously only seen that in Thai restaurants. I assumed I was being conservative in ordered a level 3, but it was actually quite decently spicy. The price of the dish increased with the level of spiciness, but only to level 5, where the price was constant through level 10, which suggested a bit of curvature to the scale. After the meal, we continued to the TGI Friday’s for happy hour. Here I was finally able to order a locally brewed dark beer, and it was much better than the dry, malty beers I had had everywhere else. From there we went further downtown to an Izakaya, a traditional Japanese place for drinking and snack food. Here was where going out with Japanese speakers really came in handy. They were all reading the signs and talking with the staff in search of the best deal.
Once we found a good deal… ok once they found a good deal, we took an elevator up to the fifth floor, where the Izakaya was. As we approached the table, we took off our shoes and left them in individual lockers complete with removable keys. I could just barely jam my size 13s into the locker enough to turn the key, though I was quite sure no one else within a 5-mile radius would want or even have a use for my shoes, present company excluded. We sat around a table with a touch-screen ordering system at the far end. We talked more about Japan, and eventually about everything else it seemed, including some very American topics like TV shows and movies which was refreshing. I had a great sleep that night, and woke up the next morning to say my final goodbye’s to Japan. Ben walked with me to the subway station and relieved me of the duty of having to figure everything out myself, quite easily I might add. I thanked him for everything, and he wished me a good flight as we parted ways. After over two hours on subways and trains, I arrived at Narita. Before boarding, I still had plenty of yen that I needed to burn, and picked up a nice bottle of Saki from the duty-free store.
Traveling in Japan was a bit more challenging than I had imagined from my tour through Europe. There are plenty of English signs, but not as many English speakers. The public transit system is exceptional, and Ben said that late trains will make the news while many earthquakes will not. The living spaces were small, but pretty convenient. Most apartments have washers in every unit, though clothes are hung outside to dry in most cases. I never had a problem with hot water, and now I attribute that to the tankless heaters. I came here this visit to see if I could see myself living in Japan. I love the urban environments that the cities offer, complete with every modern convenience, and public transit that you can count on to take you there. I’ve only heard about the skiing, but I’ve seen the mountains. When put to the test, I could survive. I think I would do just fine living in Japan.