Going Back to Japan of 400 Years Ago? Travel Through Time in Aichi!
Located roughly in the center of the Japanese archipelago, Aichi Prefecture is an attractive area filled with globally recognized industries, culture, and unique delicious food, centering on Nagoya City, one of the biggest cities in Japan following Tokyo and Osaka. In particular, Aichi is known as an area that has prospered as a center stage of Japan’s history since the Sengoku period (the 15th – 16th century), and this area still retains old townscapes and many traditional things.
For your trip, it is recommended to be based in Nagoya, where the Shinkansen stops and Chubu Centrair International Airport is located.
Gorgeous Majesty of the Tokugawa Family
Completed in the early 17th century, Nagoya Castle has long been a symbol of Nagoya City. This castle served as a thriving residence of the Owari branch of the Tokugawa clan, which was the seniormost house of the “Gosanke” (the three houses of the Tokugawa), during the time under the Tokugawa shogunate that ruled Japan from 1603 for more than 260 years (the Edo period). Two golden shachi (an animal with the head of a tiger and the body of a carp) statues shine at the top of the main castle tower.
In June 2018, the restoration work of the Honmaru building was completed; this building was the government office and the primary residence of the Owari Tokugawa lords, and also where shogunate generals visiting from the central government in Edo stayed. With its gorgeous interior, the building is based on a modern art style different from other castle buildings, showing off the power and wealth of the Tokugawa clan.
To fully enjoy the atmosphere of the castle, don’t miss the live performance by “Nagoya Omotenashi Bushotai.” They are at the Nagoya Castle every day to entertain visitors.
To feel the bustling atmosphere of the castle town and enjoy delicious Nagoya food, visit Kinshachi Yokocho Street.
Cute Ninja Ice Cream!
Tokugawa Art Museum
If you are interested in learning about the life and culture of the Tokugawa clan, please visit the Tokugawa Art Museum. This museum has a collection of some 10,000 art works owned by the Owari Tokugawa clan, including nine national treasures and personal belongings of the first shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu. These art works are displayed in a replica of a part of the Ninomaru building, making it easier for visitors to grasp the overall atmosphere and aesthetics of that time.
Picturesque Autumn Scenery
If you are planning to visit Aichi in autumn, go to Korankei Valley in the Asuke area, Toyota City. In November, about 4,000 Japanese maple trees turn color at the same time. With many merchants’ houses from the 18th – 19th century, the Asuke area, which is designated a preservation district for groups of historic buildings, is a great place not only to visit for the autumn foliage but also to stroll around.
Toyota City has another must-see autumn view, “shiki-zakura” in the Obara area. Regular cherry blossoms bloom once a year around late March to early April, but this shiki-zakura blooms from November to early December in addition to spring. The striking contrast created by cherry blossoms and autumn foliage can be seen only in this area. During the season of autumn foliage and shiki-zakura, there is a bus service connecting the Asuke and Obara areas.
Beauty of Pottery in Seto CityAichi Prefecture, which is widely known as a place where the headquarters of the worldwide automobile manufacture TOYOTA is located, is not only a big producer of automobiles but also a place of monozukuri, and in particular a major producer of top-grade pottery. Among other kinds of pottery, the products from Seto City are high quality and have spread and are popular all over Japan. As a result, pottery in general came to be called “seto-mono.” With high-quality potter’s clay, Seto City began pottery production more than 1,000 years ago and there are still many kilns and pottery studios that inherit and keep alive traditional techniques.
Seto City is unique in terms of being a major producer of both pottery and porcelain, which have allowed various techniques to be developed. Recently, some young ceramic artists have begun to modify traditional techniques to modernize them. One of them, Tomoro Mizuno, whose father passed down to him the traditional “nerikomi technique,” uses it to create unique new works, attracting lots of attention both from inside and outside Japan.
In addition, the city has many places where you can see and feel the attraction of pottery and porcelain, including Seto-Gura Museum showing various aspects of Seto pottery and porcelain, pottery studios that offer hands-on sessions of making pottery and painting it, and kama-gaki walls made with waste kiln materials creating beautiful geometric patterns.
The city is also a big producer of maneki-neko, or beckoning cat figurines. Maneki-Neko Museum has a collection of about five thousand such figurines.
At Inuyama, Immerse Yourself in History
Inuyama castle town
Located about 30 minutes away by train from Nagoya City, Inuyama castle town is a town with more than 400 years of history. Inuyama Castle, one of the castles designated National Treasures, was established in 1537 and has Japan’s oldest existing castle tower. It may be fun to observe the castle in comparison with Nagoya Castle and other castles.
At the base of Inuyama Castle, Sanko Inari Shrine is located. This historical shrine has been watching over the town as the home of the guardian god of the lord of Inuyama Castle. This shrine offers heart-shaped wooden votive plaques! They are said to bring advantage in romance.
The castle town also has many remains from the 17th -20th century. A rental kimono service is available in the town, so you can stroll in the quaint town wearing kimono. Strolling around the town, you can find some delicious foods that can be eaten even while walking.
Later in historical time, the Museum Meiji-Mura offers an atmosphere of early modern Japan. This is an outdoor museum with the theme of the Meiji period (the late 19th century – early 20th century) and has in its huge premises more than 60 buildings moved from their original places. With various buildings, including schools, churches, and houses of prominent historical figures, including famous novelist Natsume Soseki, as well as a prison, you can walk around and learn about the Japan of those times. “Haikara Ishokan” offers a rental service of unique Meiji-style clothes, including Western-style dresses and hakama for students as well as a service that allows you to walk around the facility wearing a rental costume*. You can take “time slip” photos of yourself against the backdrop of beautiful early modern architecture of Japan. *First come first serve basis (20 people)
Aichi’s Delicious, Traditional FoodOne type of Aichi’s typical delicious food, called “Nagoya-meshi,” are dishes with miso, such as miso-katsu (cutlet), miso-nikomi udon, and miso-oden. Okazaki City is a big miso producer, which is said to be at the root of Aichi people’s love for miso.
“Tsukete-miso-Kakete-miso” is a tube of miso available at souvenir shops and supermarkets. It is highly recommended because you yourself can recreate “Nagoya-meshi” with little fuss.
Another typical “Nagoya-meshi” is spicy tebasaki chicken wings. This tebasaki dish is said to have been born more than 60 years ago when some Japanese izakaya pub used chicken wings instead of broiler chicken in the original recipe because the latter was not available, and the dish became popular. If you can eat tebasaki cleanly by removing the bones nicely, you are a connoisseur of Nagoya-meshi!
There are also many other dishes unique to this area that is located between Edo (Tokyo) and Kyoto/Osaka and that has for centuries been actively incorporating cultures from both eastern and western Japan, as well as from overseas.
If you make a little side trip outside Nagoya, you can find other unique delicious dishes. Seto City has “Seto yakisoba,” which uses soy sauce instead of commonly used Worcester sauce. The yakisoba noodles are not greasy but infused with good umami from pork.
The local specialty of the area around Toyota City is gohei-mochi, a handy snack made with rice paste attached to a wooden stick, grilled on charcoal fire, and coated with miso paste. Gohei-mochi has different shapes and tastes in different places in the area. Try various ones and see which one is your favorite.
Good NewsAichi Prefecture has decided to create “Ghibli Park” at the Expo 2005 Aichi Commemorative Park in Nagakute City. The entire park will be transformed into a park with abundant nature where visitors will be able to experience the world view of Studio Ghibli works, such as “My Neighbor Totoro” and “Princess Mononoke.” (Ghibli Park is scheduled to open by March 2023.)
*The information herein is as of August 2018.