Monday, July 16, 2012

Trip to Japan (Part 1) – Nagoya City



When I was a kid, my impression of Japan was “the Kingdom of Cartoons” since I watched many Japanese cartoons in my childhood such as 機靈小和尚/一休小和尚 (Ikkyū-san), 叮噹 (Doraemon), 忍者小靈精 (Ninja Hattori), IQ博士 (Dr. Slump), 黃金戰士 (Golden Warrior Gold Lightan), 足球小將 (Captain Tsubasa), 我係小忌廉 (Creamy Mami), Q太郎 (Q-tarō), 外星小美兒 (Little Memole), 黃毛仔 (Jungle Kurobe), 六神合體 (Six God Combination God Mars), 甜甜小公主(Anmitsu Hime) … the stories of its cartoons were very broad, including ordinary stories like Buddhist monk, ninja, soccer players and creative or imaginative stories like robotic cat from the future, a giant golden robot transformed from a gold lighter, a little girl transformed into a beautiful teenager with a magical wand and a very tiny girl from another planet.

Today’s Japan, in my mind, is still an advanced country with unique culture and innovative products. I know a few people were extremely fascinated by its land and culture so I was very curious to find out the attractive elements of this island country since I had never been to Japan before.

I had decided to visit central Japan with Nagoya 名古屋 as my first destination. Nagoya is located in Aichi Prefecture 愛知縣, west of Tokyo and east of Osaka. It is the largest city in central Japan (Chubu region) and the 4th largest city in the country by population after Tokyo, Yokohama and Osaka.

I bought my air ticket in mid-February. A week later, I was quite upset with mayor of Nagoya since he said to a Chinese official: “there regrettably were conventional battles in Nanjing, but there was no massacre” WHAT! Did it mean he thinks the killing of 300,000 people in Nanjing with the murders, rapes, loots done by the Japanese army in 1937 should not be considered serious crimes? Based on his concept, killing and no killing are the same … dead and alive are the same … heaven and hell are the same. Anyways, I would still travel to Nagoya since the air ticket with accommodation worth $1900 CAD was not refundable!

On April 26, I flew to Narita International Airport 成田國際機場 first and connected to a domestic fight to Chubu Centrair International Airport 中部國際機場. On the plane to Narita, I was sitting by window. In front of my seat were two Caucasians and the one beside me was also Caucasian. During meal time, a flight attendant showed pictures of beef and chicken to the Caucasians. Let’s see which one to point when she shows the pictures to me …ローメ#%丫??? She thought I could understand Japanese … sorry I don’t, I need pictures.

I finally arrived at Chubu Centrair International Airport after more than 11 hours of flight, somehow I was not feeling well. Uh oh! Probably due to the long-time trap on the plane (I should have picked the aisle seat) and the rush time for flight connection (I only had less than one and a half hour).

My friend picked me up after 6:30 pm on April 27 (Japan is 16 hours ahead of Vancouver) and we had dinner in Suzumani 鈴波 at the airport.


These were our orders from Suzumani, the restaurant is famous in grilled and marinated fish. As for dinner, I think the price was reasonable ¥ 1000 – 1800 (about CAD 12 – CAD 22) per set with no tip required. The combo included rice, tofu, sashimi, grilled fish and pickles 漬物. A small glass of alcohol (around 25 ml, maybe sake?) was provided for each of us. I asked my friend the difference between 定食 and 御膳 on the menu. He explained that 定食 means set menu while 御膳 means a deluxe combo. Okay, that made sense since 御膳 in Chinese means imperial meal, meal served in the royal family.

Next morning we took Meguru bus to Noritake Garden and Nagoya Castle. Meguru bus is a Nagoya sightseeing route bus departing from Nagoya Station. Single ride was ¥ 200 while one day pass was ¥ 500, so each of us bought a one day pass which was about CAD 7.50. The first stop was Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology which my friend told me Toyota was a textile machinery company before it became Toyota Motor Corporation. We got off at the second stop, Noritake Garden.

















Admission to Noritake Garden ノリタケの森 was free except its craft centre which costs ¥ 500 per person. Since we purchased Meguru one day pass, we only needed to pay discounted price ¥ 450 each. When I entered into the garden, I felt it’s more like a park. We saw this pond with a sign “Biotope” … a place whose natural environment has been recovered, enabling plants, insects, fish, birds and other animals to coexist. It is designed to propose a way for humankind to live in harmony with nature. Human beings have always produced pottery out of soil taken from the natural environment. Noritake hopes to treasure earth, soil and nature, so that it can always be with them and make ceramics.


I believe these are the old chimneys covered by leaves. The carp steamers are called koinobori 鯉幟 and are used to celebrate Tango no Sekku 端午の節句, also known as Boy’s day on May 5 which the date was approaching at that time. I found this quite interesting since 端午節 on May 5 of lunar calendar was originated from China. I think it was introduced into Japan and when the country decided to“leave Asia, join Europe” 脫亞入歐 in late 19th century, they changed the date of 端午節 from May 5 of lunar calendar to May 5 of western calendar and changed the meaning of 端午節 to the celebration of boy’s or son’s happiness.

Noritake is a leading company in the Japanese ceramics industry. When I visited its craft centre, I could see the staff working seriously and delicately on the porcelains. The final procedure was quality check in which not only by seeing but also by hearing the sound.


Noritake garden is a very nice and relaxing place for everybody to visit. There was a group of kids learning English from their Caucasian teacher on the meadow. They were learning vocabulary “crocodile” and the teacher hid some eggs along the bushes for the kids to discover. Some families had picnics in the park with kids playing around. We had lunch on the patio of Square Cafe there. Since my stomach wasn’t feeling good, I only ordered light sandwiches with tea. The cafe had peach ice cream which I’d like to try if my stomach had been better. In front of the cafe was a long table with blank koinobori which all the kids were welcome to draw anything on it.




























After lunch we were heading to Nagoya Castle by Meguru bus. Again we had discount for the admission, original was ¥ 500 each, now ¥ 400 each. The construction of Nagoya Castle 名古屋城 was completed in 1612 by the order of Tokugawa Ieyasu 徳川家康. Tokugawa was a significant Japanese warrior who founded the Tokugawa dynasty of shoguns 德川時代 (or called Edo period 江戸時代) in Japan. The main gate and the donjon were destroyed in WWII then restored in 1959, the Hommaru Palace was also destroyed in WWII and still not yet being reconstructed.

Since Nagoya Castle is a symbol of the city, I think it was one of the must see attractions. Too bad I just missed the cherry blossoms by about two weeks otherwise it must be very beautiful. I only saw one or two cherry blossom trees around the castle by the time I got there. What are the golden figures on the roof of the main donjon? They are kinshachi or golden dolphins 金鯱 as symbol of the lord’s authority.


We went to the top floor of Nagoya castle where we found lots of tourists, both domestic and international. Here’s one of the views of downtown Nagoya from the top. Full of buildings, higher density compared to Vancouver and lower density compared to Hong Kong.


Model of Ancient Nagoya Castle and City – density was much lower back to 400 years ago and homes were much bigger.


Drawing of people’s lives in the city of ancient Nagoya, seems very prosperous.




I can only read some words on this poster as kanji 漢字 are basically the same as Chinese characters. To the best of my guess, the design of  本丸御殿/上洛殿 (Hommaru Palace?) maybe adapted from Chinese feature of Imperial Palace.





















Actually I’m not 100% sure if the palace design was made according to the draft of Chinese palace. But I can tell Chinese culture had a great influence in Japan during ancient time from the  wall paintings. These are some of the Hommaru Palace sliding screens displayed in the donjon. Their styles and use of colour are very similar to Chinese art.


After getting out from the donjon, I was thirsty and I needed hot drink since my stomach wasn’t well. My friend tried to find one for me from the vending machine. There were lots of vending machines with many kinds of beverages in train stations, on streets, in hotels and tourist attractions, but they were all selling cold drinks since it was hot there (around 20 °C). Finally we found one with hot beverages, the only one in Nagoya Castle. My friend told me that there are many vending machines with hot beverages in winter.

I wanted to take Meguru to the Japanese garden Tokugawaen but it was late afternoon already so we took Meguru back to Nagoya station. That was the first day of my Japan trip which was very nice and enjoyable.

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