Japan: Nagoya, Regional Differences

Posted on Sunday, March 6th, 2011 at 10:04 pm.

On Wednesday, Dec. 22nd, I had arranged to meet up with a medical school friend, Masaru.  His hometown in Japan is Nagoya, which is located about an hour by Shinkansen from Tokyo.  Although he also was acting as my translator during my trip, it was interesting to see another friend from home on my trip, as well as another narrative on various places I visited.

My jet lag was resolving at this point, with me waking up at 8 am, still earlier than most of the people in my hostel room.  I was able to check some train schedules using an Android app I had found online.  I was packed and checked out of the hostel by 10, and Dan came with me to Tokyo station to help me with my ticket reservation and to see that I made it to the right platform.  It did help that he had a JR Pass and could freely pass through the gates without having to pay anything.

My Shinkansen ticket and Tokyo Bananas

After getting my ticket, we shopped around for some omiyage, which translates to ‘souvenir;’  an Asian custom is to bring a souvenir whenever you see someone who hosts you or you haven’t seen in some time, typically something from where you most recently had been.  Dan was getting something that he could hand out to the workers at his former Japanese law firm that he worked with last summer, while I was getting something for Masaru’s family for hosting me for a night.  Dan and I split and I boarded the Shinkansen.

Once I arrived in Nagoya, I met up with Masaru at one of the huge clocks in the station; it made me realize what an inconvenience meeting up in a large public place must have been before cell phones.  We got an all-day pass for the subway and headed to Masaru’s apartment to drop off my stuff and after saying hello to his mom we headed out.  Our first stop was Aeon mall where we browsed the supermarket / retail areas and grabbed lunch.

Oyakodonburi with Nagoya miso soup.

The entrance to Atsuta Shrine.

Afterwards we hit the subway again and went to the Atsuta-gingiu (shrine).  At the entrance and through the shrine grounds are torii gates; I learned that whenever passing under them, you should bow towards the shrine as a sign of respect, when entering and leaving.  At the heart of the grounds is the main shrine, where only priests and priestesses can enter.  This Nagoya shrine is where one of the 3 national treasures is kept, the Kusanagi no Tsurugi, a sacred sword.  The other 2 treasures are a sacred jewel kept in Tokyo, and a sacred mirror kept in the Mie prefecture.  Apparently only the Emperor is allowed free access to all the three treasures.

Just inside the entrance of the shrine, where you wash your hands before going further.  It kind of reminded me of sterile technique in the OR.

The main shrine.

Ema that visitors write Shinto prayers on.

The next stop was Osu Kannon, where we went through some retail areas, such as the ubiquitous covered shopping areas as well as some used goods shops.  Luckily for me Masaru is a fellow gamer and knew the best places to go to for used games and other rarities which I wanted to acquire on my trip.  I personally loved the small, filled-to-the-brim nature of some of these small shops, where you could spend hours just going through collections.  I wondered if these shops knew of the internet and the possibilities of eBay; some of the older games could go for a lot more than what they were selling for, even if they were in Japanese.  We also went through a multi-level hobby shop.

This format of a semi-indoor mall with central walkway is common to all the major cities we visited.  You’ll see the same in other posts I make.

Most hobby shops and stores don’t like photography so I took this while on a stairwell.

Afterwards we went to Sakae, the main commercial district of Nagoya.  Some notable sights of the area were Oasis 21, a collection of stores and restaurants with an ‘aqua space ship,’ and Nagoya TV tower.

On top of the Aqua Space Ship, looking at Nagoya tower.

A Ghibli store at Oasis 21.

A cool parking structure we saw on the way to dinner.

Dinner was at an Izakaya; it was crowded with business men with their end of year parties (bonenkai), but luckily we were just a group of 2.  Afterwards we rounded out the Japanese day by going to a karaoke place, Jumbo Karaoke, with unlimited drinks.  Although they kind of slowed down with the drink service near the end, it was still a good time.  One of the highlights of the night was when we were searching for somewhere to eat, we were accosted by a nightclub hustler; this is common in most major Japanese cities assuming you’re in the appropriate area, but the lines they use are always good.  This one chose to go with ‘oppai ikkagadesuka?’ which roughly translates to ‘would you like some boobs?’

‘Stick’ foods done in Nagoya specialty style.

Masaru and I caught the last train out of the downtown area, which was interesting; a man fell while standing, but what made it interesting was that he decided to rest his head on Masaru’s shoulder.  While still drunk, we hit up a Chinese restaurant before heading home; what’s interesting is that most establishments close relatively early, not going past 1 am, which is mainly dictated by the subway schedules.  If we didn’t decide to go to the Chinese place, our only other options would have been to hit the 24 hour McDonalds nearby or a convenience store.

Some omelrice that Masaru got.

The sleeping accommodations at Masaru’s were traditional Japanese, with futons and comforters, which was a nice experience that I wouldn’t have been able to get during the rest of my trip.

Although I have not spent enough time in Japan to really get a full grasp on it, region specialties are a nice aspect that I encountered during the city-hopping of my trip.  Although language differences were not really something I could appreciate given my limited ability to understand it, there were plenty of other things I picked up on.  One thing is the omiyage.  At every major point of travel, such as a train station that connects to other major cities, bus terminals, airports, and major tourist spots, there are kiosks set up just for selling omiyage.  Although in this age you can really get any specialty in any city, they are conveniently placed so you can grab something before any trip.

One of the omiyage stores in Nagoya station, on one of the busiest travel days, New Years’ Eve.

One little side story that Dan gave me was that of Tokyo Bananas.  Apparently most major Japanese cities have something they can claim as their confectionery specialty (meibutsu) that you could purchase as an omiyage, but Tokyo did not have one of its own, due to its central, and relatively new nature as a Japanese city.  As a result, Tokyo Bananas were created.

Another thing is foods; again, this is something where if you really sought it out, you could find anything to some degree in a major city.  However, most people would argue that a certain food is always best done in a particular region or city.  A comparable example for anyone in the states would be NYC pizza vs Chicago deep dish, or Tennessee BBQ, Buffalo wings, etc.  One thing I tried to do during my trip was to try ramen at every major stop on the trip and try to see what differences I could notice; what I should have realized was that this is about as useful as ordering pasta at a single restaurant in 5 major cities in the US; basically impossible to form a real opinion.

One of the quirkier aspects I noticed was that while in Osaka, people walk on the other side of the sidewalks / stairs.  First of all, most of you probably know that in Japan traffic goes on the left side; this also carries over to walking, where people walk on the left side of the sidewalk.  On escalators, people stand on the left side and pass on the right.  However, in Osaka, these walking rules are reversed, even though the vehicular traffic rules are the same.  I only observed this phenomenon in Osaka; apparently a popular joke is that people in Osaka are backwards.

Next time I’ll touch on money in Japan.

3 comments to “Japan: Nagoya, Regional Differences”

  1. Comment by Kenneth:

    Nice post Kevin

  2. Comment by Natalie:

    What was your answer to “Would you like some boobs?”

  3. Comment by Kenneth:

    Will there be a money post coming soon?

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