Wednesday, October 23, 2013

KR&JP 2013 Travelogue Day 13: Swords, castle, cats and cafes in Nagoya

I clearly remember when I first heard of Nagoya: an episode of the anime Love Hina, in which three lead characters kept getting lost while traveling through Japan.

Coming here was no accident for me, though; Nagoya is conveniently located between Keihanshin and Greater Tokyo, making it a convenient stop on the Shinkansen Central rail line between the two. It's also one of Japan's biggest cities and has quite an illustrious history.

I parked at the lovely Hotel "B" in the downtown area near Sakae for two nights, between which I had one full day to absorb as much as possible. Nearby sights included the 42m-tall Sky Boat ferris wheel (left), the TV tower (right), and an underground shopping center (center bottom). Nagoya, like many other cities in Japan, also has its own branded manhole covers, most intriguing to me of which were the happy water strider ones (centre top).

My first destination was Atsuta Jingu, a Shinto shrine complex located a few kilometres south of the city centre. It's a relatively less garish shrine, with simple wood or stone torii (left top). Yet, it is beautiful in said simplicity, covered with the lush forestation (right) and large gravel paths and yards (left bottom) that are kept free of autumnal debris by armies of attendants with their sieves and rakes.

The shrine complex buildings are constructed of plain dark wood in the older style of Shinto architecture, seen in its straight roofs topped with katsuogi logs and chigi crossing at the ends, all tipped, studded or otherwise decorated with gold (top). The shrine sees many tourists, as well as numerous devotees (bottom).

One of the reasons for the popularity of Atsuta Jingu is its status as the repository of Kusanagi no Tsurugi, a legendary sword of divine origin. This sword is also one of the three items comprising the imperial regalia of Japan; naturally, then, this shrine is top-ranked.

Housing the sword also links the shrine to the story of the legendary-era prince Yamato Takeru (depicted left), who borrowed the sword from his aunt at Ise Shrine (another top-ranked shrine housing imperial regalia) when his father, Emperor Keiko, sent him on a dangerous mission.

After his adventures with the sword, he passed away and the sword, it is said, came to be housed here. The shrine is thus dedicated to him, along with deities and other figures associated with Kusanagi no Tsurugi, such as storm god Susanoo and sun goddess Amaterasu.

Appropriately, the shrine complex also features a modest sword museum. Displayed therein are numerous intriguing sharp-edged treasures, such as a sword decorated with crests of both Toyotomi and Tokugawa, a daikatana in a scabbard decorated with both Toyotomi and imperial crests, and a very over-sized katana (right). Kusanagi no Tsurugi, as with the other imperial regalia, was not available for public viewing.

I walked a couple of blocks northwest to visit a neighboring site, the Danpusan Kofun. While it's not the largest keyhole kofun, and although it is, like most large kofun, grown over, it simultaneously has enough girth to impress, while being small enough to walk around and make out its shape -- visitors are allowed fairly close to the perimeter. According to legend, it also has a link to Atsuta Shrine: it is said to be the tomb of Yamato Takeru's wife, Princess Miyazu.

Next up, I took a train back to the city centre for the city's architectural and historical icon: Nagoya Castle. This castle, in its earliest incarnation, dates back to just before the early Sengoku period, and was initially an Oda stronghold. When the Tokugawa shogunate was established, it became the primary residence of the Owari branch of the ruling clan. The castle dominated the old city (top), with a wide moat (centre) protecting the fortified residence within. Today, the state maintains the premises, including the lovely gardens (bottom left), and the remains of old structures that have yet to be restored (bottom right).

One thing that is likely to catch a visitor's eye on entering the site is the Omotenashi Busho-Tai (top), a troupe of actors who promote local tourism by suiting up and playing snazzed-up versions of characters associated with Nagoya. These include the Sengoku three -- Oda Nobunaga (said to have been born at the castle itself), Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu (bottom left) -- along with three other famous lords and a few foot soldiers (bottom left), all in colorfully dramatized costumes and armor. Notably missing is the first ruling shogun, Minamoto no Yoritomo, who was also born in Nagoya; I hope they add him to the troupe some day. At a kiosk within the castle grounds, some of their merchandise (bottom right) is also available.

Architecturally-skilled samurai general Kato Kiyomasa (also represented among the Busho-Tai) was in charge of much of the critical construction, including that of the foundation block of the main keep. A statue of him (left) presumably directing construction activity stands on a rock within the castle grounds.

Around the grounds are numerous ancient trees, some so old they require support. (top right). A golden fish/dolphin/orca creature (kinshachi), like those that bite down on the ends of the highest roof of the main keep, sits in a display area nearby (top centre), so that visitors can get a closer look.

A large shelter has been set up near the main keep to house the reconstruction of the Honmaru castle palace, and the onsite reconstruction activity workshops are partially open for public viewing (bottom right). Here, one can see dedicated craftspeople cut wood to precision and piece them together into building components consistent with the original construction techniques.

The castle's two keeps -- a main keep of five levels (bottom) and an entrance keep of two levels (top left) -- are connected by a bridge, and both sit atop foundation blocks that are built slightly concave for added stability. Many stones used in the castle's construction can be seen marked with symbols (top centre), which were required to track the various lords' contributions to the construction. Like Osaka Castle, the roofs here are tiled with patina-green copper, although they are more curved than those at Osaka. The Fumei Gate (top right) opens into the inner compound.

(clockwide from top left) Dolls; Scale model of the old city; Honmaru wall painting; box with Tokugawa crests; stirrups with mother-of-pearl inlay; samurai armor

Within the main keep is a multi-storey museum, in which various samurai-age artifacts, models and reconstructions are exhibited, along with information about the construction and features of castle itself. A smaller museum outside exhibits examples of doll-making craftsmanship (top left).

From the viewing deck on the seventh floor, beautiful views of the city can be had over the penultimate roof.

Part of the reconstructed Honmaru is open to visitors (top left and bottom right). It's the only palace interior on my trip in which photography was permitted, so I was able to capture these gorgeous shots of the gold leaf paintings (top right, top centre, bottom centre, bottom left) that decorated the walls within. The non-uniform lighting made the vivid paintings of animals (mostly feline or avian) and plants against gold leaf backgrounds all the more striking.

My final historical site of the day was Ozone Shimoyashiki, the other residence of the Owari Tokugawa. Past the complex's black gate (top right) and off to the left is Tokugawaen, the Tokugawa Garden. It's a typical samurai lord's grand garden, replete with quaint paths, bridges (bottom left) and pavilions (bottom right) amid gorgeous landscaping.

Water features center on the huge lake, with its bridges (bottom right), its causeway (top right) -- supposed to have been inspired by the Su Causeway across Hangzhou's West Lake, incidentally -- and abundant colorful koi (bottom centre). Streams run through the garden, occasionally dropping levels in small waterfalls (top centre). After taking in this verdant treasure, I visited the nearby Tokugawa art museum (left) to check out its large collection of artifacts and artworks from the shogunate.

With historical stuff out of the way, it was time for some alt (well, alt to the rest of the world) nightlife on the streets of Sakae (left and bottom right) and Osu, including the famous Akamon Street (top right).

First up, a feline indulgence at Cat St. in Sakae. This establishment is one of Nagoya's well-known spots in the neko cafe business, in which people pay to spend time with cats -- useful when you love cats, but can't keep one due to time or space constraints. The cafe is a large hall up the stairs from the entrance (top left), with an attached kitchenette and washroom.

You get a capped coffee mug when you enter; while you're there, coffee and some other soft beverages are self-serve and free (in Japan, the word "service" means "complimentary", apparently). And there are, of course, plenty of cat toys, cat trees, cat tunnels. catwalk wall shelves, and the like (top right). The atmosphere is inviting and calm (bottom left); the unwritten rule -- assuming it's not written on the kawaii illustrated rule poster (bottom right) -- seems to be to not chat up fellow patrons, and focus all of one's attention on ...

... kittehz! I spent two sessions (30 minutes each) playing with the dozen or so furry residents of various ages, breeds and coats. The cats take the attention sportingly, probably having gotten used to it over the months or years.

I then visited two theme cafes in the Osu area, the first of which was Mai Leaf, a maid cafe (top). Here, the waitresses dress up in Victorian-style maid costumes, while doing their jobs with quaintly antiquated mannerisms, in a setting with ambiance and decor to match. The "maids" were friendly and very welcoming  to their solitary foreign customer that evening, despite seemingly not speaking any English apart from a very enthusiastic "OKKKKAYYYY!!". Quite an experience.

The other was Carnival☆Stars, an idol cafe (bottom). This place is staffed by young ladies who, as per the business model of this sector, work in Japanese popular entertainment. A little more communication was possible here, since my server knew a smattering of English; thanks to her and the TV screens all around, I came to be acquainted with more updated information on the Japanese idol scene, including the likes of BABYMETAL and Shoko Nakagawa. The staff were also dressed up as cutesy horror characters; Halloween, which was more than a week away, is huge in Japan, and this kind of makes sense if you consider that they have a big thing going with cosplay here.

On to F&B. Ticking this one off my list, I grabbed a cup at Doutor (top left), a mainstay of Japan's coffee culture. And while it's technically a Hawaiian-Japanese food, I finally got my first taste of the very blasphemous SPAM musubi (top right). At the idol cafe, I tried a few bar snacks, such as edamame (bottom left) and katsu sticks (bottom right).

For my more substantial meals, I had a meat floss and vegetable bowl the previous night (top left), and a pretty substantial bento the next morning (bottom right) on the Shinkansen ride out. The day's lunch was tempura shrimp with rice and soup, at the Nagoya Castle restaurant (top right); I'm guessing that this dish is intended to allude to the castle's kinshachi. And for dinner, I wolfed down a very hearty donburi, a bowl of rice topped with minced/flossed fish or meats with vegetables, at the Honmaru restaurant in Sakae (bottom left). Quite yummy, and I had by now gotten used to the idea of dropping raw eggs on food.

(top left) It's actually pronounced "O-zo-ne".
(top right) I guess this fish has something to do with Nagoya?
(bottom left) Smoking is prohibited even on pedestrian paths in some places, lest one run into a back-waft; I guess it must be limited to alleys or smoking rooms.
(bottom right) Give up your seats for the elderly, the pregnant, the child-holding, the disabled, and the ... lovesick? Just kidding, I know what it means.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Sohan,

    Actually, the Shachi is the symbol of Nagoya :

    Thank you for sharing with us your trip ! I like it :)