Nagoya isn't huge compared to cities like Tokyo or Osaka (third-largest in terms of size, fourth in terms of population), but there are still very few things that it isn't equipped with. There's a crazy amount of shopping, an art museum, a science museum, an aquarium, and a performing arts hall, among other things.
One of the benefits of roadtripping is being able to car-camp. It's not for everyone, but as long as you have the right equipment and a car that's designed to hold a lot of cargo, it's really quite nice. You may remember (don't worry, I'll forgive you if you don't) that I slept in my car during my vacation to Yamagata last summer and it didn't go terribly well. I have since gotten some better car-camping equipment and this time was much more successful. I stopped about three and a half hours in and set up shop in the parking lot of a local shrine. I figured the Gods wouldn't begrudge me a solid night's sleep.
Inuyama: The Castle on Dog Mountain
After a truly horrific cup of convenience store coffee and a donut, we were on our way! First stop? Inuyama! Don't worry--even Japanese people have only a vague recollection that it's castle and it exists somewhere.
Himeji Castle is glamorous. It's huge, the grounds are a complex of winding walls that stretch forever. The castle itself juts out like a beautiful white beacon on the only hill in the entire city. Inuyama Castle is not glamorous. The grounds are small, the castle itself is compact and minimalistic, and even small details like the architectural detailing in the roof and the window casings are less ornate that what I've seen elsewhere. Regardless, it's still a beautiful piece of architecture. This building was designed to do a very specific job, and the history books say it did that job well.
I headed out of Inuyama in the early afternoon and got into Nagoya sometime after 2:00, only to be confronted with one of my biggest fears--exorbitantly expensive paid parking.
Now, a normal person would have probably said "Oh well! That's life in a capitalistic society" and paid the damn parking fee, but I am not a normal person. I am, in fact, something of an expert at finding free parking wherever I go. I firmly believe that the best things in life (including free parking) just take a little time and effort.
After driving around for about twenty minutes looking for a parking lot that was even remotely reasonable, I finally stumbled upon the Nagoya Castle park and discovered free street parking! As long as I was willing to walk awhile to get where I was going, Peggy got to relax in the shade surrounded by lovely greenery and I got to skip the parking fee. That's what I call a win-win situation.
By the time I finally parked, I'd become a bit less attached to the idea of going to the art museum. It was only open until 5:00 anyway, so I wouldn't have much time to explore the exhibits if I decided to go. What I really wanted to do, I thought, was go to a concert.
Back in Denver, me friends and I would frequently take advantage of the Denver Symphony Orchestra's "ten dollar student ticket" policy that allowed anyone with a student id to get a ten dollar ticket the day of the concert. Not only does it help sell unsold tickets, it allows young people who might not otherwise have the money to go to an expensive classical concert to afford tickets. It was always a fun night out, and it's something I've really missed since moving to the middle of nowhere.
As it turned out, not only was the Nagoya Philharmonic performing that night, but they also have day-of incentive tickets for young folks--1,000 yen (a bit under ten bucks) for anyone 24 years old or younger! I'm an atheist through-and-through, but this certainly felt a bit preordained.
Fortunately, after the intermission, they wowed the crowd with some Brahms and everyone went away happy. Fun fact: Japanese people don't do standing ovations. Instead, the step above clapping seems to be clapping louder.
After dinner I checked out an all-you-can-eat farm-to-table buffet near the venue. I was a bit disappointed by all the meat in their offerings (despite all the signs everywhere saying "VEGETABLES!!") but it was still delicious. By the time I was finished with dinner and had made my way back to my car, I looked up a public bath where I could relax a bit and then headed out to a nearby "michi no eki" (road station) where I could set up camp for the night.
I have a lot of memories from my childhood of long hours on the road interrupted occasionally by the call of the bladder. At best, American rest stops offer you a place to pee (toilet paper and soap generally quite optional) and a vending machine. Like a lot of public facilities, Japanese rest stops are just way better.
Of course, if you need toilet facilities, they've got you covered. Heated toilet seats? Of course. Bidet feature? You betcha. Flower arrangements on the sink vanity? Need you even ask? They'll also have some vending machines, too, probably at least three or four of them with hot and cold options.
That's just the 24 hour accessables, though. The Michi no eki shops (usually open from around 10:00 to around 9:00) almost all have a restaurant (or two or three), as well as a souvenir shop where you can pick up some local specialties. If you want ice cream or takoyaki or crepes, you can probably find those too. This one even had plants and pet fish for sale.
After tidying up the car on Sunday morning, I noticed a restaurant across the street that seemed to be (a) open and (b) a doughnut shop, which sounded like exactly the right way to start of my morning, so I sidled over.
Nagoya: Day the Second
After my lovely breakfast, I drove back to Nagoya Castle to drop off Peggy, then I headed to the Osu shopping district to do a bit of window shopping.
Anyway, after the art museum, I headed down to Nagoya Castle...just in time to watch it close. I wasn't too disappointed, though. Unlike Inuyama Castle, Nagoya Castle is not even somewhat original.
It's common knowledge that the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the US were the reason for the Japanese surrender at the end of WWII, but nuclear weapons were actually not the most devastating thing to happen to Japan during the war. The US air raids were even more immediately devastating, and they completely destroyed almost every major Japanese city, Nagoya included. As a consequence, the current Nagoya Castle structure is a reproduction from 1957.
I decided to take a stroll around the castle park instead. About halfway along the trail, I saw a cat hanging out on the sidewalk. I asked him if he wouldn't mind me petting him, and he graciously allowed it. After a few minutes, one of his (many) park-kitty friends hurried over and demanded some attention as well. It was all downhill from there.
I always forget that travel doesn't have to include another person. Three of the best trips I've taken in Japan have been by myself, and I don't think I've enjoyed them any less or gotten any less out of them than I would have with a friend. Traveling alone means you get to make all the decisions--if you want to stop, you can stop. If you want to play with feral park-cats for an hour, you can play with feral park-cats for an hour. You can eat what you want, see what you want, leave when you want and go where you want. It's rare for me to have a weekend where I just lounge around at home, but I really need to try to carve out more time for weekend trips.