Visit Nagoya – an underrated city brimming with life!

Food display in the Gomitori Izakaya in Nagoya

“More pickles? – Do you want more pickles?” The staff in the Yamamotoya restaurant near Nagoya Station‘s Shinkansen exit prowl the room offering second helpings of pickled vegetables, rice and tea. Yamamotoya is popular with Japanese travellers who visit Nagoya or are just passing through. They value the shop for its salty miso-boiled noodle dishes and the generous portions. Yamamotoya even has a small storage room to accommodate the luggage of travellers between connecting trains. And the Nagoya locals also flock to the restaurant chain with its numerous shops dotting the city, to share a meal with colleagues or to meet friends.

A hearty dish of Tantanmen noodles

Nagoyans like hearty food and good deals. And they also like the convenience of cafés and restaurants they already know at every street corner. They like their sweets really sweet and the savoury food really salty, or spicy. They like kitsch and practical, modern but not avant-garde, they like horoscopes and chiromancy. Nagoya is rather like inaka (backcountry) turned metropolis, and in our opinion it is a very convenient city for travellers, too.

Nagoya Oasis 21 shopping centre from above
Nagoya Oasis 21

A lot of reasons to visit Nagoya

Nagoya is Japan’s fourth-largest city, situated right between Tokyo and Kyoto, but certainly not on the tourist trail. Admittedly the local sights might not be up to a comparison with Kyoto, but there is a lot to see. Start with the huge rebuilt Japanese castle or the private art collection of a 250-year-long ruling family. You are not into history? Nagoya is home to the headquarters of one of the largest automobile companies in the world and has around a dozen technology museums. Or you could visit Nagoya and barely come out into the streets: Many kilometres of underground shopping malls will keep you busy. Have a look at the enormous aquarium. That’s enough to pass quite some time in the city, but a number of great excursions are also possible.

Shinkansen in the Nagoya Rinia Tetsudokan Museum

Cheap accomodation in Nagoya

Underrated Nagoya does have a good selection of accommodation. Especially in the lower price segment behind the main station, the choice is yours: From men-only sauna and capsule hotels to tiny single rooms costing less than 2500¥, to proper business hotels at rates you don’t get elsewhere in Japan. Add to that the big portions in the restaurants, the propensity for special deals in all kinds of shops. The city has many-storied second-hand brand-name department stores and an abundance of “ticket shops”. These small shops sell not only train tickets but all kinds of tickets and gift cards at a discounted rate.

Thus, if you visit Nagoya for a few days you will have a very reasonably-priced base to explore the surroundings. Apart from the normal, real life in Nagoya itself – something most travellers want to see and experience but rarely do in all those cute and touristy places where everyone else is either a tourist or in the tourist business – there’s a number of serious attractions nearby.

Ise Jingu, main shrine of the Sun Goddess not far from Nagoya

Every 20 years, the goddess moves house to a neighbouring Shrine, exactly like her previous home. The old one gets torn down. At the same time, specialised craftsmen immediately begin to build a new one. This takes 20 years – so that it will be ready by the time she moves again. Ise Jingu is Japan’s most important pilgrimage centre: it is where Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess, resides. The enormous wooded shrine precincts are located on the Kii Peninsula about 80 km south of Nagoya.

Pearl diver at Toba - a good excursion while visiting Nagoya
Ama pearl diver in Tob

On a day trip to offer Amaterasu your respect, you can also include Mikimoto Pearl Island in Toba or coastal scenery and aquariums.

Inuyama Town and Castle

Inuyama Castle is not far from Nagoya
Cute Inuyama castle


The cute little castle on a hill in Inuyama is one of the best-preserved mediaeval castles in Japan. Inuyama Castle is a national treasure, but not as crowded as the larger castles such as Himeji and Matsumoto.

In the very navigable town below, nicely restored old houses line the streets, and particularly young Japanese like to come here for an outing. Dozens of shops and restaurants offer different types of kushi (skewers). They can be sweet or salty, with rice balls, fruits, meat and whatever you can imagine. Walking around tasting different kushi is rather fun.

There’s also a major open-air museum nearby, Meiji Mura, which displays houses from the Meiji Era. That was an experimental and innovative period at the end of the 19th century when modern Western styles got suddenly mixed with very traditional ones.

Gudided tours inside theToyota factories near Nagoya

Car display and individual visitor at Toyota Kaikan


Toyota has a dozen automobile factories in the vicinity of Nagoya (most of them in a town called, well, Toyota). Of course, most are off-limits, but on your Nagoya visit you can actually take a guided tour of the car assembly line in one of them. For about an hour, you get to see how they screw together all the parts on a huge conveyor belt and try to make this ever more efficient. Strictly no photos, though, and a reservation is required.

Hiking the Nakasendo trail

Magome postman in traditional Japanese garb of the Edo Period
Traditional postman in Magome

One of the top activities for individual travellers near Nagoya is a visit to the rural Kiso Valley. Especially western travellers appreciate the Nakasendo Hiking Path there.

The Kiso valley is in a mountainous region to the Northeast of Nagoya. It’s cold enough that people gather around open hearths in the houses and that they celebrate the spring festivals a month later then elsewhere. But in the Edo period one of the major trade routes passed here. It is called the Nakasendo, or “path in the middle of the mountains”, and the villages were reasonably prosperous.

The villages of Tsumago and Magome have resisted over-modernisation, and restored the old streetscapes. You can visit the former official guesthouses for VIP travellers, and best of all, walk on the old mountain path through forests and rice paddies.

Did this post make you curious about Nagoya? Would you like to include the city on your Japan itinerary? Or have you been to Nagoya? Let us know in the comments!

If you are going on a trip to Japan and want to venture off-the-beaten path check out also our post about unusual highlights in Kyoto.

NB: This post was not sponsored in any way, and we paid all expenses ourselves. We visit Nagoya regularly as part of our guidebook research for the Stefan Loose Japan travel guidebook, and we just like the city.

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18 Comments

  1. A most interesting excellent blog – a must visit if ever I get back to Japan – thank you.(I still have two bank accounts there!)

  2. A very interesting post on Nagoya, Japan.Good to see you visiting headquarters of Toyota and the zigzagging trails of Kiso valley. The underground museums and shrines sounds very exciting!

  3. We will have to plan to visit Nagoya on a return trip. I did not realize it was such a big city. I love the variety of the food although I must admit that I like everything but the spicy foods. We would definitely visit the different castles. Especially when the flowers are in bloom! And an open air museum would be something different to see.

  4. Nagoya seems an interesting city to visit. Though Japan is on my list and I wanted to visit Tokyo and Kyoto but now I am including Nagoya as well. So a vibrant and colorful city I must say.

    1. Dear Pamela, if you like cities, you will like Nagoya. It is a more “normal” city, without the history of Kyoto, and the crazy flair of Tokyo and Osaka. You will experience a lot of “Japan” there.

  5. Just added nagoya to my list of places to visit in Japan. Hope to do it once dust settles on the pandemic. Accommodation does not look very expensive by the looks of it.

  6. Nagoya Japan has not been on my radar, it would be fun to explore the underground shopping mall and tour the Toyota factory. I love that the Inuyama Castle and Nakasendo Hiking Path are easy day trips.

  7. This is one of the places that I’d love to visit when I set foot on Japan again. It’s urban yet the heritage is very much still prominent. I’d be walking the villages of Tsumago and Magome and probably grab a drink, sit on top of the village, and just take in the view.

  8. I love underrated destinations like Nagoya where you aren’t surrounded by a ton of tourists. And I would love to learn more about the Sun Goddess as that sounds like a fascinating part of the Japanese culture. Inuyama also looks like it’s bursting with gorgeous scenery and unique culture.

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