I just took a nostalgic 3-day weekend trip from Tochigi to Nagoya, and after being separated from the city I have really come to know and love, and spending the evening in Tokyo, I am going to ever so biasly declare as the title of this piece states: Nagoya is one of the best places to live in Japan.
Before, let me explain myself, seeing as I probably just ticked off about 30% of Japan (seeing as roughly that percentage of peope live in the Greater Tokyo area. 10% actually live in Tokyo-Tokyo, which is only 0.6% of the total land available in Japan. Point #1). I need to make a couple things clear:
1. I am clearly biased. Nagoya is the only place I have lived (traveling is a different story) in Japan for over a month, so obviously I know it better than, say, Tokyo, which I will henceforth bash unabashedly.
2. If you are from a place like Seoul or New York and insane urban sprawl is your thing, you can probably just stop here. This piece is most likely not for you, and I understand that. I, however, am from nowhere near insane urban sprawl, and therefore find it unattractive and unnecessary. I will henceforth bash it unabashedly.
3. My statement is that Nagoya is one of the best places to live in Japan. Every place has its merits, and, while I just said that I’m biased, I can actually be pretty fair (for example, while I do agree with the article in the first paragraph up there on the whole, there are a few things I don’t quite agree with). Tokyo does have some great qualities to it, and Nagoya has some points that don’t quite stand up to places like Tokyo (which, also can be a merit; see point #7 below). However, my purpose in writing this article is to be, as aforementioned, somewhat biased.
Now let me begin for real. I just incorperated point #1 into the above, so:
Point #2: Trains in Nagoya make sense. As with any move to a big city, you may look at the public transportation map and wonder if you will ever actually learn it comfortably. Come to Nagoya, my friend, and you will. You may not learn or ever need to go to every stop, but after living there for a couple months, someone will say, “Hey, let’s meet up at Higashi Betsuin and eat some awesome yakiniku,” and you’ll be like, “Hello my friend, Higashi Betsuin you say? Where is that? Oh, you know, it sounds familiar, and I’ve probably either passed it before or just randomly seen it starting at the subway map line waiting for the train,” and your buddy will say, “Oh you dare say? It is on the purple whirly loopamadoogle line (i.e. Meijo Line),” and you’ll be like, “Cool bro. I’ll meet you there.”
Now switch this to Tokyo. Your friend will be like, “Hey, let’s go to 本所吾妻橋駅 and eat some yakiniku,” and you’ll be like, “本所吾妻橋? How do you pronounce that?” and your buddy will be like, “Lolz I don’t know, I’ve just lived here for a year,” and you’ll be like, “Sure, let me get out the Google because there’s no way I’ll figure out how to get there from here in a reasonable amount of time lolz.”
My point is, even people who have lived in Tokyo for years (and I’m not just saying this, I’ve asked) still don’t know how to get to places they don’t normally go to in a decent amount of time. Do you transfer at the blue line or the green line or the pink line or the dark pink line, and will it take an hour to get to just to try out a new restaurant? Don’t even get me started on transferring lines in Tokyo.
Tokyo, let me just sit you down and tell you. Leaving the station, walking 2 blocks, and going down into a completely different and non-connected station is not a transfer. I don’t care if you’re a different color line. I’m looking at you, Kuramae. Also, Tokyo, what is up with you needing to leave the ticket gate to transfer? What? Just why?
No, Nagoya doesn’t do that. Often times, even if you’re switching companies, you don’t need to leave the ticket gate, much less the station itself–there are some where you don’t even need to leave the train (ex. Tsurumai Line of the subway to Meitetsu Line of the above-ground trains)! Plus, this depends on where you live and if you just missed the train or not, but often you can cross the city in about 30 minutes. Public transportation is extremely convenient in Nagoya, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a place that doesn’t have a station in a reasonable amount of walking distance, yet, it just makes sense.
Point #3: Nagoya basically has everything Tokyo has, just more portable. And by portable, I mean of course it’s smaller than what Tokyo has, but all the important parts are there, PLUS, again branching off the size thing, they’re all basically in one main place. Nagoya has 2 main downtown areas (Nagoya Station area to Sakae) that are pretty well connected (i.e. you can walk the span if you feel like it on a nice day) for shopping, eating, and partying. Nagoya also hosts one of the main sumo tournaments in the country and has a major baseball team.
Let me highlight:
Osu: A large shopping arcade that is basically Harajuku meets Akihabara and they have a teenager. Smaller size, all the sass. You want to see people walking around with giant pink hair or looking like a sexy vampire from the manga you’ve been reading? Done. You want to see a man on stilts juggle pins on fire in front of a gian maneki-neko statue? Done. You want to buy some awesome flashy jewelry that you’ll never find a chance to wear but is awesome anyways? Done. You want to go to a maid cafe? Done. You want to buy some electronics at a 7+ storey video game store that Akihabara also has? Done. You want to see a local AKB48 (in our case, SKE48) show? (You’ll need to go to a different part of Nagoya but) Done. Not related to Akiba or Harajuku because, you know, they don’t have this, but you want to eat some of the best pizza in the world? Done.
Sakae: Basically, this is Shibuya. You’ve got your high-end Coach and other places you’ll never be able to afford alongside your giant department stores, 1 of 2 major underground shopping malls, trendy nightclubs, Forever 21, Old Navy, and H&M/etc. popular fashion brands from home, as well as your 4 story Uniqlo.
Did I mention that Nagoya’s science museum has the largest planetarium in the world, and is also shaped like the robot from the Incredibles?
Giant green Buddha statute? Also check.
“But wait,” you say, “Kawasaki, just a stone’s throw away from Tokyo, has the Kanamara Matsuri, i.e. the giant penis festival. Beat that Nagoya.”
Oh let us.
For those of you reading this in front of little kids or your boss, sorry for not warning you, but what’s done is done. Anyways, basically, there you go….but wait! There’s more! Not only is there a penis shrine in Aichi, but we also have a vagina-stone shrine! So yeah, take that Tokyo.
You say Tokyo Tower, I say Nagoya Tower. Sure, you all got Sky Tree over there, I give you that, but I’m partial to Taipei 101 anyways.
Point #4: Despite being a big city, it’s so green! There are big parks and little parks everywhere, and even many of the streets are lined with plants, and trees are planted in random corners of downtown. Being from the Hoosier state and missing my bountiful cornfields, this is something that’s super appreciated. It has the feel of being a large city but without the claustrophobia.
See, from what I’ve observed, Tokyo barely tries. Places like Utsunomiya try. I think during my daily commute, I see a couple small trees surrounded by concrete and buildings. It’s trying in a 中途半端 way, but Nagoya actually succeeds.
Plus, if you’re really sick of the city life, you’re just a hop on a train away from getting into some good, refreshing countryside.
Point #5: It’s not as big as places like Tokyo or Osaka, but that doesn’t mean it’s measly and you’ll bore of it after a few months. Nagoya is home to just under 3 million people, with Greater Nagoya (Chukyo Metropolitan Area) rolling in at about 9 million (the 3rd most populous metro area in the country, and 50th in the world), holding about 7% of Japan’s population (thanks, Wikipedia). There are still so many areas, I’ve never visited, so many restaurants I’ve never eaten at, and so many events that keep things interesting. For example, although I tried, I have never yet been to Oogata Shrine because things just didn’t work out that day. Things stay interesting, but at a manageable size. Furthermore, it’s still a large, cosmopolitan city with a nice amount of diversity. You’ll have other foreigners to make friends with and means of sharing your culture with other populations, and this also means you’ll probably meet Japanese friends as well.
Point #6: “Why are you going to Nagoya? There’s like, nothing there,” one of my Japanese juku teachers questioned me in distaste while I was living in Taipei right before heading over to Nagoya to study for the first time. At the time, I wasn’t sure how to respond, but after having lived there for a while, I can now puff out my chest and state boldly as a reply: EXACTLY! Because it basically has everything that Tokyo/Osaka has, just slightly scaled down, that means there’s not much tourism in the city–which is actually a good thing! This means that most of the foreign (or non-foreign) people living in Nagoya aren’t stupid, obnoxious or demanding tourists–they’re people actually living there. This means you don’t get the stupid foreigner treatment you’d get in other places, like Tokyo or Kyoto. This doesn’t mean you don’t get foreigner treatment at all–after all, this is still Japan–but you’re not so much treated as a tourist, and you can really experience Japan much better this way. For example, I have rarely ever been handed and English menu in Nagoya, whereas I was balked at for requesting the full Japanese menu at a restaurant in Tokyo because, you know, why would the white girl want to look at the full non-English menu, and not just the English menu with only 30% of the selection in awkwardly-translated English? While this may be daunting at first if you don’t have much Japanese under your belt, it’s so rewarding because for one, you can increase your language abilities much more quickly by it being expected of you to some extent. And I mean extent, because after all, it’s still Japan, and even in Nagoya, I had people flip out in excitement once / give me the “hold the phone, I ain’t got no English ability to communicate with this here customer” look of terror before I said 2 sentences and then frustratedly commenced with ”日本語を９年間勉強してるんですから… (I’ve been studying Japanese for 9 years, so…).” In any case, to say it bluntly, you’re in their country–you should at least try to learn some of their language–and Nagoya is the perfect place to do so–not to mention there’s about a bajillion (and counting!) universities in the immediate area to do so at.
Point #7: It’s where the history is at. Do the names Tokugawa Ieyasu, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Oda Nobunaga sound familiar? If so, then congratulations! You at least know the very basics of core Japanese history, and these 3 important dudes were all born and based in the Nagoya area! Therefore, if you have any interest in history, Nagoya is chock-full of it, starting from its famous Nagoya Castle. Even if you’re not interested in history, it still means Nagoya has some super awesome festivals because of its historical importance. Furthermore, it’s right down the road from Inuyama, which has the oldest original wooden castle in the entire country (which, since Japan was facing internal wars for centuries and then thoroughly fire bombed during WWII, let me tell you, that’s no easy feat).
Not to mention Nagoya is also home to Atsuta Shrine, which is up there ranking in importance with the famous Ise Shrine.
Point #8: It doesn’t have everything, and that’s okay! I’ve kept saying that Nagoya takes the best of Tokyo and puts it into a bite-sized, giant hunk of a city. However, of course there are some things Osaka and Tokyo have that Nagoya doesn’t–but that gives you reason to leave the city every now and then and go out traveling! Why bother leaving Tokyo if you can just get the same thing in the city? It’s still exciting to go someplace new, and better yet, Nagoya has the perfect location to do so, being right in between the Kansai and Kanto areas, so you can just hop on a bus, local train, or bullet train, and in a few hours you’ll be in Kyoto, Osaka, Tokyo, or wherever else!
Looking to go somewhere a bit farther? Nagoya’s airport is located right outside the city, easily accessible by train, and hosts a variety of local and international air companies, including a large pick of low cost carriers! (They also have a Costco pretty close by, FYI.)
Now I can probably go on and on about this, but I’ll leave my main points at this. You don’t need to love Nagoya like I do, nor do you need to love my hyperboles (or are they?), but that’s okay. I love traveling Japan and would love to get more experience living in different parts of the country, but after living in very different parts of the world, to me, Nagoya will always be my beloved home in Japan (in case I didn’t make that clear enough).
This dog-loving former Tochigi CIR hails from its sister-state of Indiana and loves traveling the world and eating everything. She graduated after completing a thesis discussing the links between human trafficking and idol culture, and now works in Tokyo for an international human rights NGO.