Long overlooked for Tokyo and Osaka, Nagoya and the surrounding old cities are slowly emerging as a promising destination for travelers. Known as the gateway to Japan’s heartland, Nagoya offers plenty of beautiful attractions, and offers the best entry point to the old cities in Gifu, Nagano and Toyama Prefectures. With our 7-day suggested itinerary, you would have a real taste of this charming city and you will be introduced to its best attractions. You can absolutely make any changes you like, to adapt the tour to your preferences.
Things to consider before traveling to Nagoya, Japan:
Language – Japanese (Nihongo) is the official language of Japan. For foreign visitors, the language barrier can be intense but this should not be a cause for concern. Every railway stations, bus stations and other transportation options have English signage. Even if you had any difficulty navigating, the Japanese people are very helpful to foreigners. There are also plenty of tourist information center, usually located in JR offices. It is, however, recommended to learn a few words and phrases because this can go a very long way in Japan, just like in any other countries.
Etiquette – The Japanese people are warm and very welcoming to foreign visitors but it’s important to remember some do’s and dont’s to enjoy a faux pas free journey. When entering temples or castles, it is a must to take off your shoes. If there are rows of footwear by the door, it’s a clear sign to remove your shoes. If you are going to visit temples and shrines, remember to dress modestly. On trains and buses, it is considered rude to speak loudly or to speak on your phone.
Currency exchange – Japanese Yen is the official currency of Japan. The Land of the Rising Sun has a reputation of being a pricey destination, and its reputation lives on, but in reality it has become more and more affordable. Sure traveling in the country can be expensive, if one chooses it to be, but there are things you can do to not break the bank. With a strong dollar and weaker yen, traveling to Japan can offer a lot of bang for your buck.
Getting there and around – Nagoya is the central gateway to Gifu, Nagano and Toyama Prefectures. Getting there and around is very easy, thanks to Japan’s comprehensive trains systems (mainly JR, or Japan Railway) and highway express buses. If you are going to follow our suggested itinerary, we recommend getting a Japan Rail Pass. The 7-day unlimited pass costs JPY 29,110 which is definitely not cheap, but the amount you will pay for transportation in Japan on a ‘per ride’ basis is significantly more than the price of the pass.
Where to stay – Gifu Prefecture has a wide range of accommodation options, with something for every level of comfort and budget. If you’re into cultural immersion, it is recommended to stay in a Ryokan, a traditional Japanese style hotel or inn. Ryokans serve Japanese breakfast and dinner, which are often included in the rate that would normally range between 10,000 – 15,000 JPY per night per person. Check out available Ryokans in Takayama, Shirakawa-go, Tsumago and Magome by visiting Japanese Guesthouses website.
Detailed itinerary: A week in Nagoya – between Old and New Japan
Day 1: Nagoya
Your Central Japan adventure starts today! If you are coming from Osaka, Kyoto or Tokyo, then Nagoya will be your starting point. Check into your accommodation before you take in some sights in the afternoon.
Where to stay in Nagoya:
Nagoya has a reputation of being a boring metropolis. Known as a manufacturing powerhouse, birthplace of pachinko (type of recreational arcade game) and the automotive giant, Toyota, the city still struggles to reinvent itself as a tourist destination. You might also think to skip the city, and just head for the Japanese Alps, but trust us; there are plenty of attractions you don’t want to miss. On your first day, visit the three key tourist sites in the city – Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology, SCMAGLEV and Railway Park, and Nagoya Castle.
Day 2: Kiso Valley – Tsumago and Magome
On day 2, make your way to the Kiso Valley from Nagoya Station. Kiso Valley, located in Nagano Prefecture, is where the ancient Nakasendo Highway is established. During the Edo Period, the Nakasendo Highway served as one of the two significant transportation routes between Edo (present day Tokyo) and Kyoto. At that time, travelers are always required to travel on foot as commanded by the Shogunate. Thus, post-towns such as Tsumago, Magome and Narai were established to provide travelers with places to eat, sleep and rest.
You may choose between Tsumago and Magome on where you would like to spend the night. Both post-towns are well maintained section of the former Nakasendo Highway, thus you will surely get that rustic small town charm. If you are following our suggested itinerary, then we recommend Tsumago. To get to Tsumago from Nagoya Station, get on JR Shinano limited express train to Nagiso Station. Travel time is approximately 60 minutes and the Japan Rail Pass covers the entire train journey. Check into your chosen Ryokan before you go on your walking tour.
Where to stay in Tsumago:
Given the multiple bus-loads of Korean, Chinese and domestic tourists it now attracts, who would have thought that back in the 1960s, Tsumago was virtually a deserted post-town. Some of the attractions you can see on this day are the former residence of the Hayashi family, Nagiso-machi Museum, the former site of Tsumago castle, the restored Kosatsuba (the Shogunate’s official bulletin board) and the Waki Honjin Okuya (post inns for government officials).
Day 3: Kiso Valley – Tsumago and Magome
Wake up to a traditional Japanese breakfast on your private room. A typical Japanese breakfast consists of steamed rice, miso soup, grilled fish or beef and side dishes like tamagoyaki (omelet), nori (dried seaweed), and Tsukemono (pickles).
After breakfast, begin your morning hike. Well-known in Japan as a culturally interesting hike for beginners, the trail between Tsumago and Magome is a very well maintained part of the ancient Nakasendo Highway. The trail is not difficult and is perfect for beginners and foreign travelers. The trail is 8 kilometers long, well-marked in Japanese and English, and should take about 3 hours to finish at a leisurely pace. Remember to pack some snack before you begin your hike.
Day 4: Kiso Valley – Nagano
Enjoy your traditional Japanese breakfast at your ryokan before you embark on another trip, this time to Nagano, the capital city of Nagano Prefecture. To get to Nagano City from Tsumago’s Nagiso Station, get on JR Shinano limited express train. Travel time is approximately 120 minutes and the Japan Rail Pass covers the entire train journey. Check in at your chosen ryokan before going on your walking tour. Some of the attractions you can see on this day are Zenko-ji Temple, Ninpo Museum, Kids Ninja Village, Shimano Art Museum and Nagano Olympic Museum.
Where to stay in Nagano:
Day 5: Nagano – Yamanouchi
Dedicate this day for Yamanouchi, a municipality in northern Nagano Prefecture famous for its Jigokudani Monkey Park. The park draws many tourists because of its wild monkeys bathing in the park’s natural hot springs. Visitors can also visit the nearby towns of Yudanaka Onsen and Shibu Onsen for a great Onsen experience.
To get to Yamanouchi from Nagano, you can either travel by train or by express bus. The trains are not covered by the Japan Rail Pass so it is recommended to purchase the Snow Monkey Pass, a discount ticket for foreign visitors which provides unlimited use of Nagaden (Nagano Electric Railway) trains and buses between Nagano and Yamanouchi plus entrance fee to the monkey park. The 1-day pass costs 3200 JPY (28 USD) for adults and 1600 JPY (14 USD) for children (6-12 years old).
Day 6: Nagano – Nagoya
On day 6, check out of your hotel and say good bye to Nagano Prefecture. Take the Limited Express Wide View train from Nagano Station to Nagoya Station (3 hours), which is fully covered by the JR Pass. Upon arrival, check into your hotel before you explore Sakae, the area in Nagoya with the most number of hotel options, restaurants, shopping malls and entertainment districts.
Day 7: Nagoya
It’s going to be a laid-back day on your last day. Head to you first destination, which is Higashiyama Zoo & Botanical Garden. Located at Chikusa Ward on the east side of Nagoya, this comprehensive park consists of a botanical garden, zoo, amusement park and the Higashiyama Sky Tower. With a very cheap admission fee, this park is one of the best places in the city to unwind.
Your second destination is Atsuta Jingu Shrine, which is one of the most significant Shinto shrines in the city. Located in southern Nagoya, the shrine is used for the safekeeping of the sacred sword Kusanagi, which is a legendary Japanese blade and is one of the three imperial regalia.
Have you been to Nagoya or anywhere else in Japan? Do you have any tips or suggestions to share? If so, you can leave your comments below.
Featured image: Nagoya Castle, Japan at night (vichie81 / Shutterstock.com)