Nagoya, Japan

The road to the end of 2019, to the start of 2020 and to Aichi Prefecture began with our first stop in the city of Nagoya. Nagoya is famous for not having very many things to do at all, or so said my cheeky colleagues when I told them that was where I would be spending part of my New Years vacation. Japanese New Year’s is not unlike Chinese New Year where mass exodus takes place throughout the country to people’s respective hometowns. A key difference is that it falls on western new years, the actual turning of December to January. Emi’s Japanese family is from this part of Japan, thus necessitating our trip to Aichi prefecture, located far west from Tokyo. While they don’t exactly live in Nagoya itself, the promise of exploring more of this beautiful country, plus tasting the differences in regional cuisine is all the motivation I ever need to go anywhere in Japan.

We arrived at Nagoya close to 2 am, an inevitable downside to leaving directly after work on a Friday. The city was fast asleep, with only an unusually bushy-eyed night manager on duty to let us through the parking lot, resembling a gatekeeper to this land. For 3 nights, ANA Crowne Plaza Hotel Grand Court Nagoya was our base. In the day time, the sweeping views of the city dazzled us no matter how many times we looked. The hotel is dated but well maintained with all of the essentials bar one, a fitness centre. This they compensated by offering discounted tickets to the nearby Golds’ Gym, softening a blow but a blow nonetheless.

Seasonality and regional specialties are in the DNA of Japanese food and Nagoya 料理 is no different. Amongst many dishes, unagi or freshwater eel is a huge highlight here and this we took seriously by making it our first official meal at the very popular Atsuta Horaiken. Horaiken has a 146 year legacy in Nagoya for their masterful grilling of unagi over binchotan, and this particular branch is the 本店 or original location. Here, you can’t go past ordering the hitsumabushi, a kind of soup with rice variation on the regular unagi donburi-style of eating. I also adored my teishoku set of which the main dish was umaki, an egg omelette with a plentiful amount of unagi within. To snack on as a starter, I’d definitely recommend getting the hone senbei, made from the bones of unagi itself.

Now with bellies full, we wandered towards 大須 商店街, Osu Shotengai. This space boasts over 1,200 shops and restaurants, with everything from okonomiyaki stands to electrical appliances.

I’ve always had a fascination for these local shopping districts, they have so more character than the high rise shopping malls in Malaysia that I’m used to. Osu Shotengai was also unique amongst others I’ve visited, showcasing true multi-culturalism in the form of specialised East Asian grocery stores and authentic Brazillian rotisseries. Being a hub of buying and selling feels subsidiary to the purpose of displaying ethnic community culture and being a space where locals could gather, whether festivals or otherwise.

Satiety doesn’t deter us from purchasing delicious kinako dango and taiyaki for dessert, but perhaps even more noteworthy is the random fennec that a Japanese man was carrying around as a pet.

Also in this location, is famed 大須観音, Ōsu Kannon, a Buddhist temple built during the Kamakura period. We fell into the middle of a flea market that’s only held on the 18th and 28th of every month and reveled in the bright atmosphere.

One night in post-gym delirium, we decided to literally follow the signs to a crab-specialised sushi train establishment. What I didn’t expect was to be greeted with a plain room full of people who were clearly locals, all digging into some seriously good sushi at unbeatable prices. コスパは良かった.

Maybe it was a state of pure hangriness or being on happy holiday mode but having discovered my new favourite nigiri (鬢長 or albacore) while also eating my absolute fill of 110 yen giant tamago, no complaints were made that night.

Two more noteworthy eats before signing off on Nagoya. Tebasaki or chicken wings might sound as far away from Japanese cuisine as you can get, but they are totally fair game in Nagoya. It’s worth trying because they are unbattered, cheap, delicious and about 85% bone so you can justify smashing 15 drumsticks and 20 wings between two people, at least I did. Ours were from Furaibo, the self-proclaimed first chain of chicken wing restaurants in Nagoya. Wash down with a few mini balls of ten musubi from Senju (Furaibo and Senju are conveniently located next to each other at Nagoya Station) for a comfortable level of food coma.

The city had a pleasant metropolitan vibe during the day, without the frantic cardiac arrest inducing pace that Tokyo has at all hours. Despite not venturing out to the main tourist hotspots, I don’t feel a strong desire to return. I still had a great time though, which goes to show that destinations are about the experience and the company, and being enthusiastic about everything, even a pile of chicken wings.

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