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From Miles to Smiles: A Nagoya, Japan Adventure

Updated: Apr 9

Miles to Smiles: A Nagoya, Japan Adventure
Nagoya Castle

Over the years, I have accumulated a reasonable number of miles with Air Canada. Despite being part of Star Alliance, I struggled to use these miles on United Airlines. However, after a very long time of trying, in early January, I discovered I could redeem them for a flight on United to Nagoya, Japan. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know much about Nagoya outside of the airport or airport hotel, finally being able to use the miles was an exciting opportunity that I couldn’t ignore. Consequently, I decided to celebrate the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend with my kids in Nagoya.

First things first, I needed to learn a bit about Nagoya to plan our stay and activities for the couple of days we intended to be there. Nagoya, the capital city of the Aichi Prefecture, is renowned for its automobile, fine ceramics, high-tech, and aerospace industries. I learned that Nagoya is the capital city of a region which is known for its automobile, fine ceramics, high-tech and aerospace industries. I knew the aerospace industry because a couple years ago I watched locally built 787 Dreamliner wings being loaded into an oversized 747-400. Despite sustaining significant damage during World War II, the 1612-built Nagoya Castle has been reconstructed, as have many of Nagoya’s temples and shrines.

If you, like my family, are fans of Studio Ghibli’s movies, you might also be interested to know that the studio has completed the first stage of its theme park project, located an hour east of the city. Before doing my research, I was unaware of this, so discovering it was quite exciting. Unfortunately, tickets for the Ghibli Park (Aichi, Nagakute, Ibaragabasama, 1533-1 Expo 2005 Aichi Commemorative Park) experience were sold out for January so we couldn’t include it in our trip this time.

With Ghibli Park off our list, we decided to book a hotel near the Nagoya train station. In Japan, this is typically where you'll nearly always find a large mall, numerous hotels, and the easiest access to trains and other forms of ground transportation.

We chose the Nikko Style Hotel (5-20-13 Meieki, Nakamura Ward, Nagoya), for its proximity to Nagoya Station and its accommodation options, including rooms with three beds, which suited my family's needs. The price was reasonable, and the hotel suited our needs very well.  It reminded me a bit of the Roxy in New York City – hip and unlike the traditional hotel experience. Although not directly beside the station—situated about half a kilometer away—it was the right choice for us. Beyond being a very comfortable stay, the hotel's neighborhood, along with the quaint restaurants in the narrow backstreets, provided a perfect backdrop for our first visit to the city.

Traveling from Nagoya’s airport, Chubu Centrair International Airport, to Nagoya is most conveniently done using the Meitetsu Line train.  I opted for first-class car ticket upgrades, known as μtickets, which offer several advantages: they bypass some local stations, reducing travel time to around 40 minutes, and allow for the reservation of specific seats in designated cars, unlike the regular cars that do not offer reserved seating. The μticket upgrade could be purchased online, but the actual train ticket required for travel needed to be bought at the station. It's important to note that Meitetsu is a private rail company, meaning that upon arrival at Nagoya Station, you find yourself in the Meitetsu Department Store building, distinct from the Japan Rail Station (JR Line), which succeeded the government-owned Japanese National Railways, which actually lands you in Nagoya Station. Adding to the complexity, another private rail system, the Kintetsu Railway, also terminates near JR Station but in a separate building. Understanding the differences between these stations and their associated malls and rail lines greatly facilitated our navigation.

We scoured YouTube for vloggers who had visited Nagoya and consulted for restaurant recommendations. However, most of our dining experiences were made on the spot without prior research. To spare you the uncertainty of making impromptu dining choices, I’ll share some of our experiences with you:

  • Nikomin no Takara (Naka Ward, Osu, 2 Chome−16−17), has been a culinary staple since 1964. This quaint restaurant is celebrated for its Misonikomi udon, a Nagoya specialty. This dish features udon noodles, chicken, and fish cake, all simmered in a miso-flavored dashi broth within a clay pot. We had the opportunity to learn about the dish directly from the chef, who spoke some English. For those exploring the Osu shopping district, I highly recommend stopping by Nikomi no Takara to experience this delightful dish.

  • Sengoku Sushi Main Shop (Nakamura Ward, 4 Chome-4-3 Taiko) came highly recommended on various discussion and rating sites, so we were excited to give it a try. But its popularity meant it took some time for both seating and service. Also, the traditional zashiki seating was a bit challenging for my tired knees. These inconveniences aside, my kids and I enjoyed good sushi at a very nice price point and we’d visit this restaurant again.

  • Discovering Mayakk Calvi (Nakamura Ward, Meieki, 5 Chome−16−17, 1F) was a delightful surprise. My kids have been fans of Korean barbecue since they were very young, so finding one of their comfort foods in Nagoya was both unexpected and a welcome delight. This restaurant, with its exceptional meats and warm, welcoming atmosphere, underscored the joy of exploring Korean barbecue across the globe. It served as a powerful reminder that extraordinary culinary delights await discovery far from their origins, adding rich layers to our gastronomic journeys.

  • Each night found us drawn to One for the Road Cookery & Bar (5-chōme-16 Meieki, Nakamura Ward), a small neighborhood gem located just around the block from our hotel. The bartender's friendly and attentive service, combined with a commendable selection of beers and spirits, made every visit memorable. The bar’s cozy ambiance lent it a sense of familiarity, making it the perfect spot to wind down our evenings.

  • Istanbul Café (3-41-1 1F Kinjo Bldg., Osu, Naka) – While I can't comment on the food at Istanbul Café, our visit there was solely for the mulled wine, which provided a much-needed warmth on a very cold night. The friendly staff, along with Efes Pilsen beer and the pleasant atmosphere, offered a welcome haven after a long day of shopping and exploring Nagoya’s Osu shopping district.

In addition to our culinary adventures, we indulged in a fair bit of shopping among the many intriguing stores in the Osu shopping district. However, the highlight of our cultural exploration was a visit to the Nagoya Castle grounds (1-1 Honmaru, Naka Ward). Although the main Castle building was closed on the day of our visit, the parts that were accessible were breathtaking, showcasing a serene beauty even in the heart of winter. Also, as someone who fancies the unique experience of Japanese vending machines, I encountered my first hot corn soup in a can at the Castle — a delightfully surprising treat that I found more enjoyable than expected.

But I digress. Spanning approximately 15 acres in the center of Nagoya, the castle grounds are an exceptional place for a leisurely walk, offering plenty of opportunities to rack up steps while admiring the scenic beauty.

The following morning, we made our way back to Meitetsu Station and headed to Nagoya's airport, which stands out as one of the most aesthetically pleasing commercial airports. The second-floor food court is remarkably designed to resemble a traditional Japanese town, complete with narrow alleys and authentic food stalls. In contrast, the other half of the floor offers a Parisian ambiance. Additionally, for those who enjoy plane watching, the outdoor deck is the perfect spot to sip on a cup of coffee while watch the planes' arrivals and departures. Overall, the airport presents a delightful way to savor a meal and embrace the charm and efficiency that define it.

If you’re like me and are shopping a bit online, use the Rakuten service

for cash back and discounts – save yourself some money.


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