I know…this post is a little late. It was supposed to go up 3 weeks ago, but my parents were visiting Hong Kong after their trip to China, so I haven’t had the chance to do any blogging. Without further ado, here’s my re-cap of our trip to Japan.
At the end of April, my boyfriend and I traveled to Nagoya, Japan to attend his friend’s wedding. It was my first time in the land of the rising sun. I had heard a lot about the Japanese culture and their way of doing things prior to my visit, so I was really looking forward to finding out if everything I heard was true. Our flight arrived in Nagoya at around 9pm, and the first thing I noticed was that their customs officers were very polite and pleasant to deal with, unlike some of the other countries I’ve visited. After picking up our luggages we made our way to the train station and, within half an hour of landing in Nagoya, we were on the train to the hotel.
The train itself is worth talking about. Automatic sliding doors opened as we made our way onto the train with our luggage. To the left was the washroom, to the right were luggage racks. The reclining seats were assigned when we purchased the tickets. In front of each seat was a little clip where we had to display our train tickets so that the person who came around during the train ride to check our tickets would be able to do so without bothering the passengers. The train was spotlessly clean, equipped with free wi-fi, and it departed on time. I had heard about the efficiency of the Japanese for years, but to experience it for the first time was actually pretty awesome.
A half hour train ride later, we arrived at Nagoya Station, one of the world’s largest train stations. Our hotel, the Nagoya Marriott Associa, is located in the JR Central Towers directly above Nagoya Station. We were checked-in and in our hotel room within 10 minutes. Talk about efficiency. Since it was pretty late and a lot of the restaurants in the area had already closed, we settled with a nearby izakaya (Japanese pub) for a bite. The waitress gave us a small bowl of tofu to start, which was so delicious we couldn’t help but ask if we could order more of it. The thing about the Japanese is most of them speak very little English, and that was definitely the case with our waitress. Luckily, she was able to understand our gestures and brought over a bigger bowl filled with the tofu, on the house. We ordered a few small dishes to try. The skewers, deep fried camembert, and the hitsumabushi (Nagoya’s version of grilled eel on rice) were all quite good. However, we ordered a dish that had a mixture of different items, such as radish and egg, in some kind of sauce. I really didn’t like it at all. Considering our options at the time were limited, we had a decent first meal in Japan.
Eric and I had been on a weird sleep schedule before we went to Japan, and it continued to be that way throughout our entire trip. We weren’t able to sleep until 6am, so we didn’t wake up the next day until 2pm. With half the day gone, we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon wandering around nearby. Next to the hotel was the Meitetsu Department Store and the Nana-Chan mannequin, a 6m tall female mannequin whose outfit changes weekly.
A littler further down the street was a 100 yen shop – pretty much a dollar store. (¥100= $1.20 CAD) We ended up spending quite a bit of time going through the store, even though only about a third of the store was actually ¥100. It was a big store with a lot of interesting Japanese products. We both felt the quality of the items were much better than the products at Canadian dollar stores. After picking up some small items for the home, we decided we would go back to the store for more shopping before we left Nagoya. When we asked the cashier what time they closed, we were pleasantly surprised when he asked if we spoke Chinese and then spoke to us in perfect Mandarin. He was so fluent that we couldn’t tell if he was actually Japanese or Chinese. We later realized that a lot of the people in Japan have learned to speak Mandarin because of all the Chinese travellers visiting their country. It seems you’re more likely to find someone who speaks Mandarin than someone who speaks English.
After dropping off our shopping bags at the hotel, we went back out for dinner. Eric found a highly rated restaurant on the 9th floor of the Meitetsu Department Store. Rated #2 out of all the restaurants in Nagoya, The Maruya Honten Meiekiten is known for their eel rice, a Nagoya specialty. When we arrived at the restaurant, there was a line up of at least 25 people and the estimated wait time was 60 minutes. Since the entire 9th floor was dedicated to restaurants, we decided to see if there were other options. The only other restaurant that had a queue was a pork cutlet restaurant with a similar wait time. We decided it would probably be worth the wait for the #2 restaurant in Nagoya, so we got in line.
One of the things I loved about Japan was how orderly they were. Even though there were 30 people in line for the restaurant, it was actually a very comfortable wait. Chairs were set up as part of the line. As people got their tables, everyone in line would just keep shifting over. We were even served tea while waiting. A couple menus were given to the people at the front of the line so they could start looking at what they might want while they waited. That was the most efficient queue I had been in. We ended up waiting for about 45 minutes before we got a table.
Now, a little bit about the food. We normally call eel rice unagi don and it is pretty common everywhere, but in Nagoya they call it hitsumabushi. It is also served differently. Instead of just eating the eel with the rice, they eat it three ways in Nagoya. The first section is eaten as is so you can taste the real flavour of the eel. The second section is eaten with condiments, such as wasabi, scallions and pieces of seaweed, to compliment the flavour of the eel. The third and final section is eaten with a light broth.
So how was the hitsumabushi at the #2 restaurant in Nagoya? It was THE BEST eel rice we ever had. The eel was charcoal-grilled to perfection; the outer layer was slightly crispy, while the meat was tender and flavourful. There was also a good amount of eel to go with the rice. I didn’t think I would enjoy adding the condiments, but it turned out to be my favourite way of eating it. This is one restaurant I would highly recommend!
Our third day in Nagoya was mainly spent celebrating Ivan and Keiko’s wedding. Again, we didn’t sleep until morning so we didn’t wake up until noon. After a simple lunch, we got ready for the wedding. Ivan had made arrangements for a bus to pick up a bunch of us who flew in from Hong Kong, and the pick up location was at the other side of Nagoya Station. It was really convenient for us. The bus took us to the wedding venue, which was at Tokugawa Garden. It was a nice serene environment, and the wedding was a beautiful merger between two people of two different cultures. It was my first time attending a Japanese wedding. Prior to going, I did some research to make sure my attire would be suitable; I found out women can’t wear black to a wedding. You can imagine how I felt when everything in my wardrobe is black. Anyway, back to the wedding. It was the most orderly and well timed wedding I had ever been to. It was also really nice to meet some of Eric’s classmates from when he was a cadet, as well as their significant others. By 9pm we were back on the bus to Nagoya Station. We all went back to our hotels to change before heading out again for the after party. Karaoke seemed fitting considering Japan was its birth place.
A night of singing and partying kept us up until morning, so we slept in again the following day. I had really wanted to visit Nagoya Castle (Eric has already been there before), but with only half the day left we decided to stay in the area since we were so exhausted that we just wanted to take it easy. One of the main reasons we decided to stay at the Marriott was because of how convenient its location was. The Marriott was more expensive, but there was so much in the area that we didn’t have to waste time traveling very far. I definitely want to go back to see other parts of the city so we’ll save that for next time.
We wandered around the underground shops and had lunch at a random restaurant. We found a Studio Ghibli store that had all sorts of fun stuff featuring various Studio Ghibli characters, including Totoro. A friend had suggested we check out Tokyu Hands in the same building as our hotel. There was a huge billboard that said it was on the 4th – 10th floors, but after walking in circles around the station we couldn’t find an elevator that would stop on those floors. Of course, all the people I asked couldn’t speak English either. We ended up going upstairs to our hotel to ask for directions; I figured people working at the hotel can at least speak some English. The doorman was very nice and he walked us over to the Takashimaya department store, where he pointed to the escalators inside. At that point we realized the only way to get up to the 4th floor was by using the escalator and elevators inside the department store. It was a store within a store!
Tokyu Hands turned out to be quite interesting. Not only was it a store within a store, it had shops within the shop. It took up half of each floor between 4F and 10F, and it sold everything you can think of. The most interesting department was the jewellery making section. They sold some very specific tools that even big craft stores like Michael’s didn’t sell. If I lived in Japan I would definitely frequent Tokyu Hands.
We decided to go back to The Maruya Honten Meiekiten for dinner because we really enjoyed the hitsumabushi there. Then we walked to the 100 yen shop for some last minute shopping of cheap goodies. For a midnight snack, we bought fried octopus balls from a shop along the street. They were so good!
We didn’t have time to do very much on our last day in Nagoya since our flight was in the afternoon. After checking out of the hotel at noon, we had them store our luggage for us while we went downstairs for lunch. The 12th and 13th floors were dedicated to dining. Since it was prime lunch hour, all the restaurants had long line ups. We picked one that served mainly pork cutlet because I noticed they actually handed out menus and took orders as people were waiting in line. I figured that this system would speed up the long wait. After they took our order, they gave us a tag with a number. When we were eventually seated inside the restaurant, they took our number and our food was promptly brought to us. I gotta give it to them for efficiency.
So that was pretty much my trip to Japan. We didn’t explore very much of the city, unfortunately, but we were mainly there to attend a wedding. I was able to get a glimpse of Japan, and I’ll want to be back to see more of it next time. A few things that I really liked and will miss about the trip:
1) Nagoya Marriott Associa Hotel. It was in a great location where everything is, including shopping, restaurants, train stations. The standard room wasn’t very big, but it was comfortable. Since the hotel lobby is on the 15th floor of the JR Central Tower and the rooms are above it, every room has a nice view. (The picture at the top of this post was taken from our room.) You know it’s a quality hotel when the bathroom mirror is a fog-free mirror, which means a rectangular area in the middle of the mirror doesn’t fog up after a hot shower.
2) Service. No matter where we went, the service was always good. Sales staff and wait staff were always very polite. I think that comes from the Japanese culture where being respectful and having proper etiquette is very important. Living in Hong Kong, where genuine quality service is rare, makes me really appreciate this kind of interaction.
3) Efficiency. Without a doubt, the Japanese way of doing things is very efficient. I witnessed that with the trains, the way the restaurants were run, directions on the floor at stores to direct people to line up at the cashiers…to name a few.
4) Japanese toilets. I honestly didn’t think I would like using washlets, but it turned out to be something I really enjoyed. I also really miss the heated toilet seat in our hotel room.
5) Food. Particularly eel rice from Maruya Honten Meiekiten. I have yet to find eel rice elsewhere that is even comparable.
***SIDE NOTE: While we were in Nagoya, BIG BANG was also there doing fan events. It was nice to think we were sharing the same city with such awesomeness. If you don’t know who BIG BANG is, you need to know now. I’ll just leave this video here for you to check them out.