Lunar New Year Trip to Nagoya & Surrounding Areas
Google “Shirakawa,” or better yet, “Shirakawago light up” and just look at the pictures. Amazing, right? Adorable thatched roof homes, blanketed in a layer of snow, nestled between mountains. When I heard that a place like this existed, I knew we had to go! But first, we had to figure out the logistics. The closest airport, Kanazawa, only had direct flights to/from Seoul on certain days. When could we make this work? Our Japanese friends recommended taking a bus from Nagoya (direct flights to/from Seoul daily). A bus. With a fidget-y toddler. Um, no thank you.
We ended up deciding to rent a car (an SUV, with snow tires!) from Nagoya Airport. Looking at the dates of the “light up ceremony” (when the village is lit up for an hour or so at night, giving it that “magical” look), we decided to tack on a few days to our Lunar New Year holidays and go then. So, tickets purchased, I started looking at ryokans (traditional Japanese inns) in Shirakawa village. With a month and a half to go, I figured I could at least find something in the area. Boy, was I wrong! Apparently people book way in advance, because there is limited capacity in town. My Japanese friends then suggested we take a tourbus from nearby Takayama (~1 hour away) for the afternoon. But after researching online, it sounded like the wait in Shirakawa to get to the observation platform (to better see the village below) could be as long as an hour (in the freezing cold), and you were limited to only 10 minutes. All that hassle, with Baby M, didn’t seem worth it.
So, instead, we did a tour of Takayama, with a day trip to Shirakawa, and then spent a few days in Kanazawa before heading back to Nagoya. Despite not seeing Shirakawa at night, it was still a beautiful trip!
We drove from Nagoya up to Takayama. It was a gorgeous drive through snow-dusted mountains and small villages. Takayama is known for its Hida beef (delicious, but, I’ve never had Kobe beef) and well-preserved old town. We enjoyed the food, and walking around (even though some streets still had inches of ice/snow on the ground).
(The only negative was the traditional home we stayed in didn’t have central heat. We had to use kerosene heaters, which in addition to making us a little loopy on the fumes, we had to turn off before we went to bed… so we woke up to bedrooms that were 4 degrees Celsius, or 40 Fahrenheit!!! Poor Baby M was recovering from a cold, but that aggravated it.)
We arrived around 10 in the morning, and the parking lot was already half full of cars and tour buses (lots of tourists from China and Taiwan). We anticipated being very cold, so we each had a hand-warmer in our pockets, and Baby M wore her snowsuit. Once the sun came out, it was actually kind of a nice day. We paid 200 yen (~$2 USD) per person to take the shuttle bus up to the observation platform (a little too icy to walk). The view of the village during the day was spectacular. I can’t even imagine what it looks like at night!
Baby M enjoyed sliding down a huge pile of snow. 10 times.
By the time we left, around 1:30 PM, the line of cars waiting to get into the parking lot was half a mile long!
We were lucky to have had no queue for the parking lot, and that we were given a sunny day! Sometimes when it snows a lot, all the roads leading into the village are shutdown.
We spent a day and a half in Kanazawa. One of my Japanese friends told me that even though he’s never been, it’s on his ‘wish list’ because it’s a small city similar to Kyoto (which we loved!), with a cute historical district. We walked around Kenroku-en Garden (reminded Alex and me of a similar garden in Hiroshima) and the Kanazawa Castle grounds (after our disappointment with Hiroshima Castle, we’ve vowed never to enter another castle in Japan, although this one looked really cool).
We strolled around Higashichaya Old Town and Omicho (Fish) Market. The town was very walkable, which was nice for Baby M in our stroller. Kanazawa is a really interesting little city, with plenty of restaurants/cafes/bars.
In an effort to let Baby M take a nice, long nap, we drove about 45 minutes north, to Chirihama Beach Drive. This is an 8 km long stretch of beach where you can actually drive on the beach! Don’t worry, Alex didn’t do any donuts or anything. It was kind of surreal driving right up to the edge of the water!
Since we arrived so late our first night in Nagoya, and left immediately for Takayama, we were keen to spend our last half day in the region, in Nagoya. Alex and I were very disappointed that the Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology, the only thing we wanted to see in Nagoya, was closed since it was a Monday! Instead, we had to settle for the SCMAGLEV and Railway Park. SCMAGLEV stands for superconducting maglev. It was actually a really cool museum (lots of hands on activities) and many trains (and ramps) for Baby M to run around in. There was even a kids play area!
We arrived too late to actually visit the inside of the Atsuta Jingu Shrine, but the grounds looked beautiful.
In summary, if you can make it to Shirakawa for the Light Up Ceremony, do it! If you can only make it there during the day, do it anyway! Nagoya and the surrounding region were all visit-worthy, and of course, the food in Japan is great!
Shirakawago Light Up official website: http://lightup.asia/schedule/?lang=en
Now for the important stuff: Where we ate & drank!
Kotaro: Delicious pork katsu and grilled Hida beef. It’s a small restaurant, so try to get there early or, like we did, between lunch and dinner.
Kourin Sushi: Now, I don’t know about the reviews saying “best sushi ever” but it was good sushi for a good price, and the owners were really nice. The lady walked us out and gave us three ceramic sake cups, as souvenirs!
Oriental Brewing: Another perk of traveling with my mom is that after we put Baby M to bed, Alex and I can head out for a drink! Oriental Brewing is a cool brewery serving their own stuff, as well as other Japanese beers. I can’t remember now what we had, but it was tasty, and so was the pizza!
Curio Espresso And Vintage Design: Hip coffee shop. I had a regular caffe latte, but Alex tried their orange mocha latte. I’m normally not one for sweet drinks, but it was dark chocolate with bitter orange rinds, and was delicious!
Aashirwad: Indian food in Japan? Why, yes. But I thought this place was just so-so. The naan was great, but the curries themselves were a little too watery for me. The area this restaurant is located in is very interesting though, set on a little canal.
Fuwari: Fancy sushi place. Normally, Alex and I don’t do fancy, but we thought, what the hey? Well, it probably wasn’t a good idea because 1). Baby M was being a loud toddler (who, despite her long nap while we were driving on the beach, was very cranky), 2). Alex and I were still very hungry after our ~$80 USD meal. We ordered the Fuwari Signature sashimi platter for two, and when the plate came, Alex actually asked if it was for two (it looked like it was portioned for a child)… But, it was very fresh. The standout dish was the tempura lotus root sandwich with pork. These were (of course, tiny, but) so delicious. Fried to perfection and nice and salty.
Between Kanazawa and Nagoya:
Gujo Sumibiyaki Unagi no Uotora: On our drive down from Kanazawa to Nagoya, we stopped at this eel place for lunch. Super yummy eel. But each set was ~$30 USD! I guess eel is just expensive!
Misokatsu Yabaton: Alex and I ate here our last night in Nagoya. This is a chain, but we ate at the Nagoya station Meitetsu location. Nagoya’s katsu is called misokatsu, and it has a special red sauce. It was tasty, salty, and very heavy. We left feeling stuffed.
To read about our trip to Hiroshima
To read about our trip to Kyoto 京都市: A City Full of Temples & Shrines