Lunar New Year Trip to Nagoya & Surrounding Areas

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Village of Shirakawa

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!


Takayama 高山

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Bridge in Takayama

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).

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All kinds of delicious food! Heavy and perfect for a snowy day.

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Beautiful, snow-covered Takayama

(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.)


Shirakawa 白川郷

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In front of a traditional thatched roof (Gassho style) home

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!

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Snowy Shirakawa village

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!

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Family photo

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.

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Sledding and thatched roofs


Kanazawa 金沢市

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Kenroku-en Garden and Kanazawa Castle

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).

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Higashichaya District and Omicho Market

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Quaint old town

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.

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Driving on Chirihama beach

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!

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All kinds of good food, from sushi to Indian to pizza. Fancy lattes and craft beers too!


Nagoya 名古屋市

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1st row: View from rest area, SCMAGLEV museum; 2nd row: SCMAGLEV; 3rd row: Atsuta Jingu Shrine

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.

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Eel and misokatsu


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!

Takayama:

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.

Kanazawa:

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!

Nagoya:

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


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5 responses to “Lunar New Year Trip to Nagoya & Surrounding Areas”

  1. Marcia says :

    Very interesting. Great photos and well written, as are all your articles.

  2. drzejan says :

    Great to see that you have decided to visit that area. As you were staying in Takayama (I really liked that city, especially the old town and the hill/mountain where the keep used to be) it might have been worth to go and see Matsumoto and its castle (one of 4 original castles in Japan) – definitely worth to see. To add more, just road between Takayama and Matsumoto is awesome as you go through Japanese Alps.

    As for Nagoya I got the impression that there is not so much to see – I spent there almost one day and that was enough for me. I did not checked castle from inside as I knew I would see Matsumoto in following days.

    Shirakawa-go, cool place to stay in for at most half a day. There are really nice things to see there but I think that going there during summer might be a better option (warm / green / good weather :D) but still I would really like to see the landscape covered by snow 😀

    Interesting thing is that the viewpoint you mentioned (one that there might be a long queue) you could get only to metal pipes but during summer I’m pretty sure I went even further. I spent in Shirakawa-go a little bit too much time (I was bored at the end) but as a side effect I found even better viewpoint which was not crowded. One just has to enter forest next to the main viewpoint 🙂

    Kanazawa – I plan to visit that area during this summer (if I get holidays >_>). My plan is simple: land in Tokyo, get on shinkansen to Kanazawa (damn expensive), see the old city and rent a car so I can see some remote places. I’m most afraid of driving a car that has driving wheel on the wrong side + automatic gearbox 😉

    By the way, I’m not sure if you heard that but with the beginning of this month I left ‘the big S family’ 😉

    • OliviaM says :

      Andrew,

      I knew I should have asked you for tips re: all things Japan!

      Have a good time this summer!

      And congrats on leaving S! Are you still staying in Poland?

      • drzejan says :

        Maybe this time I wouldn’t be the best person to ask as I’ve been only to three places out of four you mention in this post 😉 What’s more – I went there during summer/spring so my knowledge might be pretty much useless during winter. By the way – near the main viewpoint in Shirakawa-go I almost stepped on a red-black snake 😀

        I’m not sure if things will work for me this summer due to change of jobs but I will try my best to make it possible 😀 I’m still in Poland and my new employer has office in my city so no more wasting time on commuting 🙂

      • OliviaM says :

        YAY on no longer having that terrible commute! Your description of it was making me depressed 😉

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