o you're on your way to the Pro Tour in Nagoya. Going halfway around the world? Get happy, because Nagoya is one of Japan's better kept secrets. It doesn't have the wild, prolific tourist public-relations machine behind it like Kamakura or Kyoto, but it's a happening city with numerous things to do besides playing Magic with the world's best.
Brian David-Marshall breaks down the anticipated field at Pro Tour-Nagoya, featuring 15 rounds of Rochester Draft.
Nagoya is Japan's fourth-largest city and has one of Japan's best public transportation networks. Since the city will host the 2005 International World Expo in the spring, they've added numerous improvements. Lots of new subway lines, adding elevators for the disabled, and better signs in multiple languages help to make Nagoya one of the easier Japanese cities to navigate.
It also has some of the most beautiful, accessible, and entertaining activities a modern megalopolis can offer. Don't look at your trip merely as an opportunity to play for big stakes -- look at it as an opportunity to do things you've never done before and enjoy fresh experiences.
Three easy, must-see sites:
1. Nagoya Castle
Built by the first unifier and shogun of Japan, Ieyasu Tokugawa, Nagoya Castle started construction in 1610 and was completed in 1612. It has served as a military fortress, an Imperial palace, an ammunition dump, and now serves the public as a museum and concert site. A pair of golden dolphins guard the roof, warding off evil spirits. Six floors highlight classic samurai armor, weapons, 19th century classical Japanese architecture, and many other historical topics. Check out the cool murder holes as you approach the main entrance to the castle's donjon. Some classical gardens and tea houses line the lanes leading up to the castle's walls, so it's worth a stroll around the castle. In spring, a host of cherry trees turn the castle pink with blossoms.
The easiest way to get to Nagoya Castle is by subway. Go to Shiyakusho Station on the Meijo (purple) line.
2. Atsuta Shrine
One of the three most significant shrines of Japan, Atsuta-jingu holds the famous Kusanagi no Tsurugi, one of three legendary gifts to Jimmu, the first Emperor of Japan by the sun goddess. Unfortunately, the public isn't allowed to see the sword, but there are many other sights at the temple. A giant camphor tree, reputed to be 1,000 years old, lies within the park, and holds a spirit restrained by a paper charm chain. Peek around the visitor center and you'll see lots of fish and turtles in the koi pond behind the visitor's center. Many pilgrims buy charms from a small stall, which also sells slips of paper that tell you your fortune. If you don't like the fortune you get, you can tie the paper to a tree and the wind will blow your ill fate away.
From Nagoya Station, go to the Meitetsu rail line and take one of many trains stopping at Jingu-Mae Station. Ask the conductor for details. It's only two stops away from Nagoya Station. Or, if you're a subway fan, go to Jingu-Nishi station on the Meijo (purple) subway line.
For those of you who live and breathe shopping but weren't born rich, the best place to head to is Osu, a commercial district centering around a 400-year-old temple, Osu-Kannon. It's a wise idea to start off by making a small offering at the temple and ringing the bell, praying for luck in the tournament and good shopping. Then make your way into the covered bazaar. Lots of used kimono shops, urban outfitters, and Japanese toy stores form the barrier of a commercial maze. If you're looking for a cool souvenir, here's the best place to find something. Nagoyans are famous for their frugal ways, and flock to Osu for the varied selection of merchandise and the best prices.
Technology addicts will also love Osu. After Tokyo's Akihabara and Osaka's Nipponbashi districts, Osu is the largest place for dealing in electronics and computers. (Buying shirts bearing horrendous English is my personal recommendation for awesome souvenirs.)
What brave corporate logos…
From Nagoya Station, take the Higashiyama (yellow) line one stop to Fushimi, then transfer to the Tsurumai (blue) line and go one stop to Osu-Kannon station.
Nagoya is an excellent restaurant town, with a wide variety of different eateries all over. Its trademark condiment is white miso, a light, healthy and savory sauce that is often pureed and added to soup. Some must try items:
This is a hot, bubbling mix of noodles, vegetables, egg, fish, and meat, bathed in a white miso broth. Cheap and delicious. It is considered good form to slurp as you eat the noodles.
Deep-fried pork cutlets sound like they could be from Atlanta, but Georgia never came up with sweet bean paste as a condiment. Most Japanese people prefer tonkatsu sauce, which is mild and slightly watery, but Nagoyans love their miso.
An experiment of taking the spice of Szechuan Chinese cooking and adapting it to Japanese style noodles, this international dish made with hot peppers started in Nagoya and spread to the whole of Japan. The dish is unknown in Taiwan.
Eel doesn't usually make the plates of most Europeans or North Americans, but Japanese know it to be one of the most delicious varieties of seafood. Hitsumabushi is a lightly barbecued, slightly sweet eel dish. Warning: Don't eat it with umeboshi (pickled plums, a popular condiment), or you'll be sick as a dog.
Set dead-smack in the center of Honshu, Japan's main island, Nagoya is a good starting point for trips to many other places. For those of you who can't get enough of temples and shrines, Kyoto lies within an hour of Nagoya by bullet train. For those of you who want to go hiking, the mountains of Nagano are only 90 minutes away. Nagano has the famed indoor ski slope that is open all 12 months of the year.
Of course, there's also the experience of meeting and talking to the Japanese themselves. While there is a bit of a language barrier, don't be afraid to give things a try. Most Japanese people are very considerate and thoughtful and are extremely interested in getting a chance to meet and make friends with people from around the world.
Whatever your non-Magic interests are, be sure to give them in a try in Japan. The change in perspective may give you an entirely new appreciation to life.