Japan Travel Blog April 2015: Touchdown Nagoya!

Strictly speaking, this isn’t my first time in Japan. A few years ago while on a cruise from Shanghai, our ship had to dock at Fukuoka to refuel and we were allowed to walk around the nearby area for a couple of hours.

A couple of hours.

Who were they kidding! This time around I was here for six days and one night and not even that was close to enough! You guys have no idea how much I want to go back and explore some more. The moment we landed home I already wanted to plan my trip back! 🙂

When we landed in Nagoya it was over 8 in the evening, local time. Driving into town from the airport took some time so when we arrived it was fairly late already. Most non-food establishments in Japan close rather early so there was nothing left to do but eat dinner, and we did just that in this little yakiniku place 焼肉一気 (Yakiniku Ikki). A pleasant evening stroll to the restaurant not only cleared my plane-induced allergy and headache, it also prepared us for all the unlimited grilled meat the restaurant had to offer. 

But first: obligatory photo with my Dad (everywhere we go), because I do believe it’s my first time traveling with just him!

I love that most restaurants in Japan have hangers on the ready for coats and jackets. I’m not so sure it’s going to help much in a joint like this though. You can never escape a yakiniku meal without having the barbecue smell permeate your clothes and hair!

Is there even anyone who still doesn’t know about yakiniku these days? A little trivia for you all: yakiniku is actually Korean in origin! Regardless, crowding around a tabletop grill barbecuing stuff has its own charms. It’s why these types of places are popular whether in Korea or Japan. 

The meat in the restaurant is fresh and quite good, though stuffing yourself silly an hour before bedtime is not something I would recommend. I ended up eating more kimchi than pork or beef and everybody who went the all-you-can-meat route complained about how overly full they were. 😛

We moved hotels a total of 6 times for this trip– a different one every night. Our first night was spent in the Nagoya Tokyu Hotel. It’s where the photo at the top of this post was taken. (Legit candid moments must be included in travel posts from now on.)

I can’t really remember much about the hotel since we were literally just in and out of here for the first night, but the one thing that will probably be forever stuck in my memory is that this was where I had my first (and quite possibly last) taste of Japanese superfood 納豆 (natto). It’s fermented soybean, usually commercially packaged with a bit of mustard and sesame oil. Eating it is almost like a “Man Versus Food” type of dare. 

Natto is MOST DEFINITELY an acquired taste. I can’t imagine eating this everyday to be completely honest with you. The hotel’s version is considerably toned down because it’s so much less slimy (and I presume smelly) than the hardcore stuff I saw on the web as I researched about this little… uh… treat. But yes, it is slimy, it is smelly, it tastes salty/sour/like how one would imagine stinky feet tasted like. But hey, it’s supposed to be really really good for you so I finished that whole cup. It’s not so bad once you get a couple of scoops in your mouth I think.

After breakfast we hopped straight to the bus. I was wishing really hard for a lane of cherry blossoms to appear miraculously as we navigated Nagoya, but I also knew that we were too late for the 2015 season already. So when our bus stopped by a tiny park with a lovely cherry blossom tree, I was super excited to snap my first set of cherry blossom photos. (I can’t remember the name of the area though.)

These look like the Kanzan variety, with as many as 50 petals per flower. So pretty! You can’t blame me for finding these little flowers so absolutely wonderful. It’s my first time seeing them in the flesh!

These look like autumn colours. Anybody know what this tree is actually called?

Well that mini stopover was something our tour guide indulged us with, but our real destination was Atsuta Jingu. Interesting thing about this Shinto shrine is that it is said to house the legendary Japanese sword Kusanagi, which is one of the three most sacred objects that represents the power of the Japanese emperor. Let’s head inside!

Ema hanging near the entrance. I wanted to buy one and write a wish but I completely forgot when I got started on strolling around the large compound. Trees everywhere, and the sense of peace was so overwhelming it became too easy to forget everything and just be while I was here. Sometimes Shinto worshippers would write a wish on ema or buy themselves some sort of lucky charm after a round of prayers in the shrine.

Cleansing yourself is a must and a sign of respect whenever visiting a Shinto shrine. Typically there is a purification fountain at the entrance, and I remember using one when I visited a shrine in Fukuoka years ago. Every shrine has a purification trough in some form and while others are a bit more decorative, normally they are just made out of stone, with wooden ladles lined on top of a wooden panel.

How to cleanse hands before entering the shrine? First you fill a ladle with water and you wash your left hand first, using your right hand to hold the ladle. Next, wash your right hand this time, using your left hand to pour the water. Some people pour water into a cupped hand and rinse their mouths (please DO NOT spit the water back into the fountain!) but it’s perfectly fine to just let the leftover water drift down the length of the ladle’s handle.

Close by the purification fountain are stacked barrels of sake offerings. I love seeing these big barrels with their colourful writing on the outside. I think these are mostly donated by shrine-goers and patrons. Doing some touristy things right here haha!

Right beside the sake display is this stunning humongous tree. You can see the shimenawa rope wrapped around the tree’s trunk to signify its sacredness. Many people stop by here to pay respects and say a little prayer. This sacred tree is 1,300 years old and is one of the biggest trees I have ever laid my eyes on. I have to walk a ways away before it begins to fit into a shot. Beautiful tree though!

You can walk by these posters before getting to the shrine. They are bits of information surrounding the shrine’s treasures, its history and whatnot. There are some Chinese characters in there but mostly it’s in Japanese so I kind of just gave it a glance and walked on.

As with any Shinto shrine, there are a couple of giant stone torii that lead to the main shrine building. Right beside the main shrine, you can buy plenty of Shinto paraphernalia in the store manned by Shinto priestesses. Mostly these are charms for whatever it is you’re praying for at the moment.

The main shrine is actually quite simple and the entire structure is made of wood. But it’s quite imposing.

I’m not sure what these boys are doing, but please do enlighten me:

Even though you’re of a different religion, I think learning about other religions isn’t a bad thing. To show my respect I did a little Shinto prayer after observing how solemnly everybody else does it. Most people would first throw a coin into the sasenbako (offerings box), and then they take a step back, bow twice, clap twice, whisper a little prayer, and then bow one last time. I did that too.

We didn’t actually get to see inside the buildings and didn’t explore the other areas because it was packed with people for the day. I was wondering what all the people in suits and dresses were doing hanging about the compound and it turns out they were attending a traditional Japanese wedding. I’m not quite familiar with the customs of the shinzen shiki style wedding (I’d love to get invited to one though) so I’m not sure why they were marching to the other side of the compound, but thanks to that we get a glimpse of the couple.

You can see the bride wearing a wataboshi (white hood) along with her shiromuku (white kimono robe). Meanwhile, the groom is in his formal kimono and hakama (kimono pants), with a haori (kimono jacket) on top. I’ve read about the rituals but it’s another thing entirely to see it for myself. I wonder if I’ll ever get to.

I wandered a little bit more around the main pathway of the compound on my own. The spring air was absolutely refreshing and just a little cold, which made it perfect for aimless walking. I came upon the small restaurant serving Nagoya’s famous kishimen noodles.

I unfortunately didn’t have time (and was still pretty full) to eat some even though I had put it on my to-do list, but I was determined not to let anything that didn’t go my way ruin my short stay in this beautiful country! And besides, every missed experience is motivation for a next visit. Amiright?

As I walked around listening to the rustling of the trees, I finally understood why people I’ve asked in the past would readily tell me that going to Japan gave them such a good feeling. Being in Japan gave me such a wonderful general sense of peace and well-being! I guess it has to do with the fact that I’m partly realizing one of my travel dreams, but while I was here, despite how tired I would be the night before, I wake up everyday feeling a different kind of invigorated. I wake up raring to fly out the door and explore. Walk around. Breathe in the gloriously crisp and fresh air, with its faint smells of nature floating around.

I let it all sink in. I was finally… FINALLY in Japan!!! And this visit to Atsuta Shrine was just the beginning!


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