Central Japan. It’s a region of the country that travelers typically experience as a lime green blur through a bullet train window as they speed southward from the futuristic frenzy of Tokyo to the traditional refinement of Kyoto.
Heads up: The so-called “Golden Route,” a path between the two capitals of Kanto and Kansai that guidebooks have herded tourists along for decades, isn’t the only way of seeing Japan.
If travelers could just pause and look out of that window for a moment, they would see an area of extraordinary scenic beauty. Untouched rural communities sit in lush valleys where mountains meet the sea; centuries-old traditions are kept alive by tea masters, weavers, and monks, and locals are genuinely delighted to welcome outsiders into their postcard-perfect idyll. There are modern cities, too; centers of innovation and technology that look outward to embrace a globalizing world.
This guide was created to help you explore an unknown Japan though trips to the main prefectures that make up much of the central Japan region: Mie, Aichi, Gifu, and Nagano. Each of the videos is combined with a comprehensive article to help you plan your own itinerary and customize your visit. We’ve also included information about Nagoya, the gateway city to central Japan, below.
Join Mason as he tours around and discovers the top things to do in Mie Prefecture, including hiking the Unesco-listed Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route and visiting Japan’s oldest shrine.
See Shelley’s adventures and find out all about the top things to do in Aichi Prefecture where you can rent a ninja mansion, learn traditional weaving and take a tour of the Toyota Stadium, host of matches at this year’s Rugby World Cup 2019.
Gifu and Nagano Prefectures
Read Lena’s article on the top things to do in Gifu and Nagano Prefectures and follow her as she walks the ancient Nakasendo Trail, trying out iconic cultural activities like tea ceremony and calligraphy along the way.
Don’t miss the gateway to central Japan: Nagoya
The main access hub for central Japan, Nagoya is worth setting aside some time to explore
If the major cities of Japan were a group of friends, Nagoya would be the really smart and attractive friend who is somehow still single. Even though it’s the fourth largest city in the country, it’s often overlooked for more glamorous cities. Don’t let Nagoya’s humble demeanor fool you—the city has secretly got it going on.
How to get to and get around Nagoya
Nagoya has long been a regional transport hub, due to its central location and convenient access to surrounding areas of the Kansai region and beyond.
Chubu Centrair International Airport
Chubu Centrair International Airport, forty minutes outside of Nagoya in Tokoname, is your access hub to the central Japan region with direct flights from Thailand, Vietnam, Germany, the United States and more.
With a fourth-floor sky deck area featuring Western-style architecture on the left and Japanese style on the right, the airport does its best to make foreign visitors feel at home. Watch out for those sneaky ninjas creeping around above the check-in gates. Don’t worry though, as they’re just statues, they can’t hurt you.
And while “dreamy” isn’t usually a word that we would associate with “airport,” the whimsical digital art installation at the airport’s Flight Park is exactly that.
With the success of the trendy teamlab: Borderless projection mapping museum in Tokyo, the art collective decided to put a smaller-scale installation in an airport hangar… with a full-sized Boeing 787 as the centerpiece! Design your own airplane and watch as it magically comes to life during the whimsical show.
Things to do in Nagoya
Search for funky finds on Osu shopping street
Whether it’s hand-crafted Japanese ceramics or a pair of plushy flip flops you’re looking for, you’ll find it on Osu shopping street for cheap!
Finished filling your suitcase with goodies? Head over to Osu Kannon, a huge temple just on the other side of the shopping street. Pray for more money to come your way after that shopping spree you just took.
Make fake tempura at Sample Kobo
The cakes and parfaits crowding the shelves at Sample Kobo look good enough to eat. Too bad you can’t, since they’re actually fake food replicas. Spend any amount of time in Japan and the hyper-realistic samples outside restaurants will become a familiar sight. Learn the art of how they’re made, and try your hand at crafting your own.
One of their most popular workshops is the surprisingly easy tempura-making one where you can choose four items to mold in hot wax for around ¥2,000.
Cleanse your spirit at Atsuta Shrine
South of the city center, the grounds of Atsuta Shrine are like a mini forest with a sea of trees offering quiet serenity. It’s a popular sport for hatsumode (first shrine visit during New Years) and gets lit up with summer fireworks during the Atsuta Festival. Visit Bunkaden, a treasure house filled with over 4,000 artifacts donated by feudal lords and Imperial Family members throughout the ages. Or, say a prayer at the 1,000-year-old tree.
Dress up in a kimono and hang out with geisha
For a touch of traditional elegance, spend the night laughing and talking with maiko and geisha at Nagoya’s oldest restaurant, Kawabun. There’s a different show every night of the week at Kawabun’s Cultural Night experience with traditional song and dance performances. Enjoy chatting and drinking with them up close and personal—an experience most rarely get to have.
What to eat in Nagoya
Despite nearby Osaka being considered the “kitchen of Japan,” a trip to Nagoya will definitely add a few extra inches to your waistline.
Tebasaki (chicken wings)
Fried chicken wings don’t sound especially Japanese, but Nagoya does them like nowhere else. These aren’t your grandmother’s wings, though. They’re crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, and lightly coated with spices. You’ll find them at several chains across the city, but the most popular ones are Yamachan and Furaibo. Kentucky Fried who?
If your tastebuds can handle more, try miso katsu—deep-fried pork cutlets slathered in tangy red miso sauce. This salty, crunchy delight is filling enough for breakfast, lunch, and dinner at once! Chain restaurant Yabaton is the most famous miso katsu joint in town, serving the dish since the 1940s. Just look for their shirtless pig mascot—the sweats you get after eating here will make you want to take your shirt off too.
Where to stay in Nagoya
After stuffing your face you’re gonna need to take a nap. Whatever your budget, Nagoya has plenty of cheap capsules, high-class penthouse suites, and everything in between. Try one of these foreigner-friendly hotels.
A business hotel with comfy beds across the street from Nagoya station.
For those who wanna party in Nagoya’s wild downtown area, Sakae.
Remember what we said about penthouse suites?
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This article was compiled by Randiah Camille Green and Rebecca Quin, and produced in collaboration with Nagoya City and Chubu Centrair International Airport.