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Five fascinating day trips from Nagoya: Explore the best of Central Japan

The metropolitan city of Nagoya is a great destination with rich history and culture, but also a convenient hub for exploring central Japan, the birthplace of many ninja clans and samurai. Take a day trip to visit one of Japan’s most sacred shrines and try the best seafood in Ise-Shima, walk along the historic streets of Takayama, or unwind on the Island of Nagashima.

Alexandra López Koivisto, Senior SEO Specialist at Finnair

After enjoying everything Nagoya has to offer, a day trip somewhere close by is a perfect way to see more of Japan and escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. In this article, we introduce five interesting day trip destinations from Nagoya.

Ise-Shima: A coastal area with sacred shrines and seafood

One of Japan's most sacred Shinto shrines, Ise Jingu, or Ise Grand Shrine, is located in Mie prefecture, about 100 kilometres south of Nagoya. It consists of 125 Shinto shrines surrounding two main shrines Geku and Naiku.

The outer shrine Geku is dedicated to Toyouke Omikami, the guardian of food, housing, and clothing. Start your visit there and continue by taking a bus or taxi to the inner shrine. The most sacred part, the inner shrine Naiku, is dedicated to the sun goddess Amaterasu. While walking to Naiku, you can enjoy the many traditional shops and restaurants lining the Oharaimachi street and admire the Okage Yokocho district, which has been recreated to resemble a town from past centuries. You can reach Ise Grand Shrine from Nagoya by train in about 80-90 minutes. Ise Grand Shrine is an especially popular place to visit for the first prayer of the new year.

Ise Grand Shrine is located in the Ise-Shima National Park, a huge area of 60,000 hectares and many islands. Although the grand shrine is the most popular sight, there are many other interesting sights to enjoy as well. Visit the Mikimoto Pearl Island, the first place in the world where pearl cultivation was successful. Learn more about pearls and pearl cultivation in the Pearl Museum or watch the performances by ama, female divers who have been gathering seafood with the same technique for thousands of years. For fresh seafood, eat at one of the ama huts where the ama prepare locally caught seafood in front of your eyes.

You can also visit Meoto Iwa or Wedded Rocks nearby. This pair of sacred rocks side by side in the sea is a popular place to visit especially during high tide or to view the sunrise, which is visible between the rocks in the summer. The larger rock represents the husband, and the smaller rock represents the wife. A shimenawa rope dividing the earthly from the spiritual connects the two rocks. There is also a small shrine called the Futami-Okitama Shrine close by with many frog sculptures surrounding it. The frogs are believed to bring good fortune in returning lost items or people, as the word for frog in Japanese is the same as the word for return.

If your travel party consists of a ninja enthusiast, visiting Ninja Kingdom Ise is a must. It is a theme park based on the samurai era and mimics a small castle town. Here, you can learn about the history of the ninja, walk through a ninja maze, play in a ninja playground, visit a sword gallery, and even go to a public hot spring bath. There are also live-action ninja shows to bring it all to life and a dress-up zone so you can become a ninja yourself.

Takayama: A historic town in the Japanese Alps

The historic town of Takayama in Gifu prefecture is known for its well-preserved Edo-period streets, traditional architecture, and high-quality woodwork. Walking in the old town of Takayama, the Sanmachi, you will feel the charm of old Japan. Be sure to taste the local specialities, such as mitarashi dango or skewered Hida beef, and pop into the local craft shops to buy souvenirs. If you happen to be in Takayama before noon, stroll around one of the morning markets. You can find merchants selling local crafts, snacks, and farm products.

One of the morning markets is held in front of Takayama Jinya, a former local government office. Nowadays, it is a museum, and you can tour the inside. It is the only remaining building of its kind and has been classified as a National Historic Site of Japan.

After wandering in the centre, take the bus to the Hida Folk Village, an open-air museum with traditional houses built in the Edo period and relocated from the surrounding Japanese Alps.

Takayama changes with each season, and no matter when you go, you’re guaranteed a country feeling away from the hustle and bustle of the city. The spring and autumn festivals are some of the best festivals in all of Japan, and they are registered on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural List. In spring, the town gets covered in beautiful cherry blossoms, and during summer, you can enjoy milder temperatures than in the bigger cities, and everything nature has to offer. In autumn, you can enjoy the colourful autumn foliage, while in winter, the town transforms into a magical winter wonderland covered with snow.

If you can’t make it to the festivals, visit the Karakuri Museum – the mechanical doll museum. There you can get a small glimpse of what the festivals are like by watching a puppet performance, viewing the puppets used in the festivals, admiring the huge lion mask collection, and seeing instruments and traditional garments used in the festivals.

From Nagoya, you can take the bus or train to Takayama. Both take about 2.5 hours, the bus being a bit more affordable. While in Gifu, you can also visit Gifu castle or UNESCO world heritage sites Shirakawago and Gokayama.

Inuyama: A castle town with a historic open-air museum

The oldest still-standing castle in Japan, Inuyama Castle, is only a 30-minute train ride from Nagoya. This small castle was constructed around 1440, although the current structure is from 1537. It is one of five castles that have the national treasure status.

Make your way to the castle by walking through the Sanko Inari Shrine. This shrine welcomes you with many torii gates and pink heart-shaped wishing plaques that are popular for photos.

The Castle Town between Inuyama station and the castle makes you feel like you have gone back in time, and there are plenty of shops, restaurants, and cafés to enjoy. To get a feel for a traditional Japanese festival, visit the Donden-kan Palace Inuyama Festival Floats Museum.

At the foot of Inuyama castle, you can also visit Urakuen Garden, home to Joan teahouse, a national treasure. The Joan teahouse was originally located in Kyoto but was later moved to Urakuen. It has been of great importance in the history of the Japanese tea ceremony. Nowadays, you can view the Joan teahouse from the outside, but if you would like to experience a Japanese tea ceremony, visit the Koan teahouse within the same park.

Continue your day in Inuyama with a visit to the Meiji Mura open-air museum to learn about the Meiji Period (1868-1912). There are more than 60 well-preserved and relocated buildings from the Meiji Period, characterised by its Western influence. Some of the most popular buildings include Kanazawa Prison, Kyoto’s St. Francis Xavier's Cathedral, Tokyo’s Imperia Hotel, Sapporo’s telephone exchange and Mie’s prefectural office, but you can also visit Meiji-style schools, hospitals, and sake breweries.

Nagashima: An island of amusement and relaxation

Nagashima Resort is a large holiday complex right outside of Nagoya. There are four different areas and plenty to do for everyone.

The main attraction is the Nagashima Spaland Amusement Park. This amusement park is home to over 50 rides varying from thrilling rollercoasters to gentle rides for children. If you’re brave enough, you can even ride the Steel Dragon 2000, the world’s longest rollercoaster, which goes all around the amusement park. During the summer, there is also a waterpark with many waterslides, swimming pools, a wave pool, and a lazy river.

After a fun day at the amusement park, relax in the Yuami no Shima hot springs. There are various man-made hot baths outside and inside, as well as saunas, jacuzzies, massage services, and restaurants. Some baths mimic popular sceneries such as the Kurobe Gorge and Oirase Stream. Unfortunately, going to the onsen or waterpark is forbidden if you have tattoos.

For shopping, visit the Mitsui Outlet Park Jazz Dream Nagashima – a big outlet mall in the area, with over 300 Japanese and international shops.

A bit further away from the rest of the attractions is Nabana no Sato Flower Park. Enjoy beautiful flowers in the indoor begonia and rose gardens, view seasonal flowers outside, enjoy a hot beverage in the café, or visit the Island Fuji moving observation deck for a view of the area. The park really comes to life during winter months, though. From mid-October to early May the park is filled with Japan’s biggest winter illumination. Walk through the tunnel of light and view the different iconic structures of light created every year for an unforgettable experience.

You can reach Nabana no Sato in 35 minutes and Nagashima Spaland in 50 minutes by bus from Nagoya. The bus between Nabana no Sato and Nagashima Spaland takes about 15 minutes.

Kyoto: A city of culture and history

Kyoto is a bucket list item for many visitors to Japan, and luckily, it is also within a short train ride away from Nagoya. This old Japanese capital is full of temples and shrines, so bring your walking shoes. In one day, you can only see a fraction of everything Kyoto has to offer, so it’s a good idea to plan well ahead to get the most out of your visit.

Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion, is a good place to start your visit. The top floors of the temple are covered in gold leaf, and the pavilion leaves a beautiful reflection in the surrounding pond.

Next, grab lunch at Nishiki Market in the city centre. Here, you can sample many traditional Japanese foods in the hundreds of stalls and maybe even find some souvenirs.

Continue your shopping on Matsubara-dori Street, lined with cafés and small shops selling souvenirs, while making your way to Kiyomizudera. Kiyomizudera, or Pure Water Temple, is one of the most popular spots to visit in Kyoto. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site famous for its wooden veranda from which you can admire the surrounding lush nature and the city of Kyoto in the distance. During the cherry blossom season in the spring and the autumn foliage season, the temple is open later into the evening with beautiful illuminations.

When leaving Kiyomizudera, head to the Higashiyama district, a well-preserved historic district where you can experience traditional old Kyoto. Visit the Maruyamakoen Park for a rest between all the sightseeing. Locals head to Maruyamakoen especially during cherry blossom season, but it is a great place to relax whenever you’re in Kyoto. There is a beautiful pond, picnic areas, restaurants, tea houses, and peaceful gardens to stroll in.

Lastly, if you haven’t run out of energy, take the local train to the Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine. This is one of southern Kyoto's most important Shinto shrines and has thousands of torii gates that form a tunnel-like path. The shrine is dedicated to the Shinto god of rice, Inari, and there are numerous fox statues all around that are thought to be Inari’s messengers. Hiking up to the top of the mountain and back takes 1-3 hours, depending on how many photograph breaks you take. You can also turn back any time if you wish to visit a smaller part of the area during this day before heading back to Nagoya.

From Nagoya, you can take the bullet train to Kyoto in about 35 minutes or the bus in 2,5 hours. The local bus or taxi is the best way to get around Kyoto.

Finnair flies to Nagoya twice a week from 30 May 2024 onwards. 

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