Japan — a crucible of tradition and modernity

HAVING gone to Japan with the knowledge that it was one of the most densely populated countries in the world, my impression of the sea-faring nation was that congestion and pandemonium would rule the streets of the major cities, but I was in for a major surprise — something I had not really bargained for. And wow! What a surprise it was! The two cities of Nagoya and Osaka made me change my mind.

By Mohsen Rashid

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Published: Fri 14 Jul 2006, 4:26 PM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 5:43 PM

I was one among the media team that accompanied Shaikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Chairman of the Dubai Civil Aviation Department and President of Emirates airlines, along with a number of senior officials of the national airliner on board the inaugural flight on the Dubai-Nagoya route.

Nagoya and Osaka truly transformed the picture ingrained in our collective minds about what Japan would be like. The gorgeous and superb tourist landmarks, coupled with hi-tech industrial centres, impressed the visitors, and a friendly, welcoming people made us feel at home in a land some of us thought was strange and alien to us. Japan is the place where hospitality is offered round the clock.

One who travels to Nagoya needs to be aware that Japan is five hours ahead of Dubai Standard Time, and it takes 10 hours on a non-stop flight from Dubai to Centair Airport in Nagoya. Opened in February last year, the state-of-the-art airport was built on a man-made island. The cost of the D-shaped airport — surrounded by seawater — stood at $7.3 billion. The greenery in vast areas of the island and the rocks are eye-catching, to the sheer delight of visitors. The four-storied airport building includes lounges for Arrivals and Departures on the second and third floors, while the fourth floor on top is set for the ‘Sky Town’ which houses shopping boutiques, restaurants offering Japanese delicacies, hair dressing saloons, sauna and siesta rooms.

Nagoya, with a population of more than 2.2 million, has built Japan’s third subway system in 1957, following Tokyo and Osaka. Today, they are five lines, of which two — the Mejo and the No 4 Line — are operated jointly. The total length of the network is 87km with 93 stations (the average distance is 968m). With one million daily passengers, the Nagoya Subway has a share of just a little more than 10 per cent of all trips done within the city, because traffic is still dominated by private vehicles. Most subway cars and major stations have been equipped with air-conditioning, with the newer Sakura-Dori Line also offering access via elevators. The metro is operated by the City of Nagoya Transportation Bureau.

The airport is linked to the central area with road and rail networks. It takes a 40-minute drive to reach the airport, 60 minutes by bus, and 28 minutes by train. All procedures, including luggage control, are done automatically to avoid any congestion at any stage until the passenger leaves the airport, which deals with 26 international airliners, including Emirates and three local airline companies. The airport renders the service to 28 cities across the world through 309 international flights, and 94 local flights from and to 34 Japanese cities.

Stepping down from the plane and leaving the airport does not take more than 15 minutes in all. Well-planned Nagoya is popular among foreign residents as a pleasant metropolis to live in. Its wide streets and an easily navigable lattice network — combined with a very convenient subway network system — make it quite convenient for visitors to move around. Since it hosted the Design Expo in 1989, Nagoya has been transforming itself into a design-conscious city, particularly keen on increasing greenery and parks within the city. For further development as a ‘design city’, a new institution — the International Design Centre has been established.

The several multi-flyovers linking the airport to the heart of the city make commuting within Nagoya from one place to another so much easier. Nagoya, along with its neighbouring areas, is an industrial powerhouse. From high-tech sectors such as automobiles, machine tools, electronics and aerospace, to traditional industries like textiles and ceramics, the city has built a strong industrial base. Accordingly, ‘industrial tourism’ in Japan is a booming sector that includes tours to the Toyota Motor Corporation, Japanese dinnerware makers such as Noritake and Narumi, and a visit to industrial museums.

The landmarks worth visiting include the Nagoya Castle and Tokugawa Art Museum. Other museums include Toyota, Pottery and Chinaware, as well as shopping centres in which an abundance of commodities and products is on display. Prices vary from place to place but in popular markets, they are affordable. As for the Japanese currency, 30 Yen equal Dh1. Prices of gifts range from Yen 1,000 to 30,000.

Visitors to Nagoya interested in watching its landmarks are advised to make their sight-seeing tour on foot, as taxi fares are expensive. The first tourism landmark we visited was the historical Nagoya Castle, which was built in 1612 by the famous Shogun Tokugawa Leyasu. It was rebuilt after being destroyed during the Second World War. It contains a museum and the treasures of the Tokugawa Dynasty. Beautiful parks in the town are open to the public from 9.30am to 4.30pm with the entry ticket costing Yen 400. The Tokugawa Art Museum was opened in 1935. It exhibits artefacts featuring the Japanese Imperial eras. Those on display include warrior armours, swords, tea utensils, and costumes. The museum is open from 10am to 5pm with an entry ticket of Yen 1,000 per person. It attracts young musicians at the weekend who entertain visitors by playing soft and ecstatic music.

A tourist should, by no chance, miss the opportunity of viewing the Genji Mongatari — the tale of Genji, the world’s oldest novel written by Murasaki Shikibu. Our second stopover in the sight-seeing tour was the Toyota Museum for Industry and Technology. Its items on display give an impression to the visitor on first glance that they are confined to cars and stages of manufacturing. After all, who would have linked the brand name Toyota to anything apart from car-manufacturing, but surprise, surprise! We discovered that Toyota is not just a single entity, but there are 13 companies functioning under the Toyota group. These include firms involved in spinning and weaving. Now, that was a real revelation to us!

Other tourism landmarks were the Pottery and Porcelain Museum, and the 180 meter-high TV Tower — the first TV tower built in the country. Its panoramic views will remain etched in the minds of tourists as an indelible memory. Other attractive places in the city are the Astota Genjo, located south of the city centre — a park, among a host of others, decorated with 1,000-year-old Camphor trees. Wedding ceremonies are usually held in the temple. We were lucky to witness a wedding ceremony with all the marriage rituals.

The temple was the last stopover in Nagoya, after which we set off for Osaka on Japan’s famous bullet train — also known as the Shinkasen — the fastest in the world. It whizzes past the countryside so fast that you could miss much of it if you blink too often. We were in Osaka within an hour of boarding the train in Nagoya — a distance of 200km. The rail networks cover most parts of the country. Seats can be booked with return tickets or one-way, and they can be bought for single or multiple trips.

Osaka is famous for its impressive buildings, business districts, ‘water streets’ and carnivals. It is also called the water city, for it is surrounded by rivers and canals. A tourist landmark, which one should visit, is the Osaka Castle. The plum and cherry trees surrounding it add to its pristine beauty. The huge aquarium within the castle is a scene-stealer. Its multiple floors are full of living creatures. The floors are separated from one another with glass barriers, and include a number of sections like the Japanese Forest and Panama Bay. You can encounter sharks and different varieties of fish swimming all around you.

The Panasonic Centre — a research centre of the giant Japanese electronic manufacturer — is another part of the city the visitors love to flock to. Other places of interest, which the media team was shown around, were the Instant Noodles Creative Museum. Osaka is also famous for its high towers, the waterways, and more than 800 flyovers — built to ease vehicular traffic. One particularly amazing flyover cuts through a residential tower at its centre and opens out to the other side of the city.

In fast-changing Nagoya, new hotels keep mushrooming. The luxury hotels include Marriott and Hilton Nagoya with prices starting from Yen 25,000. The media team was accommodated in Hilton Nagoya. Other medium-standard hotels include Mitsui Grand, Nagoya Sakay Tokyo, and Nagoya Castle, whose rates begin from Yen11,000. Hotels in the economy range for the frequent travellers and businessmen start from Yen 6,000, such as the Sun Plaza, Nagoya Station and Reo Kanz. These hotels are traditional and run by families.

They offer Japanese food, but have no beds. Customers need to sleep on mattresses placed on the floor. Some hotels also have sharing bathrooms, such as Reo Kanz Merio and Reo Kanz Watanabi. Some hotels are situated 3km uphill on sites overlooking the city, such as Geizan Reokan and Yomoutio Tchiwoza. In Osaka, the media team was put up in a most luxurious hotel, reputed to be the second best business tourism hotel in the world and the best in Japan — the Ritz Carlton Osaka.

As we flew back to Dubai, with a heavy heart we bid Sayonara to charming, enchanting and thrilling Japan — a land that combines tradition and modernity with such enviable ease.

Editorial support — Vanit Sethi



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