Today our gracious hosts with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries are giving up a day at home with their families to give us a personally guided tour of Nagoya. The city is remarkably lively for a Saturday; there are a lot of people out and about, mostly walking in the city center area, with more bicycles as we move farther out. I would think it’s a Saturday, except the vehicular traffic on the roads is not as heavy as it was yesterday.
Our first stop is the Nagoya Castle, a magnificent complex that was the model for modern Nagoya. It was built of stone and wood in three years by Tokugawa Ieyaus; he ordered 20 feudal lords from western Japan to build the stone walls. The Central Tower (top) can be seen from many places within the city. I lost count of how many flights of stairs there are (above); fortunately for us–and the many other tourists–the standard procedure is to take an elevator to the top and then walk down, viewing exhibits on the various levels.
The Kinshachi–fish–atop the castle are said to be able to summon water and were used as charms to prevent fire, a very real consideration in all-wood construction. The fish atop the castle’s central tower–one male, one female–also represent the power and wealth of the Tokugawa family. The Kinshachi are gold-plated, with 18 carats of gold, to the tune of about 44 kilograms of gold per fish. Their theme repeats around the castle, and there are places where world travelers can photograph themselves with replicas of the Kinshachi (above).
The outskirts of the city are a study in contrasts, with modern office buildings or bank branches right beside a small, traditional Japanese home. Land is scarce here and real estate a limiting factor in residential construction, as it is in most (if not all) large cities. There are large apartment and condominium buildings near industrial complexes, so that workers’ commutes are shorter. It’s also laundry day in Nagoya, we determine after carefully considering the number of homes and condos with clothes hanging out to dry–especially on condo balconies.
The city is very neat and well organized, and there is good separation between pedestrians and other motor vehicles. There are many pedestrian bridges and ramps, and functional landscaping, railings, and guardrails direct pedestrians (and bicycles) to crosswalks. We also see a lot of familiar brands: McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken, 7-11, Circle K, and Lawson’s, which if I recall correctly began as a chain of dairy and ice-cream stores in the United States; I remember them growing up in Ohio.
Interestingly, to me, is the fact that driving is on the left-hand side of the road here–British style–while in Taiwan everything is reversed. Seeing right-hand driving for the first time in so long made me feel right at home. While we’re sightseeing, our friends humor us with a stop to pick up another case of water for the final legs of the trip–something we both forgot to do in Australia. There’s still bottled water in the airplane, but that’s something you want to be sure you have plenty of.
Our last stop on the tour is the Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology. It traces the history of what is today’s Toyota Motor Corporation–known primarily for its cars and trucks–from its roots in the textile industry, which was a surprise to both Mike and me. The company began by manufacturing spinning and weaving machines that eventually grew to industrial proportions. Also interesting was the fact that the family name originally was Toyoda; while a lot of the exhibits included English explanations, I did not see anything telling why the name shifted to Toyota (with a second “t” in place of the “d”) somewhere along the line.
So our day in Nagoya–the 50th anniversary of the Mitsubishi’s first flight, from the very airport where Mike’s airplane is parked–is nearly over. But not quite. Upon our return to our hotel, Mike’s longtime friend Ross Russo was waiting in the lobby. Mike originally had asked Ross to accompany him on this trip, but Ross’s daughter was married earlier this month and he knew that he could not go–well, if he did, there wouldn’t be much point in returning home afterward. That’s how Ross, who I’ve had the pleasure of knowing for some 20 years, came to suggest that Mike talk with me about the trip. For this opportunity, I’ll always owe Ross. Ross and his cousin had flown to Japan to climb Mt. Fuji, which they did on Thursday and Friday…so on Saturday, they rode the Bullet Train from Tokyo to Nagoya (about 100 minutes) for the surprise that was arranged largely by text messages on our cellphones.
Now Mike, N50ET, and I enter the home stretch–four days of flying back home. Looks like we’re getting out of Japan just ahead of Tropical Storm Man-yi, which we’ve been watching for the past few days. Russia, here we come!