The Japanese archipelago is full of wonders. Visitors can marvel at the sights of the many temples and shrines, explore the numerous and varying natural sights, enjoy onsen and traditional ryokan across the country, and visit a plethora of cities, big and small, that offer special livestyles, architecture, and cuisines.
Most international tourists tend to focus on Tokyo and the Kansai cities of Kyoto and Osaka. Other tourists might add places around those big cities like Nara, Yokohama, Kamakura, Hakone (for the onsen experience), Kobe, and Nikko. More seasoned travelers also add other important cities like Fukuoka, Hiroshima, Hakodate, and Sapporo. Then you have nature lovers venturing to Japan’s vast wilderness and scenic spots in Hokkaido, Nagano, Ise, Aomori, Iwate, Yakushima, and Akita, among others. Those coming to Japan for winter sports tend to go to Niseko and Hakuba, while those wanting to enjoy pristine beaches go to Okinawa.
Among Japan’s cities, towns, and overall tourist spots, Nagoya tends to suffer from a very perplexing problem: it’s overlooked by many tourists. It’s not like Nagoya does not get any tourists. In fact, there are many people, particularly domestic travelers, who visit Nagoya. However, it’s not a top priority among international tourists, and even domestic tourists tend to overlook Nagoya or visit for a short one-day trip.
So, why is it that tourists overlook Japan’s fourth largest city and third largest metropolitan area?
One of the main reasons people overlook Nagoya is due to its public image. Does Nagoya have a bad image? Absolutely not. It simply struggles to have one that people find appealing enough to visit. Tokyo and Osaka are also massive cities, but their cultures and fame can be recognized across the world. Nagoya, on the other hand, has not been able to imprint the kind of alluring images that would make tourists dream of visiting the city.
Among Nagoya’s many appeals is its “Morning Service”, which is offered in the city’s coffee shops and cafes. Here, by buying a cup of coffee in the morning, you will receive a breakfast set at no additional cost. This breakfast is usually a toast with red bean paste, and it’s something that people all around Japan know of. Some of the city’s appealing sites include sites like Nagoya Castle, Atsuta Shrine, and Nagoya TV Tower, the oldest TV tower in Japan and which now houses a luxurious boutique hotel.
But if people are not truly familiar with Nagoya’s culture and image, then to them it’s just another big city, and if people have to choose which big cities to visit, Tokyo and Osaka would naturally make the cut, leaving Nagoya behind.
When the government owned Japanese National Railways (JNR) split up in 1987 to create for-profits companies, the privatization resulted in the creation of the Japan Railways Group or JR Group. The group consists of seven different passenger railway companies: JR Hokkaido, JR East, JR Central, JR West, JR Shikoku, and JR Kyushu. The JR Group also has three other companies for freight, research, and IT services. Of the passenger companies, only JR East, JR Central, JR West, and JR Kyushu are publicly-listed. JR Tokai or JR Central, as its known in English, is the most profitable of the JR companies thanks to the popular Tokaido-Shinkansen, which the company operates. The Tokaido-Shinkansen operates from Tokyo Station to Shink-Osaka Station, thus connecting Japan’s two biggest metropolitan areas in two hours and thirty minutes. What’s more, the line also serves the popular cities of Kyoto, Atami, and Yokohama, big cities in Shizuoka Prefecture like Shinzuoka and Hamamatsu, and Japan’s third largest metropolitan area: Nagoya.
Nagoya, being that point in between is what made JR Central develop and operate the line, and the line’s importance can’t be undermined. Upon opening, the Tokaido-Shinkansen lowered plane ticket prices as Japan’s airlines faced a new and very convenient competitor. The clearest sign of the Tokaido-Shinkansen’s effects can be seen in Chubu Centrair International Airport, which serves Nagoya. The airport, beloved by passengers and avgeeks, has around 12 million passengers under healthy circumstances (numbers during the pandemic are incredibly low, for obvious reasons), reaching 12.2 million passengers in 2019. The number is enough to make it the 8th busiest airport in Japan despite the Nagoya Metropolitan Area being the third most populous and third most economically powerful one in Japan. The reason the airport’s passenger numbers don’t reflect the influx of people traveling to Nagoya on business is because of the accessibility of the Tokaido-Shinkansen, and of the over 400,000 people that take this shinkansen a day, about 70,000 people do so in Nagoya, making it the third most important station served by the Tokaido-Shinkansen.
A curse that came out of the Tokaido-Shinkansen, though, is that tourists taking it to travel between Osaka-Kyoto and Tokyo pass through Nagoya without batting an eye, making them ignore the city completely.
If your city does not get tourists, then attract them. That has always been the strategy of cities hoping to increase the number of visitors they receive. Yokohama, a city that is popular among tourists for one-day trips and one-day trips only, has struggled to entice tourists to book hotel rooms in the city. That’s why the city eagerly announced its bid for one of the integrated resorts that were supposed to open in Tokyo until the newly elected mayor of Yokohama, who ran his campaign promising to shut down the city’s bid, was elected. Nagoya, for its part, has also tried to attract tourists, particularly families, with the opening of amusement parks. If Tokyo could have the Tokyo Disney Resort and Osaka Universal Studios Japan, why couldn’t Nagoya have its share too? That’s what brought LEGOLAND Japan to Nagoya.
The initial forecasts were promising: LEGOLAND, while not expected to bring in the numbers USJ and the Tokyo Disney Resort did, was expected to perform very well and attract the tourists Nagoya wanted. However, numbers quickly began to falter, and LEGOLAND never went on to fulfill the dreams that had arisen during its planning and constructions.
With the new Ghibli theme park, though, Aichi hopes that the second time does the trick.