Nagoya: Golden Dolphins and the Legendary Sword

Perhaps best known globally for its short-listed (failed) bid for the 1988 Summer Olympics, Nagoya is the 4th most populated city in Japan with about 2.17 million inhabitants. Located about 225 miles west of Tokyo in the Aichi prefecture along the Pacific Ocean, Nagoya is accessible by train from Tokyo in between 3 and 3 ½ hours.

Nagoya is home to several art museums as well as the Higashiyama Zoo and Botanical Gardens, one of the largest zoos in Asia that includes an amusement park as well. You may also decide to tour the Noritake factory, where world-famous fine china is manufactured. Nagoya is also famous for the 5th tallest building in Japan, Midland Square, which just opened in 2007 as the new international sales headquarters for Toyota.

One of the most popular tourist locations in Nagoya is Nagoya Castle, a castle restored to look like the original castle that stood in its place since 1612. It famously burned during World War II, so the current castle is a faithful reconstruction that was completed in 1959. Although many of the artifacts were destroyed, some of the original paintings were salvaged and are on display. One of the most iconic features of the Nagoya Castle is what many people call the “golden fish.” Two giant statues called the kinshachi are actually golden dolphin statues with tiger-like heads. They are placed on both ends of the roof and are meant, in a spiritual sense, to protect the castle from further fire.

If you’re in Nagoya, you should also stop at the Atsuta Shrine, the second most important shrine to the Shinto religion. Besides the beautiful grounds and architecture, you may get a glimpse of one of around 4400 national treasures, but don’t expect to see the legendary Kusanagi sword, a sword literally from legend (think Excalibur) and one of the three sacred treasures of Japan. The sword is rumored to be at the shrine, but no one from the public may see it. Even if you can’t see a sacred treasure, you may be in Nagoya during one of 70 annual festivals, so you’ll have plenty to do to enjoy your tour of the grounds.

Have you ever visited Nagoya? Would you be interested in touring Nagoya Castle, even though it’s a restoration? Do you think the Kusanagi sword exists?