The second stop of our Japan road trip was Nagoya, unassuming town according to guides- but, as we learned by experience, nothing in Japan is unassuming. We came from Takayama in the afternoon, just in time to catch the afternoon glow coloring the tall buildings in purple hues. It was the whole different climate here than in the mountainous Hida region from where we left in the morning. It was warm, “Almost summer!” I wrote in my diary, and there was a seaside town vibe in the air.
Somewhere along our train ride from Takayama to Nagoya, I lost an earring I got as a birthday present from Luka in Kanazawa, during our first trip to Japan. As soon as we left our bags in the apartment, we went to the station to see if there was any chance to find it. We did not find it, but the station officer was so polite, understanding, serious about it that he asked me all sorts of questions, including: “Is it a memorial item?”, followed by a compassionate nod when we answered that it was. He made phone calls and asked us to check in the next day but to no avail. His commitment though was extraordinary.
In the evening we went for a walk and dinner. “I want to like this town,” I said, feeling a bit out of place coming from Takayama that I liked so much, and a bit lost and tired in the new city. I did not know then that I would like it, a lot, all because of people (and, well, also because of cherry blossoms, fried chicken and beer). We were looking for a place to eat, but, if you love food, and you’re in Japan, there is a constant pressure of trying to find the most delicious food. The vast number of restaurants in each Japanese town makes a hungry and tired person very confused about which one to choose.
We were circling around the neighborhood, peeking into seafood restaurants, large izakayas, small yakitori dumps, and simple ramen shops, when my nose started to bleed because of a really bad cold I caught in Tokyo days before- I was ready to sit anywhere. Then Luka remembered a -slightly- fancy kushiyaki place we passed by a couple of rounds around the block earlier, and now we were eager to find it (but also quite lost as each street looked the same to us). I remembered it being opposite a cute little cosmetics store with a white star sign, and we finally managed to find it. Kushiyaki is grilled meat skewers, and in this place, they had all sorts of them. The menu, of course, was in Japanese and the waiters spoke Japanese so two nice young women that sat next to us sort of explained us the menu. Mostly all of us giggled and we used good old finger pointing at the skewers on display at the counter. We were thrilled with green salad with minced meat dressing and pork skewers filled with kimchi, they were very flavoury. I managed to find this place on Google Maps thanks to the cosmetics store I mentioned before, so if you’re tired and don’t know where to go in Nagoya, this is the place (there is one review and it doesn’t look promising on Tripadvisor, however, I found another page with nice food photos so there you go).
The next morning, we wanted a traditional American breakfast (just to be clear, I’ve never been to America, but I still wanted it) which is a regular thing in Japan, so we went to the shopping mall on the Nagoya station to a place called Sarabeth’s. As is usual for popular places in Japan, we had to queue- waiting surrounded by skyscrapers around Nagoya station on a sunny day wasn’t the worst thing. When we got in, we ordered Eggs Benedict and a BLT Sandwich (Bacon, Lettuce, Tomato?) which were good, but not spectacular, and we paid for breakfast as much as we’d pay for a good lunch anywhere in Japan!
In Takayama, we heard that the cherry blossoms had already started in Nagoya so we decided to visit two parks famous for cherry blossoms. We came to Tsurumai park first and ended up staying there all day. We’ve seen the cherry blossoms the first time we visited Japan, but we didn’t take part in the Hanami, or cherry blossom festival then. It was early in the afternoon, and already very lively: groups of people young and old were laying, playing, chatting, laughing under the cherry blossoms. There were food stalls all around and it seemed that they were preparing for a bigger feast later in the evening. We entered the cherry forest and felt like we entered a soft, flowery cloud. Unfortunately, we came unprepared, without a blanket or a stool, but even if we were prepared, all the spots were full! We were wandering around longingly glancing at the ones picnicking under the blossoms when two smiley faces started waving and inviting us to sit with them. Two men, one younger, one middle-aged, both in suits, having their tea- we soon found out that they worked in a drugstore, that they had a gathering that evening, and that they were saving a spot for the entire crew. Because, obviously, there was a “blanket police” consisted of retired men, that would give you a warning if your picnic blanket stayed unattended for half an hour. If you’d leave it for an hour, they’d remove it.
The younger man’s name was Yuki, he spoke good English so we talked about Croatia, Japan, cherry blossoms that were showering us with pale pink petals when the wind blew. I called it sakura rain, Yuki called it sakura storm. He asked us if we would stay there for half an hour until their next colleague came, while both of them had to go back to work. By that time we already took our shoes off, bought two cans of beer and chocolate dipped banana, and took out the scones we brought from Sarabeth’s, so naturally, we agreed to guard the blanket. We enjoyed the sunshine, bare feet, sakura clouds that were surrounding us- I already mentioned that it was a proper warm spring in Nagoya.
The colleague who came was lovely Tomoko that brought us a pack of throat lozenges from their pharmacy to thank us for waiting for her. She even excused herself for not bringing the real candies. Little did she know, that by that time I have already caught a nasty cold that left me with two weeks of a constant cough and that a couple of days later Luka caught the same thing, and that her lozenges saved us because we couldn’t find any natural medicine for a cough in other pharmacies, only the real medicines we were a bit afraid to take. We were chatting with her about this and that, when she pulled out a little blanket with a motive of Croatian coat of arms, the red and white checks! When we told her that, she said that it was fate! We took some photos, exchanged our Instagram accounts, and soon she had to leave for another colleague to take her place.
After Tomoko left, we just wanted to greet her next colleague and maybe leave for another park, but the next colleague was another nice girl with whom we talked about Croatia again and our road trip around Japan. Her name was Ayumi (what a beautiful name!), and even though we took a couple of photos with her too, either I or she blinked so I won’t be sharing them here. Another round of exchanging Instagram profiles went by, and then we decided that we had to at least take a walk around this park. Even though the food stalls looked inviting (there was everything, from grilled squids, grilled corn, daifuku rice cakes filled with red beans paste or strawberries, to okonomiyaki and cotton candy), we wanted to sit somewhere (as if we weren’t sitting long enough in the park).
By now we knew that the best places to eat were below the railway, and there we found a cute place called Gaburi Chicken with a kawaii drawing of a chicken, shop window filled with also a kawaii menu in Japanese, and a completely contagious “gabur gabur gabur gabur gaburi chiki” song! Naturally, we had to go in. There were no English menus (why would there be anyways, there were no foreigners there), and the waiters didn’t speak any English, so we blindly ordered something from the menu. Juicy fried chicken came, along with chicken skewers, edamame and cucumber salad with spicy sauce. We felt quite happy and maybe a bit euphoric after two beers and such a beautiful day so we decided to stay in the park, to see the hanami by night. There were even more people when the night came, sakura clouds were lighted up, and everything looked pretty much magical. My wish to like this city came true.
We were already on a road to Iga the next day, sad to leave Nagoya (always sad to leave anywhere in Japan), but Iga and Shigaraki turned out so unexpectedly beautiful and funny that I can’t wait to share the story here. In the meantime, I’m curious, where have you seen the most beautiful cherry blossoms? It can be your hometown too, I’d be happy to read all about it!
Pin this article for later!