One night in Nagoya, Heading to Kyoto – May 2014 Japan Trip

After our first few days in Tokyo, we started heading down to Kyoto, with a one-night stay in Nagoya to check our two science/engineering museums there.

Day 4: Nagoya

Photo album for Day 4 (Thursday, May 22)

Today we started the non-Tokyo part of our trip, beginning with one night in Nagoya. We primarily visited Nagoya to see the Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology (originally when we were planning our trip, we were going to see a robot museum in Nagoya, but then found that it had closed down a few years ago, but the Toyota museum still sounded interesting). Also, Andrew and Teisha wanted to see a new town – all the other places we went to on this trip were places they’d been to before on their honeymoon five years ago.

This morning, after enjoying some adorable-looking pastries, we hopped on the shinkansen (bullet train) for a two-hour trip to Nagoya. (Side note – We used the Japan Rail Pass for this trip, which was very useful and we didn’t use last time. Using the Japan Rail Pass, we got reserved seats on the shinkansen ride by booking them at a station the day before, but even if we missed our reserved ride today, we could have gotten a later train because of how the rail pass works – it was great for relieving the stress of trying to catch the train, which always leaves exactly on time!) The train ride was nice for seeing some beautiful countryside, which primarily consisted of rice fields, small towns (mostly with rice fields throughout them), and lush, tree-covered hills.

After arriving at the Nagoya station, we walked to our hotel, Meitetsu Inn Nagoya Ekimae. (It was 0.8 miles from the station, so about 15 minute walk with luggage – we looked into a taxi, but they refused to drive us because the hotel was so close! Instead they kindly showed us how to walk there.) We dropped our luggage off at the hotel (rooms weren’t ready yet) and then walked to the Toyota museum, which was just another 15 minute walk away (but a much nicer walk without luggage!) – part of why we picked the hotel was its closeness to the Toyota Museum, since that was the main thing we wanted to see in Nagoya.

The Toyota museum had the largest collection of weaving machines (looms) that I (Teisha) have ever seen in my life, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the largest collection in the world. The museum is set on old Toyota factory grounds (the old building itself is interesting to see — it’s from the early 1900s) and the weaving/spinning machines take up one gigantic room — there are 95 of them! This is because apparently before Toyota got into making cars, they were all about making textiles. It’s a very interesting display – the machines are arranged historically, with old hand-driven machines at the front, going all the way to the most cutting-edge automated textile machines at the back of the room as you exit, and sooo many machines in between. The most interesting change to me was incorporating something like punch cards into the machines to have them automatically weave patterns. The newest machines were also amazing in how they could pump out several inches of textile in a few seconds! Such amazing progress. (Here’s a video demo of how weaving works.) The automation makes it clear why the company got into making cars.

The car-part of the Toyota museum was equally impressive – they had a small section on the history of making the engines, but the main attraction was having working sections of a real Toyota factory. These sections showed how different parts of the engine and car overall were assembled together using real equipment and car parts that could all be moved around with the push of a button – everything was interactive to show the viewer how it all worked. (We boggled at how much power must be supplied to the museum to keep all the “exhibits” interactive like this, lifting cars around all the time.) There was also a neat area that had many real car engines on display from different models and showed how they worked and how they were different. There was also a working steam engine at the Toyota museum, which was really neat to watch.

After the Toyota museum, we all hopped on a city tour bus (which we just discovered) and got off at the Nagoya Castle. Honestly, the castle was a bit disappointing (since we’d seen several castles before), but still interesting to see. The castle was originally made in the 1600s, but was completely destroyed in World War II and rebuilt afterwards (in the 1950s) so it wasn’t really historic. It was more of a museum than a historic building – lots of artifacts were on display inside of the castle, but the inside looked nothing like how it originally did. The plants in the surrounding grounds were beautiful though, and carefully attended, and there were several bonsai on display (we think it might have been some kind of competition – we later saw a similar display in Tokyo). And there were some type of small deer living in the castle’s empty moat.

We took a taxi back to our hotel (it was very reasonably priced) and checked into our rooms. My parents had a very nice room, probably the largest they had on this trip, and with a great view of the road and surrounding buildings from the 15th floor of the hotel. Andrew and I, on the other hand, had the smallest room we stayed in on the trip, with a double bed that we squeezed together on, but it was still nice and clean. (Interestingly, it looked like it had a pre-fabricated bathroom that was just set in place – it was like using a bathroom on an airplane.)

After checking into our room, Andrew and I went out to explore the downtown part of Nagoya (while my parents got dinner at a restaurant near the hotel). We specifically caught the subway (making one transfer) to the Osu Shopping Street. Once we found it (we got a bit turned around when coming out of the subway), we really enjoyed the area – it was basically a large, covered walking mall that took up several blocks on multiple connected roads. There were lots of snack stands permanently set up in buildings, various shops, and even some claw machine arcades (which Teisha, of course, enjoyed a lot – it actually made her feel better about claw machines in Japan on this trip because these arcades seemed fairer). Overall, this area was a lot like an area in Kyoto that we enjoyed five years ago – more on that in a few days! We also saw our first and only Mexican restaurant there — “Jerry’s Uno.” Didn’t really look like what we consider Mexican food. We ended up eating a Japanese rice omelette (omuraisu) (which Andrew has done an amazing job of making at home since we’ve returned) and a gyro (which had very high quality meat).

Day 5: Nagoya and Kyoto

Photo album for Day 5 (Friday, May 23)

Today we left Nagoya and headed to Kyoto, but not before stopping by the Nagoya City Science Museum (just a few subway stops from our hotel). The museum was must larger and better than I thought it’d be – it was about 6 floors tall, with a different science theme for each floor. We enjoyed a floor that looked at basic physical principles, such as centripetal force, vibrations caused by different frequencies of sound, and fractals in nature. There was also a two-story room on this floor that had two gigantic Tesla coils (in a Faraday cage) and we watched a demo of them – it was very impressive (and loud!). We also spent time on another floor that was chemistry-focused – one wall of the room had a periodic table with a sample of every element (except the radioactive ones, and the ones that only existed temporarily in labs). Andrew was in heaven. There were also large blocks of some different elements that people could lift to see how their densities differed – some were really heavy and hard to lift. (Here’s a video of moving, molecular models of graphite and diamond and here’s a video of a working model showing how muscle works.) Overall, a lot of the exhibits were showing pretty complex/technical concepts usually in an interactive way, and we thought that a lot of them wouldn’t be in museums in the U.S. because of how technical and high-level they were. Another difference between this museum and ones in the U.S. – there were a lot of kids in the museum, but they were mostly Elementary School-age kids, whereas in the U.S. they probably would have been mostly High School-age kids.

After the science museum, we caught the shinkansen for a 40 minute ride to Kyoto. (Here’s a video of some countryside/towns we passed by between Nagoya and Kyoto.) Kyoto was pretty much how we remembered it five years ago, but we stayed at a different place this time – we were at Heianbo (a ryokan, basically a Japanese bed and breakfast) and Teisha’s parents stayed at Dormy Inn Premium Kyoto Ekimae (which was a Western-style hotel/room), both walking distance from the train station, and about a 6 minute walk from each other. Each place had their own onsen (Japanese-style hot tub), and my parents’ place had masseuses giving inexpensive massages. Heianbo was probably our most enjoyable room – it was a relatively large room and opened to a small courtyard with trees and other plants. And cats freely roamed through the building. The ryokan itself had multiple parts of the building connected with a bridge going through an open courtyard with a pond and stream running through it – it was really beautiful and peaceful. (The only problem was there was no in-room WiFi, but it was kind of nice to have a break.) (Pictures here are from Day 6’s photo album.)

For dinner, we went to an underground shopping area near the Kyoto station, called Porta, which we didn’t even know about the last time we were in Kyoto. Porta had a ton of more upper-scale shops, book stores, lots of restaurants, and even grocery stores. (We later kind of realized that many places have extensive underground shopping areas like this near stations – I guess when people are used to being underground for subways so much, having shops, etc. down there doesn’t seem unusual either, plus it helps save space in crowded cities – there are really amazing amounts of layers up layers in most places of the crowded cities.) For dinner, we settled on a restaurant that had okonomiyaki, which we’d never had before – it’s like eggs mixed with noodles and vegetables that get cooked on a grill on your table (although, to be safe, they’re pre-cooked a bit before they arrive at your table) in a pancake shape. It was super tasty. Afterwards we got some cute souvenir candies from a shop – they made adorable marshmallows that, for example, looked like little chicks or bunnies or flowers.

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