Nagoya punches well above its weight. The present-day industries of Japan's fourth-largest city are a corollary to its monozukuri (art of making things) culture. This is manifested in the efficiency of Toyota's production lines, but traditional crafts including ceramics, tie-dyeing, and knife making are still very much alive. The Greater Nagoya area's GDP accounts for more than 10% of the country's total GDP, but this economic prowess is matched by a capacity to pleasantly surprise any visitor.
Nagoya purrs along contentedly, burdened neither by a second-city complex nor by hordes of tourists, and it has an agreeable small-town atmosphere. A substantial immigrant population, by Japanese standards, includes many South Americans working in local factories and provides international flavor to the city's food and entertainment choices.
On arrival, you will first notice the twin white skyscrapers sprouting from the ultramodern station, almost a city in itself. An extensive network of underground shopping malls stretches out in all directions below the wide, clean streets around Nagoya Station and in downtown Sakae. Above ground are huge department stores and international fashion boutiques. The even taller building opposite the station is the headquarters of the sales division of auto-making giant Toyota, the driving force of the local economy.
Within two hours' drive of the city are the revered Grand Shrines of Ise, Japan's most important Shinto site, and to the south are the quiet fishing villages of Ise-Shima National Park. Southwest of Nagoya, on the untamed Kii Peninsula, steep-walled gorges and forested headlands give way to pristine bays, and fine sandy beaches await in Shirahama. Inland is the remarkable mountain temple town of Koya-san. Add to this some memorable matsuri (festivals), and this corner of Japan becomes far more than just another stop on the Shinkansen train.