Home » Archives » March 2009 » Chubu Tour Pt.2: Aichi

[Previous entry: "Chubu Tour Pt.1: Shizuoka"] [Next entry: "Chubu Tour Pt. 3: Sekigahara and Fukui"]

03/09/2009: "Chubu Tour Pt.2: Aichi" mood: tired and interested

As I previously mentioned in Pt.1 of this roadtrip, it's in the dead of winter and the sun sets relatively early at around 5pm. Because of this, we had to rush as fast as possible down route 1 towards Nagoya city. What's Nagoya you ask? Nagoya is Japan's third largest city, trailing closely behind Osaka and Tokyo. Nagoya is famous for many historical sites along with some specialty foods. Nagoya is also home to Toyota's headquarters and one of their larger factories is located nearby in a town named Toyota (town named after the company who represents almost their entire economy). Tours of the factory are available but unfortunately it was booked up during my short stay in Nagoya blush angry, grr so I won't be sharing it with you on this roadtrip (look out for a post about it later!).

To help jog your memory, I'll start with the map from the beginning of Pt.1. Aichi is the prefecture directly west of Shizuoka. To the west of Aichi there is Mie prefecture and to the north there is Gifu.

Here's a quick homebrewed map of Aichi (click on the picture for a blown up view). Nagoya is in the western half of Aichi and route 1 cuts directly into the center of the city. Please look to the blue line denoting our route and the mini pic of me and Miki in the Skyline happily traveling north-west.

The first stop on our trip into Aichi was a multi-centuries old Miso factory. What's MISO you ask? Miso is a staple in Japanese cooking and is found in a large percentage of their dishes. Miso comes from fermenting either rice or soy beans with salt and a special yeast to form a paste used as a spread and a stock base for sauces and soup. Chances are you've had miso soup or some other Japanese food using miso in your lifetime. Anyway, this specific factory offered tours of the process of making miso and has over a hundred years of history. Unfortunately, we could barely make it to the factory in time and had to special request a late tour. The employees there were very accomodating and had a tour guide personally lead just me and Miki through their miso museum.

The exterior of the buildings seemed to be under renovation at the time. Either that or the tour guide was in such a rush to show us around that she led us to the less desirable areas of the factory.

This specific brand of miso is called "Hancho Miso". Their logo, which you can see above, depicts a famous scene from Japanese history showing Tokugawa Ieyasu (remember the samurai with the castle from Pt.1?) as a baby. The legend says that when some samurai was crossing this bridge and stopped at the end holding his spear, baby tokugawa, who was sitting there for some odd reason, reached for the spear and gripped it tightly. They say this showed the samurai with the spear that Tokugawa would grow up to be strong and rule over Japan as a military leader someday.

Inside their miso museum they had different scenes explaining the original process of making miso. The soy beans, salt, and special yest (called kojikin) mix is placed into massive wood barrels by a team. After the mixture has filled half the barrel, they then collect rocks equal to the weight of the miso in the barrel and place it on top to apply a seal and extreme pressure to the top of the mix. Not including the barrel, the rocks and miso (miso is very heavy by the way) together equal around 2-4 metric tons. The barrel is then left in a cool and dry place for a little over a year. After fermentation is complete, they remove the rocks and climb into the barrel to scoop out the two tons of miso piece by piece. After the entire barrel is emptied manually, they then move the barrel outside to dry out without cleaning it with water. One barrel lasts about 50 or more years before it must be retired and if it's ever washed with water, the seal is lost and the barrel becomes useless.

A closeup of one of the barrels.

The miso mixture is so heavy that in order for it to even be placed in the barrel, it requires two men to lift it in buckets to the barrel.

This cool guy hangs out in the miso while they bring up the buckets.

To give you some reference to how huge these barrels are, that's our tour guide standing next to it. In Japan, there is less then 5 people alive that can still make these barrels required for the miso process and a normal barrel costs upwards of $10,000.

The final stop on the tour was one of their actual storage rooms where real miso is being made. The process has gone unchanged for hundreds of years. The only thing different these days is that they use machines to help them scoop out the miso from the barrel after it's done fermenting. At the end of the tour, Miki bought some souvenirs for family and they served us some hot miso syrup which they harvested that day.

After we finished the miso factory tour, we needed to find our way to our hotel for the night. This is pretty much how I found my way through this entire trip. Using the iPhone map application, with a map on my lap, and steering with my knees while driving through city traffic.

I know it's the third time I've eaten this and then talked about it on a post but it's just so damn good. Nagoya has a famous unagi restaurant that serves unagi to be eaten as ochazuke. Ochazuke is a post drinking binge comfort food mixing chicken soup and rice together with a little bit of sliced dried seaweed on top. Together, with the high quality of delicious eel, a good dinner is to be had.

Look at that rice soaked with grilled eel juices. Awesome++

And here it is mixed with ochazuke.

After dinner, we found the Toyoko Inn we were staying in and thought it'd be nice to take a walk around central Nagoya to get a feel for the town. At Nagoya's main train station, they had an unbelievable light display to celebrate the new year. While you can't see it in the picture, that massive light mural is animated and the picture the lights make changes. At the base of the station, there were aisles and aisles of trees adorned with lights.

From the main station, we walked to one of the main roads which you can see here. Nagoya looks a lot like Tokyo in the center of the city. The only main difference I noticed was that the moron who designed the overly cramped roads in Tokyo wasn't hired to design the roads for Nagoya. Driving through Nagoya is much easier and the lanes and main roads are the sizes they should be.

One of the famous landmarks in Nagoya is this unusually designed sky-scraper. From far away, it looks like someone took a normal tower, then twisted it like a churro. The architecture invovled with such a massive building with that design must've been quite difficult.

After a couple hour walk through the streets of Nagoya, we located a bar/restaurant and relaxed with some cold mugs of beer and various Nagoya specialty foods before finally heading to bed.

The next morning we woke up early and headed to Nagoya's most famous site seeing spot, Nagoya castle. After unifying Japan in one last decisive battle at Sekigahara (battlefield in Pt.3 post), Tokugawa Ieyasu (castle guy from Pt.1) ordered all the different lords now under his control in 1610 to help him build this new castle. Nagoya castle was Tokugawa's new headquarters and the capital of Japan at that period. The entire castle and surrounding grounds were completed in only 2 years. This above picture just shows one side of the inner castle grounds. The entire castle area is quite massive.

This iron gate after passing the inner moat has been in use since 1612. An interesting fact about the castle and castle grounds; since the project was so massive and so many lords were invovled, each section of the grounds was to be built by a different lord. Because of this, lords competed on quality and architecture of their individual parts and, like fine paintings, sections throughout the ground have rocks with the lord's name engraved into it to show the other lords who was responsible for each part. As you walk the grounds, you will frequently find claims written into the rocks explaining which regional lord brought which stones and made which wall etc.

This is the main castle. This is where Tokugawa Ieyasu ran Japan in the beginning of his family's reign starting in 1610. At the top of most castles, espcially this one, you'll see gold leaf fish symbolizing good luck and wealth placed at the top corners of the castle.

This is one of the original gold fish usually found at the top of the castle. I believe it's base is a stone carving that is then coated in solid gold and decorated. In addition to offering good luck, the gold symbolizes the castle lord's wealth and it's visibility at the top of the castle (seeable from most places in the city) represents his power over the area.

Just like Hamamatsu castle, the interior is a museum with no pictures allowed.

Like stated in Pt.1 though, I'm a maverick, and I take pictures as I please. This room in the castle represents what an average room that was used by various lords and courtsmen looked like. The floors are tatami mats, a traditional woven floor found in homes in Japan even today. The doors are lavishly painted sliding doors showing various scenes of nature and beauty.

This case of food shows what lords would eat on any average day. It looks pretty much the same as a normal traditional Japanese meal at a restaurant in Tokyo. The note at the base mentioned that since the castle was so big and the kitchen was usually so far from the lords, they usually ate meals cold cause delivery took so much time.

This shows what the armory would've looked like at the time.

Here is another traditional suit of armor actually used by a samurai posted in Nagoya castle some 400 years ago.

I'll talk about this more in Pt.3, but while Japan was primarily a very isolated country during this period, they had some limited connection with Dutch traders in Nagasaki in south Japan. One of the main things the Dutch traded at the time was weapons. Long rifles like these became the norm in battles throughout Japan and often required two people to operate them because of their size.

This is the view of part of Nagoya from the top floor of Nagoya castle. The castle and grounds are actually placed smack dab in the middle of the city.

After walking through the museum and seeing many weapons, armor, and pieces of art, I walked to the outter castle grounds to visit some of their koi pond gardens. After a quick tour of the gardens, we hopped back in the car to eat lunch at another famous Nagoya restaurant

This is a Nagoya specialty. It's called miso katsu. Katsu by itself is a very popular food throughout Japan and is made by breading a filet of pork and deep fat frying it in oil. It's then sliced and served with diced cabbage. Nagoya is famous for miso (as we covered earlier), and their special version of katsu uses a liberal portion of miso sauce in the preparation. This specific restaurant was famous for miso katsu in Nagoya and the line to get seated wrapped around the block. We waited a little over an hour before we could get inside the door to eat lunch. Overall though I was very impressed. It's very tender and the miso gives it a juicy and miso-y flavor.

After finishing lunch, we decided to move on on our trip northwest to Sekigahara (most famous battlefield in Japan). There of course was more to see in Nagoya as it's a huge city (for example the world's fair grounds, Toyota headquarters, etc.) but we didn't have much time to spend in Nagoya, and had to keep moving. From here, we headed into the tip of Gifu, then moved past Shiga prefecture northwest and ended up in Fukui Prefecture. Come back soon to read Pt.3 where I check out Sekigahara and then move on to Fukui to eat some world famous crab! shocked wink LOL