Chubu Region: Southern Chubu/Pacific Coast
The main cities along the southern coast of Chubu are Nagoya and Shizuoka. Shizuoka is about 1 hour 20 minutes from Tokyo on the Tokaido Shinkansen (bullet train) while it is 1 hour 45 minutes to Nagoya. In the other direction, Nagoya is just under an hour from Kyoto and 1 hour 10 minutes from Osaka by shinkansen.
Nagoya Castle in spring
View of Mt. Fuji from Nihondaira at sunset
This city of over 2 million is the fourth largest in Japan and is the political and cultural center of the southern Chubu Area. The main tourist attraction is Nagoya Castle, originally built in 1612 by Tokugawa Ieyasu, the shogun who unified Japan. Much of the original structures have survived but the main 5-story donjon (keep) is a modern (1959) reconstruction. Its distinguishing feature is the pair of 3m gold shachi, dolphin-like creatures, on its roof. The city is mainly a business center and doesn't have an awful lot to offer the visitor. But is has a more open feel, more parks and less crowds than say Tokyo or Osaka. Local crafts include china and shippoyaki glassware.
Just outside the center of the city is the 3rd-century Atsuta Shrine, one of the most sacred Shinto shrines in Japan. It is said to house the original Kusanagi no Tsurugi, the sacred sword, one of the sanshu no jingi (three Imperial regalia) which are the Japanese equivalent of the crown jewels. It was said in mythology to have been removed from the tail of a serpent by Susanoo no Mikoto, who presented it to his sister Amaterasu Omikami, the sun goddess and original anscestor of the Imperial family and the Japanese race. A bit further south is Nagoya Port, which is home to a large aquarium.
About an hour by train to the northeast of Nagoya is Meiji Mura, a village of some 50 buildings from the Meiji Period (1868~1912), the castle town of Inuyama and the interesting Monkey Park.
To the south is the city of Toyota, famous for the car company which took its name as its own. For car enthusiasts, there are several Toyota museums in the city and in Nagoya. Hamamatsu is famous for the motorcycles and musical instruments produced by the Yamaha Corporation. The nearby Lake Hamana is famous for its eels while Kanzanji on the lakeshore, is known for its temple and onsen.
The capital of Shizuoka Prefecture is known for its tea and mikan (satsuma or mandarin orange) crops. Known at the time as Sumpu, it was the home of shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu from 1587 until his death in 1616. Sumpu Castle (only the ruins remain) was one of the most important in Japan at the beginning of the 17th century. A couple of kilometers south of central Shizuoka is the ancient Toro Iseki site, which dates from the late Yayoi Period (100~300AD). Findings made during excavations since the discovery of the site in the 1940's have helped understanding of Japan's earliest agricultural civilisation. The site features reconstructions of some of the ancient buildings. Kunozan-Toshogu shrine is located on a hill to the east of the city. It was built in honor of Tokugawa Ieyasu and he was interred here until removed to the Toshogu shrine in Nikko. The hill is also famous for its strawberries, which are grown along stone walls.
Near the upper reaches of the Oi River, which empties into Suruga Bay at Shizuoka, lies the scenic Sumata-kyo gorge. Countless waterfalls empty into the Sumata River and the surrounding mountains are covered in virgin forests. There is also an excellent onsen here which enjoys the best of the regions autumn scenery. If you like wild game, it's possible to sample boar and venison in this area.
The city of Shimizu is known mostly for its J-League soccer team, Shimizu S-Pulse, second-stage champions in the 1999 season. The Nihondaira plateau is between Shizuoka and Shimizu, while Miho no Matsubara is a famous pine grove on the coast of Suruga Bay. Both locations are known for their excellent view of Mt. Fuji. The Miho Shrine contains an ancient pine tree mentioned in the Hagoromo legend, made famous by an adaptation for the Noh theater. In the legend, a tennyo (nymph) is swimming in the sea when a man steals her hagoromo (feather coat), forcing her to become his wife and bear his child. Later, she recovers the coat and returns to the heavens.
Izu Hanto (peninsula) has some of most popular places to escape for Tokyoites. Beaches, diving, onsen (hot springs), honeymoon resorts - whatever kind of break you need from big-city life, you'll find it here. The resort town of Atami in the north of the peninsula can be reached in 50 minutes from Tokyo by express. Until recent years, it was one of the country's most popular destinations for honeymooners. Cheaper long-distance and foreign travel have made it less attractive. Further down the coast, Shimoda is a popular diving spot and also where Townsend Harris, head of the first American Consulate General to Japan, lived from 1857. One attraction is Ryosenji temple, famous for its collection of erotic statuary. On the west side of the peninsula, the area around Dogashima has spectacular coastal scenery, which is best seen from a cruise boat. The inland onsen and resorts tend to be quieter.
The Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park takes in parts of the Izu Peninsula and also the Izu Islands. The islands are part of the same volcanic chain as Mt. Fuji and run for about 540km north to south. They are administered as part of Tokyo Prefecture. The closest and largest island, Oshima can be reached by an overnight ferry or 40-minute plane ride from Tokyo, and it is only about 40km east of Shimoda. Its highest peak, Miharayama is still an active volcano. The other islands, including Miyakejima, Hachijojima and the Ogasawara Islands, even further south, offer excellent beaches, scenery, surfing and scuba diving. Oyama, the volcano on Miyakejima erupted most recently in 1983. Hachijojima was once a place of exile for convicts but more recently has become popular for young couples seeking a bit of 'privacy'.
- See our page on the official websites for each prefecture and major city: Guide to Japan's Regions and Cities