Nagoya city, with a population of around 2.2 million, is located one hour to the East of Osaka and 2 hours to the West of Tokyo, which makes it easy to visit from either Kansai or Tokyo area by using a Shinkansen train. It´s also a very good stopover idea on your way to/from Kansai or Tokyo.
Nagoya station is quite big, also due to its Shinkansen hub, but at the same time very easy to navigate. If you like to, go to the tourist visitor´s booth and take some of the numerous pamphlets and maps with you. It´s for free. The polite and English speaking staff will help you if you got any questions or need a piece of advice. It´s located in the middle of the building´s ground floor.
If you are visiting coming from Tokyo or Osaka, you´ll surely appreciate its comparably small and sophisticated metro network. Each station carries a unique symbol, so you can just remember those in case you´re not good with remembering the station name.
Nagoya Castle is definitely a recommendable sightseeing place for you to visit, as the castle, especially after an ongoing series of renovation measures, is a brilliant gem of Japanese history.
How to get there:
After arriving Nagoya station, get out of the main building and head down to the metro. You´ll find the entrance just right outside of the station exit. Search for signs labelled with “Higashima Line“, that´s the yellow colored subway line. You´ll have to skip two stations and get off at “Sakae,” from there change to the purple colored “Meiji Line” and get off at “Shiyakusho” station. From there, it´s just a few minute walk to the castle.
Admission is 500 Yen only, which is an inexpensive fee to pay for what you get, as there is also a museum located inside of the castle. The castle grounds are wonderfully well-kept, you can take a break in here and enjoy the Japanese gardens around the castle. Depending on the daytime you´ll get to the castle, there might be also some guides (“goodwill guides”) waiting in front of it who, will show and explain you its features and history.
You´ll also find a traditional teahouse in the garden, built out of cypress wood (hino) from the Kiso region
Nagoya Castle was built at the behest of Ieyasu Tokugawa (徳川 家康, 1543-1616) , to take a key position on the Tokaido road, in order to defend oneself against attacks from Osaka. The castle itself was completed in 1612 and housed the Owari branch of the Tokugawa clan for generations. During WWII, most of the buildings were destroyed during an attack in May 1945. Fortunately, three corner towers, three gates and most of the paintings inside the castle walls survived the fire triggered by the attacks.
The inscriptions you can see on the picture below were chiseled right into the stones by the feudal lords, for being able to identify the stones later on.
From the castle´s top floor, you´ll have a nice view over the city beyond the castle grounds even on a cloudy day. There´s also a shrine and a souvenir shop located on the top floor.
What makes this castle so special (and to one of my personal favourites) is its integrated museum. It really has the feel and looks of a museum; being in such a place for sure is a great idea, not only fascinating but actually highly entertaining and interesting. There are explanatory signs and boards put up in several languages, the available space is being used in a very clever and efficient way with a lot of attention to detail, so you´ll find plenty of historic paintings, documents, diorama, samurai armour, swords, guns and replicas of ancient castle premises in there. An elevator is also available by the way.
Kinshachi – the golden dolphins
To the Northern side of Nagoya castle, there´s a statue of a male dolphin, to its Southern side a female one. Those dolphins are 2,60m (8.5 ft) in size and weigh over 1200kg, platinized with an 18K gold layer, which adds up to 45 kilos of gold per dolphin. The castle emblems were added to the castle during the Muromachi era (1334-1400) as sign of the feudal lord´s authority. Unfortunately, they met the same fate as the donjon with being destroyed during WWII, and were added to the castle again in 1959. You´ll see a lifesize replica of those dolphins on the castle´s ground floor.