Field Report: Nagoya, Japan (13 February 2014) – Part 2/2

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There’s more to Nagoya than its famous castle – and more than I can hope to see in just one day. No worries, we’ll hit a couple of other sights before the sun goes down.

On today’s agenda: the castle lord’s private possessions, his former backyard garden, and wondrous mechanical conveyances that not even all of his wealth and power could have bought (mainly because they hadn’t been invented yet).

Earlier today, we rambunctious commoners paid an unannounced visit to the former Daimyō of Owari’s splendid castle. Now let’s add insult to injury by gaping at his personal effects. (^_^)

Nagoya Castle was where the former lords of this region once held court, and the impressive size and splendour of their fortress-palace makes clear just how much clout they once held. Naturally, with great power comes great heaps of moolah – responsibility is merely optional for warlords, of course – and we’re off to see how they frittered away their vast fortune.

A brief ride on Nagoya’s handy Me~guru tourist bus line takes us to the entrance of the Tokugawa Art Museum. This was once the site of a secondary residence owned by the Owari Tokugawa lords, of which only the main gate has survived to the present day.

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In 1931, the head of the Owari Tokugawa clan donated the mansion and part of the grounds to the city of Nagoya, which turned them into a public garden. A portion of the estate was also given separately to the Tokugawa Reimeikai Foundation, for the purpose of setting up a museum showcasing the many splendid treasures accumulated by the family during their long rule of the domain. Although the garden was destroyed during the Second World War (and not fully restored until 2004), the museum’s priceless collection made it through the bombing raids pretty much unscathed.

The main building we see today is a relatively recent addition, dating from a 1987 project to enlarge the museum.

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Unfortunately, photography isn’t permitted in the exhibition rooms, so all I can show you are pictures of the lobby (including a display of traditional dolls set up for the upcoming Hina Matsuri).

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Like any museum, this place might bore the living daylights out of casual tourists who lack any interest in history or art. (Nothing necessarily wrong with that, of course . . . and Nagoya has lots of other sights to offer for those with different tastes.) On the other hand, if you’re a fan of Edo-period art and traditional Japanese crafts, you’ll want to give it your full attention. I might not be able to show you the displays myself, but you can get some idea of the broad range of artefacts exhibited in the museum via the official site (click on “Permanent Exhibitions” and go through the room summaries). These aren’t just random trinkets dug up from a long-lost tomb – these are the personal treasures and heirlooms of what was once one of Japan’s most powerful noble families. In addition to the usual displays of armour and weaponry, I was also treated to room after room of furniture, clothing, and other effects that were once used by the domain lord and his household, all skillfully executed to the highest degree of craftsmanship.

And once you’ve had your fill of the exhibits, you can head outside and check out the beautifully restored garden right next door.

Winding paths, meticulously maintained landscapes, stone bridges, rushing waterfalls . . . this is a place where one can truly learn to appreciate the art of traditional Japanese gardening. I’ll keep my blabbing mouth shut (or, rather, my typing fingers motionless) for a few moments and just present you with a gallery of pictures taken during my walk through the grounds.

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I hope our relaxing stroll through the garden has left you feeling refreshed, because our day of sightseeing isn’t over yet. Let’s leave the Edo period behind and move forward in history, to the heady days of the pre-war era when a name that almost needs no introduction began building its reputation . . . and not for the reasons most people might first think of.

Within a long (but quite doable) walk from Nagoya Station, or a short ride away via the Me~guru tourist bus, stands the Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology. Now from the name alone – and who hasn’t heard of the Toyota brand? – one might automatically assume that it’s all about cars . . .

. . . which makes the sight of a massive loom in the museum’s lobby a bit of a head scratcher.

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Ah well, that must mean they keep the cars further inside, right? I just need to pop into the first exhibition area where I’ll no doubt see row upon row of . . .

. . . textile equipment.

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Umm, okay. So what gives?

As I learned from the labels – yes, I can be a bit of an obsessive label-reader (if you’re travelling with me, expect to spend hours just looking at rows of text) – the Toyota we all know and love/hate/sue for damages/etc. started out in the 1920s as a manufacturer of looms.

Yes, that’s right: the automobile juggernaut first cut its teeth in the textile business. Indeed, it began life as just another department within the broader Toyoda (with a “d”) textile enterprise, and was only spun off as a separate company in 1937. The textile machinery business is still alive and well – albeit under a separate organisation from the one that makes cars – and the founding Toyoda family is still very much involved in both areas.

Anyway, enough of that . . . you can read more about Toyota’s fascinating history on the museum’s official website. As for the exhibits, they were something of an eye-opener, not just about Toyota’s origins but also about the history of textiles in general and the evolution of the technology used to make them. Cars or no cars, this would be a great place to visit for anyone interested in industrial processes and machinery.

Of course, the best part is that they’ve got cars as well. Come on, they’re Toyota after all. (^_^)

After the textile-related exhibits, we come at last to the Automobile Pavilion . . .

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. . . and from here on end we’re on more familiar territory.

The car-making business was born in 1933 as a department within Toyoda Automatic Loom Works, Ltd., and in April of the following year a Materials Testing Centre and Prototype Plant was opened to facilitate research and development. 70 years later, that set of historic buildings was taken apart and reconstructed within the museum.

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The exhibits in this part of the pavilion help sketch out a vivid portrait of those early years, and there’s even a display explaining how “Toyoda” became “Toyota”.

Further on, there’s a massive hall featuring both Toyota’s products and manufacturing equipment.

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Of course, that means there are cars here. Lots of them. Starting from the very first general-production passenger automobile made by the company, the 1936 Toyoda (don’t forget the “d”!) Standard Sedan Model AA . . .

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. . . and further on towards later generations of automobile.

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Not much on the very latest technology here, though – you’ll probably need to go to the Toyota Kaikan Museum for that. It’s in the city of – you guessed it – Toyota, about an hour or so away from Nagoya, and even though I didn’t go there on this particular trip I do plan to visit it someday.

On our way out, a quick glance at the museum’s brick exterior – fashioned from the century-old remnants of the Toyoda textile firm’s original compound . . .

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. . . and the day is done.

Well, almost. I still need to tuck into dinner, but I’ll save that for a separate (mini-)food report.

Cheerio.

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4 responses to “Field Report: Nagoya, Japan (13 February 2014) – Part 2/2

  1. Pingback: (Mini-)Food Report: Yabaton (Esca Branch, Nagoya) | Within striking distance·

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