Easily reached from Tokyo and Osaka via the Shinkansen, Aichi Prefecture deserves a visit or three. Nagoya, the biggest city in the prefecture, may be the part that people talk about the most (and it definitely is one place to go), but there are plenty of other areas to explore, too. Here’s an idea (or 11) of what you can do in Aichi.
1. Go on an after-hours tour of the Tokugawa Art Museum, followed by dinner in Nagoya
You can have the museum all to yourself after closing time on this special tour. You’ll see paintings, ceramics, swords and more from the Owari Tokugawa family, who were former rulers of Nagoya and part of the Tokugawa clan. You’ll also get to try the calming practice of monko: the mindful appreciation of the fragrance of incense. To round off the evening, dinner will be served at a French restaurant in Tokugawaen, a garden right next to the museum.
2. Watch historical ukai fishing on the Kiso River in Inuyama
Ukai (cormorant fishing) is a traditional form of fishing that’s been practised for over 1 300 years in Japan. Fishermen enlist the help of well-trained cormorants to catch freshwater fish after dark. You can see it done for yourself on summer nights, from June to October. It’s quite something to see the fishing masters in their customary robes and straw aprons, flaming torches dangling from their boats. This outdoor experience includes a dinner bento and the chance to dress up as a boatman.
3. Take a nerikomi pottery lesson from a famous artist in Seto
Nerikomi is a pottery technique that was developed over 1 000 years ago. It involves kneading and piling up layers of clay to create ceramics with the most intricate patterns. If you visit the Seto area, you’ll have the opportunity to learn the art from Tomoro Mizuno, one of Japan’s most popular nerikomi practitioners. It’s a practical lesson, and you’ll make your own little decorative plate with Mr Mizuno (will be sent once it’s dried). Find out more.
4. Make a roof tile that wards off evil, in Takahama
Something we arguably all need, especially after the year that was 2020, is an onigawara. Literally translated as “demon roof tile”, some of them look like an oni, or Japanese demon (not all of them, though). Don’t panic—unlike their Western counterparts, these chaps can actually help keep evil away, and so you’ll see onigawara on the roofs of temples, shrines and big old residences, too. This experience gives you the chance to make a special onigawara of your own, under the guidance of a highly-skilled onigawara artist.
5. Try your hand at traditional fireworks, in Toyohashi
Japan is world famous for its fireworks, and in Toyohashi City, you have the chance to get a hands-on experience of them. You can book a tour that takes you to see Yoshida Castle, where you’ll learn about the history of tezutsu hanabi—hand-held fireworks (yes, you read that right)—and the area (Toyohashi is where they were invented). Then an experienced agete—someone who creates and launches tezutsu hanabi—will teach you more about the tradition, using VR to show you what a display is like. Finally, you’ll make your own tezutsu hanabi from a bamboo tube and rice-straw rope (it won’t have any gunpowder, though, so no need to worry about rogue blasts), before being treated to green tea and sweets.
6. Discover the secrets of traditional miso at the Maruya Hatcho Miso Factory in Okazaki
Maruya Hatcho Miso has been making miso since 1337. You can book a factory tour to learn more about this staple of Aichi cooking, and what makes hatcho miso special. The president of the company will take you on an English-language whirl-around, walking you through the traditional methods still used to make the miso today. It’s a slow process—the miso is allowed to ferment in massive wooden barrels for two years, weighed down by a whopping 3 000 kg of rock. You’ll take home ideas of how to use hatcho miso in everyday cooking, with a demonstration, cooking and tasting session to round off the experience.
7. Tour a tea farm and factory, and taste two types of matcha in Nishio
If you’re a fan of green tea, then you might be familiar with the powdered form, known as matcha in Japan. If you visit Nishio in Aichi—one of Japan’s key tea-producing regions, you can book a tour that will take you to a tea plantation, show you around a tea production factory, and give you the chance to make and taste matcha. You’ll have the chance to taste both usucha and koicha; two very different ways to drink matcha. Koicha, a strong, thick blend, is usually served in special tea ceremony events, so this is a rare opportunity to try it. This tour will give you a deeper appreciation of tea.
8. Taste local dishes and sake in Nagoya
Foodies, this experience is tailor-made for you. Depending on your tastes, you can opt for either a day tour that introduces you to Nagoya’s special miso nikomi udon, shrimp tempura rice balls, hitsumabushi (grilled eel dish) and sweet potato buns (come hungry), or an evening exploration of sake at local izakaya. Both tours are led by an English-speaking local guide, guaranteeing expert knowledge and insider tips.
9. Learn about fermented foods, and make your own miso in Inuyama
Another way to learn about miso is by taking a practical lesson with an organic farmer in Inuyama. He’ll help you to make your very own miso (1 kg), which will be fermented with koji cultures. Koji is a key ingredient in soy sauce, sake and rice vinegar—in other words, an essential part of Japanese cuisine. On this tour, you’ll find out how the same miso starter can create different flavors, depending on the fermentation time and conditions. You’ll get to taste a range of samples, and you’ll leave with some simple recipes to try, too.
10. Get behind the wheel of a Toyota and go off-road
Did you know that Toyota is headquartered in Aichi? It makes sense then that there’s an area named after the company, and that you can take a vehicle off road there. Strap in and take a new Toyota out on unpaved ground, over dirt roads and across fields. You’ll also learn how to escape from an overturned car. You’ll need a valid driver’s license for this experience.
11. Select and sharpen your own knife in Nagoya
Japanese knives are things of beauty, and in Nagoya you’ll find a store that is famous for the blades. On this tour, you can choose a blade of your own with the help of an expert, learn how to sharpen and preserve it, and then have your name engraved into it before you take it home. Well cared for, it should last a lifetime. Cooking will never be the same again.