“If you understand Aichi, then you understand Japan”. It’s a simple proposition. No part of Japan is more representative of this fascinating country’s past, present and future, or its strengths and weaknesses than the Chubu area, and Aichi Prefecture in particular. Images of Aichi initially appear to be a mass of contradictions. Even the residents are confused as to whether it is compact or sprawled, rich or frugal, colorful or conservative, remote or urban, historic, modern or futuristic. Either way, Aichi is delicious, bizarre, clever, increasingly cosmopolitan but proudly and unapologetically conservative (in the social, not necessarily political sense of the term).
Aichi is Japan’s leading edge, and whenever it changes, so too does Japan.
Due in large part to Nagoya, a busy commercial city that forms the nucleus of Japan’s 3rd largest urban area with over 7 million people. Nagoya Station is one of the world’s largest railway stations, and the city has fantastic museums (both indoor and outdoor). Aichi has a very metro image. In many ways, Aichi Prefecture is both more high tech and yet more liveable than Tokyo, more efficient and businesslike and yet a little “nonbiri” and relaxing compared to Osaka. Host of the 2005 World Expo, one of the mysteries of Aichi is that somehow much of it is still largely unspoilt and rustic. It takes time to cover, but Aichi includes everything – rugged alpine scenery in the national parks with excellent hiking opportunities, deep gorges, historic castles and battlefields, beautiful thatched roof houses in valleys that time appears to have forgotten, remote but fascinating senmaida, plus some of Japan’s best surf beaches, as well as its bustling and rich cities.
Aichi also has a conservative image, as a place where traditions are still strong, and where artists, designers and craftspeople remain as respected today as in the era of the Tokaido. The makers of traditional crafts and products including the master potters of Seto and Tokoname – 2 of Japan’s 6 ancient kiln centers are in Aichi, the makers of fireworks, arrows, stoneworks, washi paper, candlemaking, and buddhist altars etc continue to enjoy enormous respect (and market share) – and yet this is in the heartland of a region that with only 13% of Japan’s population, producing more than 20% of its GDP, and more than 50% of Japan’s seaborne trade.
Aichi is where Japan’s economic miracle was really born. Local companies such as Toyota are global names. Even the traditional miso makers are celebrated. Its “mono-zukuri” culture places great emphasis on the ability to create – and they do it well. Aichi has always been home to brilliant inventors, and continues to produce a disproportionately high percentage of the inventions & patents registered in Japan. From soy sauce to electronics, carmaking & precision instruments to recycling technologies, and from biotech to services, Aichi is continually being reinvented. The world famous concepts of “just-in-time”, “lean manufacturing”, “zero defects” and other such cost & quality control methods, all originated from “oh-so-frugal” Aichi. Yet the same area has a reputation throughout Japan for outrageously expensive weddings, conspicuous consumption, pachinko parlors and an enviably wealthy economy driven by a creative private sector. With sophisticated textile & clothing industries in Ichinomiya, and the high disposable incomes in the region, it’s no surprise that Nagoya has become a fashion center and a test market for ideas, products and trends.
It is not just modernity. Historically Aichi has been the stage of Japan’s turning points. Many of the most important battles including Okehazama, Nagashino, Shitagahara, Komaki and Nagakute, and many of the most important figures including Minamoto Yoritomo, Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu were born and raised in what is now Aichi. Old post towns, ancient temples, and heritage listed shrines dot the landscape. And yet as a general rule, foreign language guidebooks either ignore the entire prefecture, or give it a cursory brushoff as an “industrial center” or transport hub. Why? Perhaps because it is too big to cover in a few days – it is easy to quickly take snapshots of Kyoto or Mt. Fuji, but for Aichi you need to slowly soak it in like the waters of a Chita peninsula onsen.
Despite its famous “Penis Shrine“, massive fireworks, and intriguing cormorant fishing, Aichi is in general fairly subtle – you need to peel the layers away. Perhaps to enjoy and appreciate it’s intricacies, you really need language skills – it is wishful thinking to expect the average miso maker or master potter to speak a foreign language. And perhaps to cover the vast areas you really need a car, organized field trips, or more time and motivation than that of which the average corporate guidebook writer has at their disposal.
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Do you have good photographs or a story to share about Aichi? If so, please share it with us, our community and our many visitors. Aichi and Central Japan have so many beautiful places, and culturally and historically important destinations. We hope that as many people as possible can enjoy and experience what it has to offer. Japan Discovery and the weekend field trips visit this destination regularly.
For visitors and independent travelers, please note that opening hours, prices, booking procedures, schedules etc are subject to changes beyond our control. This site is just a guide, and we advise that you always check and confirm in advance.
Also, please note that suggestions, additions and correction of errors are always welcome. Please contact us.