Journey in Japan Part 26: Robot women, fast cars, voodoo dolls, and dinosaurs


The queue for the Nagoya City Science Museum spills from the door. Inside there is a snaked queue that runs eight rows deep. A screen on the wall tells me that every time slot for the world’s largest Planetarium have sold out, and it isn’t even 11 am. A shame, this was probably my best chance of seeing stars in Japan. The museum also has a special exhibit on at the moment, the Dragon Ball ‘Science Event’, and this is most likely the reason for all of the queueing chaos I am witnessing today.

To not waste a day in a queue, I decide to take a look at the Electricity Museum, some two blocks away. I follow the signs, I even find a map listing the museum, but for some reason, I can’t find it. I swing by the nearest Seven Eleven and connect to their free wireless Internet. Google Maps directs me to where I had just been walking, but nope. It doesn’t appear to be here. Perhaps closed down, who knows.

I swing by the Nagoya Musical Theatre to see what is showing. The 5000th performance of Beauty and the Beast. One thing I notice on my walk back toward Nagoya Station is that on nearly every street there is a building called ‘Toyota’. They appear to have infiltrated even the darkest Nagoya alleyways. As I continue, my walk takes a somewhat dark turn. I wander into a lonely shopping arcade. All of the shops are closed or boarded up. Everywhere is silent. It is as if this arcade is part of some other world. There hangs some incredibly macabre imagery.

A giant voodoo doll hangs from part of the roof. Its belly split open, multi-coloured intestines bursting out. Mouth sewn up. A giant needle stabbing into its neck. I have no idea what it begins to represent. The voodoo doll isn’t the only horrific image on this street. A giant multi-coloured face with a top hat and a satanic grin, a sinister looking golden unicorn with eyes that seem to watch my every movement, and plenty of vampiric bats scattered around. As I pass through the arcade, my footsteps leave behind an echoed creak.

My next stop is a place called the ‘Midland Square’. Inside there are many shops and restaurants. The official name for this skyscraper is the Toyota-Mainichi Building. This building is tall. The elevators take an alarmingly quick forty seconds to rise all the way to the top of this 247-metre tall structure. It also boasts the highest open-air observation deck in Japan.

Inside there are posh restaurants, two car showrooms, a cinema, and sixty big brand stores like Luis Vuitton and Vulcanize. All the places that I would never shop at. Instead, I go and look at some cars. A Toyota TS010 and a Toyota TS030 Hybrid are on display.

There is an attractive young woman in a light brown suit with a mouthpiece. She talks, presumably about the vehicles, in Japanese. Something about her strikes me as odd, her voice doesn’t match her appearance, and her movement is very rigid. It is entirely possible that she isn’t a human being, but a very cleverly designed/disguised robot.

Next, I decide to visit the local gardens close to my hotel. Noritake Gardens to be precise. A sign at the entrance informs me that all animals must be kept in a cage; who exactly brings their caged dog to a public garden? This place is very famous because it is the birthplace of modern pottery in Japan. There is a place marked on the map called ‘Chimney Gardens’, so I head there to find six tall chimneys shrouded in foliage. The remains of the pottery plant. The view of these historic chimneys is unexpectedly spoilt by a dinosaur.

For no reason that I can see, on the old grounds of this historic site, this award-winning historic site, are three robotic dinosaurs. They move around, their mouths open and close, they roar at the children. This is a site of industrial heritage and features the conservation of a 110-year-old kiln that was used to develop the first Noritake plate. The company still trades today, and throughout Japan, Norikate tableware is a household name.

The remains of the factory wall can be seen too, rebuilt from the bricks of old kilns. Bricks were imported into Japan at the end of the Edo period, and the remains of the red brick plant are also valuable industrial heritage. The remains of the wall this time obstructed by Tyrannosaurus Rex, and Carnival Cutouts. Unbelievable.

Also, for reasons I can’t explain, there are thousands of dragonflies here too. I am not sure what it is about bricks that dragonflies like, but there are so many that everywhere I walk I have to avoid being hit by one of the stray insects as they dart about without a care. No cages for the dragonflies.

My final stop today is Nagoya Castle. Every city I go to has its own tower and castle. Nagoya Castle is probably a twenty-minute walk from Noritake Gardens. When I finally get there it is 5 pm, the Genkan closed thirty minutes ago. Bolted shut. The sign on the stone walls tells me not to climb, so it looks like I am out of options. At least I can see the whole castle from a walkway going over the busy intersection.

After the castle, I go back to the hotel and rent a laptop for three days. ¥3000. I write for three or four hours, and the time drifts by. I have made plans to meet Nick at half ten. A Canadian guy I met back in Tokyo who lives in Nagoya.

A guy in the Irish bar last night suggested that I try Nagoya style Udon noodles. So I decide to give them a second chance. I order a simple bowl of noodles with an egg mixed in for good measure. It is a very cheap meal, ¥400 with a glass of water. On reflection, I still prefer every other type of noodle over Udon.

I meet Nick outside Nagoya Station and we walk half an hour across town to an international bar called ‘Shooters’. We drink and chat until last orders are called at half twelve, before walking back to Nagoya Station. Nagoya is a huge city, yet I discover that Nick’s apartment is in the building next to my hotel. Unbelievable.


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