Sakae is essentially Nagoya’s city center in everything but name and is one of the busiest parts of town. It is famous for its vibrancy, drawing people from all over the region on weekends. By day the area is a coruscating hub of people shopping in the various department stores while at night the area hums with the energy of an active dance club scene, pumping out everything from hip hop to trance to techno and even Korean pop.
There are plenty of things to see and do in Sakae, particularly when it comes to eating, drinking and being merry. Below are some of our favorites and recommendations.
There are so many great eateries in the Sakae area it is hard to choose just one, but whenever I am hungry – particularly hankering for seafood – I head to Isonami Saisan. This 24-hour izakaya may look a little rough around the edges, but when it comes to grilling seafood at your table, this place can’t be beaten. The clientele is a great mix of families, friends on nights out, and even wedding after-parties. There is an English menu and if you don’t know where to start, I can definitely recommend the garlic tuna tail steak, the half-shelled crab ‘kani miso’ and the whole tuna jaw.
If you are looking for expat bars, alongside Fushimi, Sakae is probably the place in Nagoya to go. The most popular is probably British bar The Hub Pub which gets particularly raucous on the weekends. However, if you are looking for something that actually resembles a proper pub with the atmosphere to match, The Curragh is it. Owner Teri-san is as welcoming a host as you could wish to find, and while their fish and chips is the best I have found in Japan, there is also a great mix of beers: from Brew Dog craft beers to Guinness and even Magners’ Irish Cider on draft.
Some of the Department stores in Sakae have become Japanese institutions. Matsuzakaya, established in the area in 1611, is one of the oldest department stores in Japan, and Mitsukoushi isn’t much younger. However for products for the home with a modern and westernized leaning – from furniture to bedspreads, from cutlery to costumes – then Loft is perfect. It can be pretty pricey in there, but you can mostly be assured of the quality as well as the inform fashion sensibilities. Think Ikea without the flat packing, Allen keys, and dispose-ability.
Nagoya is chock full of art galleries and cultural centers, but the biggest and perhaps best is the Aichi Arts Center. Located behind the Oasis 21 park and shopping complex, twelve stories above ground and five stories below ground, it houses an art museum, rental gallery, art theaters, the Aichi Prefectural Arts Promotion Service, and the Art Library.
On the 10th floor, you can find the Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art which homes in its permanent collection the works of Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Gustav Klimt, and Paul Klee. They also have Japanese artists such as Yuichi Takahashi, Ryuzaburo Umehara, and Sotaro Yasui, along with masterpieces of Japanese-style paintings by Taikan Yokoyama and Shunso Hishida.
It’s really difficult to pick out just one international dining experience. Both The Red Rock and Outback Steakhouse offer great Australian grub. A recent discovery of mine is Higashi Sakura Pakuchi, a wonderful Thai restaurant that has a relatively authentic ‘street food’ feel as well as an excellent Tom Yum Goong, but for a really interesting dinner, check out Brazilian restaurant Sapucai.
Not only can owner Didi dance up a storm (and gentlemen, keep an eye on your ladies, for Didi may look like a kindly old gent, but he’s smoother than sanded silk) but he can also whip up a feast. I’d recommend going for the buffet where you can eat as much as you like as waiters deliver flame-grilled chicken, pork, sausages, and beef to your table carved directly from swords. Seriously tasty meat.
If you are ever stuck for something to do in Sakae, it’s highly recommended that you head over to Hisaya Odori Koen because there is nearly always something going on. In these chain of parks from Central Park to Angel Park that includes the Nagoya TV Tower, there are often music festivals of free performances, with either high school kids putting on their own shows or huge national events such as Nippon Domannaka Matsuri.
There are frequent farmers markets selling organic goods and craft fairs with handmade products. The most southerly section of the park towards the Matsuzakaya and Parco department stores is the venue for some of Nagoya’s biggest international events such as the Thai Festival, the Vietnamese festival and Octoberfest. Until February 14 2015 it hosts the Akari Night illuminations.
Photo: flickr.com “Nagoya OKTOBER-FEST, Hisaya-Odori Park, Sakae, Nagoya” by kinpi3 (CC BY-SA 2.0) -Modified