In 2019, the city of Toyota in Japan's Aichi Prefecture wants to show visitors that it is more than just a "car town." Home to the auto manufacturer from which the city of 420,000 takes its name, Toyota City this autumn is hosting major art exhibits and four matches — including two marquee games featuring the Japanese and New Zealand squads — of the Rugby World Cup. These events are something of a coming out for Toyota City, whose reputation as a manufacturing center belies its rich history and mountain scenery. The city makes for an up-and-coming addition to any Japan travel itinerary.
A 50-minute train ride from Nagoya, Toyota City also has the advantage of being considerably lighter on the wallet compared with Tokyo or Osaka. Event and museum admissions are less expensive, thanks to subsidies from the carmaker, with hotel and restaurant options also being considerably cheaper compared to Japan's big cities — perfect for travelers looking to extend their travel budget.
History and Culture
Through Oct. 14, the Toyota Municipal Museum of Art will concurrently co-host the Aichi Triennale contemporary art festival, as well as an exhibition on the works of the Austrian symbolist painter Gustav Klimt. Adult admission costs 1,600 yen per exhibit ($24), or 2,000 yen (around $30) for a combined ticket. Constructed by Yoshio Taniguchi — the Japanese architect responsible for the 2004 redesign of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City — the grounds of the Toyota Municipal Museum of Art also offer scenic views of the city below.
For those with youngsters, the nearby Toyota Hands-on Museum (free admission to the Science Hall; planetarium admission is 300 yen for adults, and 100 yen for children) provides a wealth of tactile, visual and other experiential exhibits.
An Automotive Past
Once known as Koromo, Toyota City was a traditional agricultural and silk production hub before its transformation into a manufacturing powerhouse. Now, perhaps inevitably, it offers numerous ways to explore the city's automotive history. The sprawling Toyota Automobile Museum (adult admission, 1,000 yen) covers the breadth of Japan's car industry, from its infancy to the latest in high-tech sports racing, as well as exhibits from international automakers.
For a less-crowded experience, the city's expansive Kuragaike Park hosts the Toyota Kuragaike Commemorative Hall (free admission), which traces the history of the Toyota corporation and its founder, Kiichiro Toyoda, from humble loom-maker to automotive giant. With bilingual exhibits, including working demonstration models of Toyoda's earliest loom patents, the museum and its calm green surroundings make for a pleasant afternoon outing.
No visit to Toyota City would be complete without a tour of the automaker's huge factory and museum. Running 150 minutes, including shuttle bus travel time, the free factory tour provides a glimpse into the methods of the world's largest carmaker (reservations are required). The nearby Toyota Kaikan Museum, also free, explores the company's design and production philosophy.
Green Tea and Matcha
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While Toyota City's architecture is typical of a mid-size Japanese town — don't expect glittering Tokyo-esque skyscrapers — Toyota, nonetheless, boasts some impressive natural bona fides. In its preindustrial days, the area was a major producer of green tea and matcha and still maintains a presence in the market. For a nominal fee, the Toyota International Association runs multilingual green tea workshops throughout the year, which allow visitors to learn about the region's tea history, grind their own tea leaves and make dishes such as matcha ice cream. The association also hosts seasonal tea leaf-picking outings with local growers.
The city's surrounding mountains also make for a scenic afternoon of hiking. Mount Sanage in particular is a popular spot among locals, who hike its gentle, well-maintained slopes for the sweeping view of the surrounding area from a 2,000-foot peak. Bicycle paths are also present, and the mountain hosts three shrines known as the Sanage Sanja Daimyojin.
For a more low-key outing, visitors can check out the charming Yasa Rose Garden (admission, free), featuring more than 100 varieties of roses throughout the year and a shaded picnic area next door. And with the changing of the seasons, the Aichi Greenery Center, which offers free parking and admission, features a tranquil ornamental pond and walking paths set against a vibrant backdrop of autumn foliage.
After a day of sightseeing, visit the Ishidatami Ashiyu public bath and the Ishidatami Fureai Hiroba community center. Join locals of all ages visiting throughout the day, soaking their feet in a cobblestone bath. Morning markets selling local produce are held on the grounds on the first Saturday of each month.
Written by: Allan Richarz
Photographs by: Ivor Prickett
© 2019 THE NEW YORK TIMES