Aichi Prefecture sits almost exactly in the middle of the Japanese archipelago, facing the Pacific Ocean. The prefectural capital is Nagoya, a city that is also known as “Chukyo,” because it sits in the middle between a city to the east (Tokyo) and a city to the west (Kyoto).
The “Chukyo-ken,” the Nagoya metropolitan area, is, together with the “Shuto-ken” (the Tokyo metropolitan area) and “Kinki-ken” (the metropolitan area formed by Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe), one of Japan’s three
largest metropolitan areas.
Nagoya has the fourth largest population of any city in Japan at approximately 2.22 million people. The head offices of auto manufacturers and associated factories are clustered in cities like Toyota City in the suburbs of Nagoya, and the Nagoya metropolitan area is known worldwide as an automotive industry center. JR Nagoya Station, in the center of the city, is also an important land transport hub, passed through by the Tokaido Shinkansen line in addition to a variety of standard rail lines, including the Tokaido and Chuo Honsen lines.
There is a folk song that says that “Owari Nagoya wa shiro de motsu,” meaning that Nagoya is sustained by the presence of Nagoya Castle (Owari is the old name for the west part of Aichi Prefecture). With Osaka Castle and Kumamoto Castle, Nagoya Castle is known as one of Japan’s three most famous castles, and the gold statues of male and female shachihoko that sit on the highest roof of the castle have become a symbol of Nagoya.
The shachihoko is a monster with a form between a fish and a dragon, and is said to be a Japanese version of the shibi, a mythical sea creature originating in China. The shachihoko was believed to bring clouds and rain, and statues of these creatures were used on the roofs of buildings as a charm against fires – in those days fire was even more of a concern than it is today.
The gold on the surface of Nagoya Castle’s shachihoko statues has been reapplied many times since they were placed on the roof in 1612, but gold plates weighing more than 215 kg were used in their original construction. The gold statues were very effective in highlighting the majesty of the castle.
The shachihoko statues were removed from the roof of the castle and lowered to the ground by crane for the first time in 21 years in 2005 in order to be exhibited at Expo 2005, held in Aichi Prefecture, and became a talking point among the public. While Japan’s economy as a whole hasn’t been as thriving in recent years, in part because of the success of Expo 2005, Aichi is the nation’s only region with a healthy economy. Perhaps the luster of the gold shachihoko also symbolizes this aspect of the prefecture.