Villaggio Italia ran in to financial difficulties and closed May 13th, 2008.
Last Sunday I paid a visit to the recently-opened Villaggio Italia in Nagoya's port district. It was a warm day and the place was packed with shoppers and diners. Sunday is never a good day to go anywhere in Japan, but if that's your only holiday, there's little choice but to jostle and queue and play musical chairs with everyone else.
Based on the successful format of the much larger Dutch-inspired Huis ten Bosch resort in Kyushu, Villaggio Italia is a small theme park cum shopping and restaurant center attempting to create an Italian atmosphere and environment without the trouble of actually going to Italy.
Ersatz and kitsch it may be, but the vistas and sightlines created by the designers and architects are certainly convincing enough, if you close your eyes and quickly open them again, to lull you into a feeling of actually being "somewhere" in Italy.
That "somewhere" is so very clean and new - a few instances of graffiti and torn election and funeral notice posters might add some touches of authenticity, but "realism" needs to be suspended when you buy your 1000 yen's worth of shopping and restaurant coupons on entry.
The fairly compact site presents a collection of scale copies of famous Italian landmarks such as the Bell Tower from St. Mark's Square in Venice, the statue of David by Michelangelo in Florence and the Mouth of Truth from the portico of the Church of Santa Maria in Rome. Genuine Italians even pilot you along a short 100m stretch of Venetian canal in exchange for 800 yen or 600 yen of your coupons - the gondoliers must feel like mice on a treadmill traveling such short distances - but it was fun nontheless.
The reconstruction of the "Italian town" (Citta di Murano) is a mix of various Italian restaurants, snack shops, ice cream parlors and Italian goods shops including designer bags and clothes, lingerie, ceramics, Serie A soccer goods, Venetian glass, jewelry and so on.
There's also a Venetian glass museum (800 yen) and even a wedding chapel and "wedding salon" (whatever that is), positioned slightly away from the main shopping streets. Why anyone would want to get married in an Italianesque shopping center is beyond me, but young couples were busily checking out the facilities accompanied by earnest young women in suits with short hair who looked as if they had just stepped out of a Takarazuka revue.
Behind the buildings of the "Little Italy" is a 3-storey shopping and restaurant center with more Italian labels and designer bags. There's also an Italian supermarket with fresh olives, Parmesan cheese and wine, where you can cash in your coupons for a panino or some olive oil.
Prices in the various restaurants are steep, but the San Marco Cafe does have a genuine seafront setting where you can dine comfortably al fresco while being serenaded by an Italian five-piece orchestra.
Other things to pass the time between shopping and eating and more shopping and eating are trips in a small horse-drawn carriage (800 yen) and a cruise around Nagoya Port (1,500 yen) while being "entertained" by Westerners dressed up in Venetian carnival costumes and masks.
Just as with the recently concluded Aichi Expo, it may well be wiser to visit Villaggio Italia in the evening when there is no entry charge (after 6pm) and the crowds are thinner.
It still remains to be seen whether Villaggio Italia will prove successful and continue to draw in the crowds for pizza, pasta and Prada on warm Sunday afternoons.
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5 minute walk from Nagoyako subway station on the Meiko Line. Car parking available.
Restaurants: 11am-11pm (Last order 10pm)
Venetian Glass Museum: 10am-7pm
Tel: (052) 655-1800
Images of Villaggio Italia, Nagoya, Japan
Italy in Japan
The Wedding Chapel
View Along the Main Canal
Dining al Fresco
Wednesday, October 05, 2005