Equal parts historic, futuristic, weird and verdant, Kariya is a small city with big dreams.

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Kariya had been on my bucket list of places to visit for a long time. After many springtime visits to her namesake park in Mississauga, I had been curious to visit the sister city located near Nagoya, Japan. When I finally had a chance to visit Kariya, I was delighted by the beauty of this industrial yet lavishly green city.

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Originally a castle town in the 16th century, Kariya was home to several warlord clans through the centuries. Eventually the town was expanded to include several nearby villages, and it became a centre for sake production, ceramics, commerce and manufacturing. Today, several automobile manufacturers maintain futuristic-looking factories within the city limits, including Toyota (whose worldwide headquarters are housed in nearby Toyota City), Denso and Aisin Seiki.

Japan is full of weird and wonderful tourist attractions, and Kariya is upholding this reputation. On the side of the Tomei Expressway is Highway Oasis, a rest stop that doubles as an amusement park! The park houses a 60-metre-tall Ferris wheel, illuminated at night, that offers magnificent 360-degree views of the region. The rest stop is also home to a water park that caters to sweltering vacationers in the summer, with an onsen and sauna onsite. Meanwhile, Kariya’s Mississauga Park gives visitors from Canada a sense of déjà-vu. This Western-style park is home to native Canadian evergreens, roses and a variety of other flowers that intermingle among Japanese maple trees, a replica of Mississauga’s farmhouse-inspired city hall, and sculptures depicting Canadiana such as maple leaves and polar bears. Being sister cities, the two municipalities maintain a strong connection, sending delegates to one another every other year and maintaining signature parks in the cities’ honour.

Kariya also boasts some of the most spectacular gardens in the Nagoya region. The Kozutsuminishi Pond becomes a popular attraction in the early summer months as the 20,000-m2 marsh erupts with thousands upon thousands of brilliantly coloured violet irises. This national natural treasure is so popular that the city runs a free tour bus to transport visitors daily while the flowers are in bloom. In the centre of the city, Floral Garden Yosami sits at the base of the Yosami radio transmission station and is home to exotic and rare blooms, a number of restaurants and a mini-train, as well as a traditional English- style garden.

I was lucky to visit Kariya during its Daimyo festival, which has been held every few years in early May in Kariya since the 1630s. Held at the Ichibara Inari Shrine, the capstone to this grand festival is the procession of performers in elaborate colourful costumes. Kariya is also home to a hanami (fireworks) festival held every spring in Kijo Park on the ruins of the ancient Kariya Castle, and the Kariya Mando festival, held annually over a weekend in late July. At the Mando festival, revellers are treated to a spectacular show with hundreds of intricately decorated, minivan-sized paper lanterns depicting warlords, demons and mythical creatures being paraded throughout the city.

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Often overlooked by visitors, Kariya is an unconventional side trip from Nagoya. From unorthodox amusement parks and larger-than-life traditional Japanese festivals to Canadian- and English-themed gardens, Kariya is home to an incongruently fabulous mix of sites and attractions.