Every month, the Journal takes ACCJ members on a tour of Japan, thanks to our partners at JapanTourist (www.japantourist.jp). JapanTourist is the largest web database of English language travel articles on Japan. This month, we focus on the sights and tastes of the Hiroshima area, courtesy of JapanTourist Regional Partners Paul and JJ Walsh.
HIROSHIMA STYLE OKONOMIYAKI
By Paul Walsh
Okonomiyaki is often described as “Japanese pizza” or, in Hiroshima, “soul food.” The name literally means “cook it how you like it” because you select toppings to add to the standard ingredients, creating your own personal version of the dish. That’s where the analogy ends however, as the finished meal, while round and flat(ish), tastes nothing like pizza.
Usually served at small counter-style restaurants, okonomiyaki is generally eaten directly from the hotplate with a metal spatula called a hera. Sitting shoulder-to-shoulder at the counter of a local okonomiyaki joint is the best place to try the dish and to connect with Hiroshima folk – especially if you give the local lingo a try. Hiroshima locals are very proud of their contribution to Japanese cuisine and regional rivalry, while good-natured, is strong. Be prepared to be quizzed about whether you prefer your okonomiyaki Hiroshima-style or Kansai-style.
How to Order
All Hiroshima okonomiyaki starts with the basic niku-tama, consisting of pork, eggs and cabbage layered between two thin crepes. You first choose which kind of noodles to add – thin Chinese-style yellow soba noodles or thicker white udon noodles. State your preference by asking for “niku-tama-soba” or “niku-tama-udon.” Next, choose any additional toppings. These usually include extra negi green onions, seafood, mochi rice cake, cheese, Korean kimchee, shiso perilla leaf, natto and, sometimes, even jalapeno peppers. In winter, it is also common to see local oysters offered as a topping.
Where to Eat
With so many places to choose from, where does one start? Micchan is probably the most famous, and there are several shops in the city. They often have lines of customers outside waiting for their turn at the grill. Very popular with domestic and oversees tourists is Okonomi-mura, which houses 27 little stalls on 3 floors. Okonomiyakikyowakyoku Hiroshima-mura has another six locations, and Ekimae Hiroshima Okonomi-hiroba (on the south side of Hiroshima Station) has 13 more. A fun way to make a choice is to ask a local. Every Hiroshima-ite has their own favorite and most will view it as a matter of pride to share their preference with visitors.
KUMANO BRUSH FESTIVAL
By JJ Walsh
The history of brush-making in Kumano dates back to the end of the Edo period, when members of the Asano family returned from their travels around Japan. They began making their own brushes which, in the 1840s, developed into a unique, high quality Kumano-style trademark.
The first brushes in Kumano were made for writing. However, after World War II, Kumano artisans began producing them for make-up and artwork. Passed down through generations, Kumano’s brush-making prowess is now world famous and provides many jobs for local people. The industry currently employs about 3,000 people and produces 15 million brushes each year. During the fall festival, brushes are everywhere in Kumano. The festival starts with a calligraphy performance on center stage. Then, a massive Omikoshi altar is carried up to a shrine on the hill, where it is spun around and mochi is thrown to the crowd.
Recycling is a big part of the festival too. In fact, a fire is lit next to the main square, allowing people to toss in their old brushes, sending their special powers back to the Gods. Not only is the practice good for Kumano’s brush business and the environment, but locals believe new brushes bring good luck.
If you are interested in finding out more about Kumano’s famous brushes – or buying a few to take home – you can get them at the festival or online. There are also many available at souvenir shops around Hiroshima.