For most foreigners, the word “Hiroshima” summons one thought: the atomic bombing, and nothing else. But tell a Japanese person that you visited Hiroshima and you’ll get the following question: “Did you try the okonomiyaki?”. By no accident, our hotel sat right next door to the famous Okonomiyaki Village, and I saved okonomiyaki for the last night’s dinner.
Okonomiyaki loosely means “what you like, cooked.” Okonomiyaki is sometimes called Japanese pizza, which I find a lazy description. Yes, it’s round and cut into wedges to eat–but that’s where the similarities with pizza end. Okonomiyaki is a savory pancake with lots of cabbage, pork slices, flour and egg batter, and pretty much anything else you want to add. The pancake is cooked on a flat griddle; said griddle either sits in the middle of the dining table or directly in front of the counter where patrons sit.
The default version of okonomiyaki hails from Osaka; all of the ingredients are mashed together in a bowl, and diners often do the mixing and cooking themselves. Traditional toppings include kewpie mayonnaise, aonori powdered seaweed, and a sweet Japanese-style Worcestershire sauce called (surprise!) okonomiyaki sauce.
The Hiroshima version of okonomiyaki separates the layers and adds cooked noodles; also the proprietor does the cooking. And to Mark’s delight–no mayo on top.
We ventured into Okonomiyaki Village, a building with five floors of okonomiyaki stalls. We chose one vendor pretty much at random and started ordering. Our cook got to work, and I happily documented her progress with our ringside seats.
After eating way too much, we headed out for an outing that absolutely no one wanted to do–karaoke! Don rolled his eyes but gamely joined us, because he has manners. My children have no manners but they also have no say because our family is a benevolent dictatorship and not a democracy. And Mark? He didn’t want to do it either, but a situation at work meant that he missed a day of our trip. So he owed me, and I told him so.
Some trivia: karaoke means empty orchestra, and it originated in Asia in the 1960s. American karaoke means humiliating yourself drunkenly in front of a bar of strangers; the karaoke machine sits near the stage as an extra. By contrast, here in Japan multi-story, 24-hour karaoke parlors abound. Alcohol and food are served, but karaoke is the main event. Also the experience here is much more intimate and you get a small room for only your group. Work outings often include karaoke, so anyone coming to Japan should have a song or two ready.
Once we started singing the initial I Don’t Wannas quickly gave way to fighting over the console for selecting songs. Tessa came around first, and even Don admitted that he enjoyed it more than he expected. And he’s a Johnny Cash and Beach Boys kind of guy, in case you’re wondering. Our hour quickly ran out with songs still in the queue, and we wished we had more time–which is exactly how a karaoke session should end!
The next morning we visited a few last sites–the children’s museum for Mark and the kids, the Hiroshima Museum of Art for Don and I–then caught our shinkansen back home to Yokohama. A hazy, speedy Fuji-san sunset marked the perfect coda for a spectacular visit.