Japan Day 17 (Part II) - Hiroshima

This is a short one, but it didn't belong in the same post as the roller coasters. The two experiences were as different as night and durian. 

Halfway dazed from hours of fun and adrenalin, we rode the train back to Osaka, picked up our bags from the lockers, rode the local train to Shin-Osaka Station, and finally the bullet train to Hiroshima. What a day. Luckily our hotel was practically connected to the train station, and so we hardly had to walk outside.

The Hotel Granvia Hiroshima was a hotel that had been the picture of luxury back in the day, but now was slightly outdated. That had meant good prices for us; the same price that a cramped business hotel would have cost for the two nights. We entered a grand lobby, and upon checking in, the receptionist presented us with a traditional, folding, hand fan each as a gift. I had forgotten about these fans. They used to be used by everyone, especially in these hot summer months, every person had a little fan they would pull out to use. They used to be popular items in souvenir shops too, a symbol of Japanese culture. Now in two and a half weeks of traveling, this was the first one I had seen. Perhaps parts of Japan’s tradition and history were starting to fade away.

Whatever happened to these fans everyone used to carry?

The room was spacious and nice, even if outdated. A smart phone was provided to use during our stay, just like the one our first hotel in Tokyo had provided. The phone was a nice touch, with helpful apps and articles on Japan already preloaded. I started opening and closing drawers, just out of curiosity. I found the bible drawer with an entire selection of books inside, including the Teachings of Buddha, the New Testament, a religious text in Japanese I could not read, and a book called Hiroshima’s Revival. Hiroshima’s Revival looked like some sort of weird cult propaganda from the cover (and the fact that it was next to the other religious books), but when I flipped through the pages, I realized that it was an entire manga on Hiroshima’s history, or more specifically, Hiroshima’s revival after that fateful day during WWII.

Historical manga, not cult propaganda.

I sat down and read the entire manga. It was full of beautiful stories about the people who rebuilt Hiroshima after the bomb, or the pikadon (pika = flash; don = bang). Fletch and I were here in Hiroshima for the history lesson, and had been discussing the atrocity just days before. He had startled me by saying that the bomb was the bravest act of war ever accomplished, and I had though he was crazy. How could something so catastrophically devastating be seen as anything but that? Here was this beautiful little manga from the Japanese perspective though, that was basically saying the same thing. So many people realized that Hiroshima was a sacrifice that had to be made in order to end the war, and to save countless other cities. What a selfless outlook. I never thought I’d be so humbled after reading a comic book.

For dinner we decided to go find some Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, the specialty for the city. Lonely Planet recommended a little restaurant on the other side of the train station only a 5 minute walk away, and so we set out in the dark to find it. Crossing the train tracks in a strange city at night time was a little dodgy, but at the same time fitting. One of the stories in the manga had been about a sweets shop that opened up after the war, in a rough part of town next to this very train station, but had managed to persevere. We found the little yellow storefront that was already closed for the night. Unsure that we were going to find anything else in this dark corner of town, we crossed the tracks again and stopped at a conbini for drinks while we decided what to do. The train stations always had plenty of food options. We decided to just browse the selection that was undoubtably waiting in the basement.

Along the way we walked past a little hole-in-the-wall shop with an orange awning. During the daytime, we probably wouldn't have even noticed it; the only thing that made it stand out now was that it was the only light emanating from this dark street. It looked as though a couple of patrons were sitting at a lady’s kitchen counter. Something clicked in my brain as we walked past and I realized that the characters on the awning said okonomiyaki. I said as much to Fletch and we both stood outside in the dark, awkwardly for a few moments, trying to decide how to proceed. We were far away from tourist town now. Nothing had been in English since we had arrived. Was it acceptable for a couple of gaijin to walk into what looked like someone’s home this late at night? We decided to try it.

We walked into a small, homey area, with enough furnishings and odds and ends to convince us that someone lived here. The little old lady working in the kitchen couldn’t speak a lick of English. We couldn’t speak Japanese save for enough words to order seafood okonomiyaki. She made an “X” with her index fingers at the word “seafood” to convey that she was out. The two patrons at the bar turned around and spoke enough broken English to help us out. We were able to convey through them that egg and soba were ok, but no meat. The little old lady set to work, and the couple at the bar got up and helped themselves to the beer in the fridge, then gave it to us. We couldn’t figure out if they were regulars, or family here for the night to help. It definitely felt more like we were hanging out in someone’s home than at a restaurant.

Unnamed, Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki shop.

Everyone was watching the same doctor drama that we had watched back in Hakone, the one with the cocky kid doctor. It was apparent that a new episode was airing tonight, and this was some sort of weekly ritual to get together and watch it over beers and okonomiyaki. We joined right in. The dramatic music and the reactions from the locals were enough to figure out the gist of the plot. Meanwhile the little old lady pulled an entire head of fresh cabbage out of the fridge and set about making our meal completely from scratch. We were in for a treat.

The couple would say a few words in English every now and again. I would say a few words in Japanese. The lady made our food while watching the drama like it was something she could do in her sleep. Eventually we were served two steaming hot plates of Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, different from the Osaka-style in that it had only a thin layer of batter, and a generous layer of noodles. The food was so good. These people were complete strangers of course, but it felt as though they had invited us into their home and treated us to a homemade meal. Fletch and I walked back to the hotel happy that we had pushed ourselves out of our comfort zone. It had given us an experience and a meal that we would never forget.

Homemade, Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki.