May 24, 2013
J-Hoppers Hiroshima Traditional Guesthouse
Seeing as Jeff is a self confessed “car guy”, I knew I was going to have to spend some time at one of the major car companies here in Japan. Mazda has it’s head office, plant and museum in Kyoto so it was pretty much decided that we would be taking their free (!) tour this morning. The lobby at their head office is pretty swank with their newest models all blindingly shiny and their crowning glory, the rotary engine, on full display.
The lobby also came equipped with 2 Gran Tourismo 5 stations and like a moth to a flame…
The tour started by boarding a bus and driving approximately 5 – 10 minutes into the heart of the plant (no photos allowed), going over Mazda’s private bridge. After sitting in some of the newer model cars we watched a short video that covered the history of the company and their design and sustainable technology philosophy. Then it was on to the fun stuff.
We looked into Mazda’s history by seeing some iconic firsts for the company, like their first three-wheeled truck…
Their first car…
Their first family car…
And their first car with their rotary engine…
I picked this snazzy RX3 as my favourite, but I might just love the colour.
And Jeff’s hands down favourite is this adorable little AZ1. It reminded me of the DeLorean from Back to the Future, just shorter, but to each their own.
We then moved through the museum to learn about the development of the rotary engine and finally we got a chance to walk through their assembly plant. No pictures allowed in the plant but it was pretty neat to see some cars being put together, specifically the new MX5. To finish the tour we got a look at some of their concept cars and I decided I would totally drive this one around town, safety factor be damned!
Looking at all those cars really worked up an appetite so we headed to place where only dreams are made of; an okonomiyaki stadium. Okonomiyaki is a Japanese dish, sometimes called the Japanese pancake or the Japanese pizza and a stadium is where a bunch of food stalls are all crammed together in the same place, usually selling the same type of food. Right across from Hiroshima station is a building called Full Force where we rode the elevator to the 6th floor and stepped out into an okonomiyaki gauntlet.
There were restaurants on both sides with chefs yelling at us, (probably something about how good their food was and how we should totally eat there), they gestured to empty chairs, though most were taken as we had arrived at the height of lunch hour. There were about 20 different restaurants in the place and each had pictures that plastered the walls, showing all the different kinds of okonomiyaki that they offer. We chose a quieter place in the back and were handed english menus (whew!). This is what okonomiyaki is all about.
Step 1 – Order a cold beer. Okonomiyaki is made on a hot grill (or teppan). The counter is actually half hot grill and half counter so expect to get a little sweaty just waiting for your food.
Step 2 – Oil the grill and watch the chef make the thinnest, roundest crepe-like pancakes you’ve ever seen. You can tell he’s done this a couple times before.
Step 3 – Choose your toppings. I went with the veggie (lots of cabbage) and Jeff went with the seafood (shrimp, scallops) and bacon. Now you’re going to want to put an impossible amount of those toppings on top of the crepe, really load it up until it wants to topple over.
Step 4 – Here comes the tricky part, after choosing soba or udon noodles (we both went with soba) and putting those on the grill, you need to flip the stack of toppings so that the crepe ends up on top. The key is to not have everything go flying.
Step 5 – Once everything is cooked, your mound of toppings is placed on the noodles and a couple of eggs are cracked. You’re probably hot and tired at this point but don’t worry, it’s almost done.
Step 6 – The stack is then placed, noodles down, on top of the cooking eggs, then everything is flipped over one more time so that the crepe ends up on the bottom. The most delicious brown sauce is brushed over the whole thing, some powdered seaweed is sprinkled on top and it gets slid to you, still on the grill, in all it’s glory.
Okonomiyaki is the local specialty (Tokyo and Osaka each have different styles) and taking my first bite I didn’t really know what to expect. It was crunchy, it was sweet, it was savoury and so full of flavour. It made me want to keep eating even when I was beyond full. It was sooo good. When we left the restaurant we had to take a bit of a breather on the street before we could make our way to Miyajima, which involved a ferry ride and I didn’t want my lunch to make a second appearance.
A short time later we ended up getting through the ferry ride just fine and found ourselves on the small island of Miyajima, which also happens to have it’s own deer population (just like Nara). Except these deer are jerks. I was looking over some notes from the trip when this adorable deer…
…decided he was hungry and I had to wrestle the paper away from him.
Whether it was the busy morning, big lunch or hot weather we were both feeling pretty exhausted once we got to Miyajima. We decided to forgo the hike to the top of the mountain and instead just see the famous floating torii gate and then head back to the hostel for a nap, except we were there during low tide so the torii wasn’t quite floating.
It was just sorta there, like it was stuck in the mud. We could have stayed and in 6 hours when the tide came in it would look a little more iconic, but I think we got the gist of it. An unfortunate event of timing but you can’t win them all. After wandering past the Itsukushima shrine and through a lovely street market we called it quits and headed back to the main land, to nap and pack our bags to head to Osaka, our last city stop.
Side note – Every time I’m on a boat I get this song stuck in my head…