Hiroshima #3 – Okonomiyaki (お好み焼き)

Okonomiyaki… how to describe this delicious dish? The word means basically “cook it how you like it” and refers to a sort of pancake type thing made with different ingredients depending on, well, what you like!

Okonomiyaki is famous in Hiroshima as well as the Kansai region, especially Osaka. Each area has a different style of making it. Instead of mixing it all together like in Osaka, Hiroshima style okonomiyaki is layered, and usually with noodles on the bottom then topped with lots of chives and a sweet sauce. Part of the fun of it is making it yourself on the table in front of you, and then trying to eat it with flat spoon type things before it burns. Talk about food with an effort!

Getting Hiroshima style okonomiyaki in… Yamaguchi. Oops.

Miyazaki #3: Haniwa (はにわ)

Haniwa are terracotta figures buried with the dead during the Kofun period of Japanese history (3rd to 6th century AD). They range from humanoid type figures to animals to important objects like replicas of houses or carts. In Miyazaki City in the Heiwadai Park, you can visit 400 different examples of haniwa in the Haniwa Garden.

My visit to Miyazaki of course included the garden where I took lots of pictures!

Haniwa and postcard… there were a few similar, but this was the closest to the postcard I could find!

And another one

Haniwa Garden sign in Miyazaki City

Close up… there were so many different kinds!

A few more in the same vein

Haniwa can be seen and found all over Japan, but their usual setting these days is in museums. It was a really unique and interesting setting to see them all over the garden, and it was nice walking around finding so many different ones along each new path. I really enjoyed the Haniwa Garden a lot!

Also in Miyazaki (though not terribly near the garden) you can try your hand at actually making a haniwa. Check out this link and enjoy!

Okayama #3: Jeans (ジーンズ)

What comes to your mind when you think “Japanese textiles”? Probably traditional silk production and kimono, right? You might be surprised to learn that in the prefecture of Okayama in the southern area of the main Honshu island, the main textile export is actually denim!

While the area around Okayama has produced cotton for a very long time, its obsession with jeans started after WWII when second-hand jeans started circulation among the population, and grew in popularity. Around the same time, traditional Japanese dress was falling out of favor, and the producers of cotton and other materials were seeing a decline in demand for their products. This lead to them beginning production of jeans, and now are the number one producer of denim in Japan, as well as gaining world-wide attention from the fashion industry.

On my two trips to Okayama, I noticed an abundance of jeans shops, but didn’t pay a lot of attention to them until my second trip to Kurashiki, and even then didn’t bother much with going in a looking. I did however try “denim ice cream” as well as seeing some other denim-related products. Now that I know more about the industry, I’d love to go back and learn more!

Blue-colored meat buns. Um… yum?

Denim… tastes like blueberry. Who knew?

Hokkaido #3: Ezo Red Fox (キタキツネ)

Hokkaido’s third postcard features the “Ezo Red Fox” or the Kita Kitsune in Japanese. These beautiful red-colored foxes are found throughout Hokkaido and Russia’s Southern Kurile Islands. Not a lot is known about them in English, but people interested can view them in their native wild habitat throughout Hokkaido, in zoos like Sapporo Zoo, or in a “Fox Village” of which there are two in Japan (that I know of).

The more famous Zao Fox Village is actually in Miyagi Prefecture, and features a number of different kinds of foxes, but there’s also the Kitakitsune Village in Hokkaido.

Foxes are one of my favorite animals, ever since I saw one in my local city my first month or so after moving here. I was therefore so happy to see not one but two during my visit to Shiretoko Peninsula in Hokkaido!

Looking for food

More food searching on the side of the road

I didn’t have the chance to visit the fox village, but a quick search on youtube shows a lot of super cute videos. My next visit to Hokkaido I’ll definitely try to see one again!

Chiba #3: Choshi Electric Railway (銚子電気鉄道)

Chiba’s third postcard is of the retro Choshi Electric Railway, a private rail which connects the small Choshi peninsula together. I had the chance to ride this cute train while on the We Love Japan Tour 2015 for Japan Guide, and you can read about my experience here and more about the railway’s history and current stock here.

The postcard combines the DeHa 801 train (now retired) among yellow na no hana (rape blossoms) with the Inubosaki Lighthouse in the background. Although when I visited the na no hana weren’t blooming, I got the chance to see some of the different train cars as well as the lighthouse.

The retired 801 in… not so great a shape, actually. I was a bit surprised by its condition!

The car is parked at Tokawa Terminal Station, an old wooden traditional style station

Inside is a small museum, and you can ask the station staff to unlock the door to go inside.

The closest station to the lighthouse is Inuboh Station which is a unique looking white stucco and blue tiled building.

Inubosaki Lighthouse up on the cliff

Tickets are thick cardboard and reusable, though I got to keep mine!

The pouch the conductor carries actually drives the train, and is switched out half way down the line. Without it, the train wont go.

Some of the different cars on the line

More retired rolling stock kept at Nakanocho Station

Although Choshi isn’t exactly easy to get to, I really loved my visit there. It has a lot to offer, so I’d definitely recommend a trip! I think during April would be nice, as the na no hana are blooming then too!

Shizuoka #3: Waterfall with “Dancer and Me” (初景滝と「踊り子と私」)

Shizuoka’s third postcard combines Shokeidaru (Shokei Fall) of the Kawazu Seven Waterfalls, and a statue from the short story The Dancing Girl of Izu by Kawabata Yasunari which is set in the area. You can read about the short story here and the falls here.

Postcard, statue, and falls

The same waterfall without the postcard

Close up of the statue

And a different statue along the walking path

I enjoyed the beautiful waterfalls in the area a lot, and recommend Izu as a great trip pretty close to Tokyo.

Yamagata #3: Shogi Pieces (左馬)

Shogi is Japanese chess, and Tendo is a city in Yamagata Prefecture which produces the majority of the pieces used in the game. I don’t know much about the game itself, but even someone who knows nothing can enjoy the craft and beauty of each hand-carved piece… and in April you can even see a human-sized game! I definitely want to go!

The piece used in the postcard is the character for horse (馬, uma) but backward and is called “hidari-uma” or left horse. You can also read it as “mau”, which also means dance in Japanese. This piece was born in Tendo and is often thought to bring good luck and business prosperity. Therefore many businesses in the area have a large one on display to bring luck. I bought a small keychain when I visited Tendo, and it is a common way to carry the piece around!

The giant piece in my room while staying at Tendo Onsen

Checking in, this cute little pen holder greeted me

When you visit Tendo you can see many craft shops that make the pieces, as well as visit the Tendo Shogi Museum conveniently located in the train station! You can also see people playing the game near there, and get more information to visit shops.

Tendo is also a fantastic onsen, as well as growing many fruits throughout the year, so is a great day trip or overnight stay from Tokyo. I really recommend it!

Shimane #3: Ox Sumo (牛突き)

Shimane is another prefecture I haven’t yet mentioned on this blog, so let’s explore it’s Ox Sumo postcard today! This is the 3rd postcard released for Shimane, and it highlights an interesting yet little known festival in the Oki Islands area of Shimane Prefecture. Some of you may be familiar with the Japanese sport of Sumo (in fact, I’m going to talk about a famous sumo wrestler from Oita next!), where two men fight to push each other out of a ring. Ox sumo is the same concept. The bulls lock horns and with their handlers encouragement try to push the other bull out of a ring!

And before you call PETA on me, it’s not a “fight” in the traditional sense! No bulls are hurt during this event, as the handlers are there to make sure everything is safe!

Ox Sumo was said to be brought to the Oki Islands by the exiled Emperor Gotoba in 1221, and is a sacred part of the culture today. You can read more about it here. To see Ox Sumo events, visit during any of the 6 times a year the event is held!

Toyama #3: Hotaru Ika (ホタルイカ)

This postcard’s so pretty, isn’t it? The third postcard from Toyama Prefecture features hotaru ika. Hotaru means firefly in Japanese, and ika is squid. Firefly squid?! That’s right! These unique and beautiful squid are something special around March to May, as thousands of them converge along the coastline to breed. These small squid have photophores, light emitting cells, all over their bodies, and as they come close to the surface in spring to breed, we get to witness a wonderful spectacle as the water along the beach seems to glow blue!

This video, while showing just pictures, gives you a good idea of what the coastline looks like around this time. You can see them as I said above from March to May, whether along the beach, out on a tourist boat to watch the fishermen bring in a catch of them, or at the Hotaru Ika Museum (English) Hotaru Ika are also considered a delicacy, and herald spring. So even if you can’t make it to Toyama to see them out in the water, you can try some at sushi restaurants around Japan, or in the shape of crackers and other foods from Toyama.

When the hotaru ika arrive, Spring has finally come!

Yamanashi #3: Houtou (ほうとう)

Yamanashi’s 3rd postcard today is Houtou, a hot nabe-style dish perfect for the cold weather. The soup is miso-based, with lots of hearty vegetables and a flat udon-style noodle. When did houtou become prevalent in a rice-based agriculture area? It’s difficult to pinpoint when, and there are several theories. One even says that houtou was invented by Takeda Shingen! Although this may or may not be true, it is still customary to display Takeda’s flag when houtou is being served.

I’ve never eaten houtou; my one visit to Yamanashi was in the middle of summer, and a hot dish didn’t appeal. Now of course I wish I’d tried it, but I will have to save it for another time! On my visit to Shosenkyo Gorge we did eat at a restaurant that served it, however. Here’s the board advertising it:

Advertising houtou at a small restaurant near Shosenkyo Gourge

It’s the one on the left… looks good, right?