Thursday, 23 June 2016

The Japanese Food Adventure Chapter 2 - Day 10. Rabbit Island, Onomichi and a lesson in Okonomiyaki

We woke up with a surprisingly clear head from last nights drinking session at Koba Bar. I sat at the window with a coffee watching everyone going to work, we were almost halfway through our trip but it felt like we'd been here for such a long time. The cloud was breaking up and the sun was trying to break through, it looked like we wouldn't be needing umbrellas again today.

We found this note from Bom at Koba inside a Hiroshima food guide, he told us about an Okonomiyaki restaurant that his friend owned. My wife had struggled to find a vegetarian okonomiyaki but Sarii-chan was the place to go apparently, we decided to go and eat there this evening.

As well as giving us a recommendation Bom had kindly written out this note for my wife to help here out in restaurants, it read:

watashi wa bejitarian desu.
(I am a vegetarian.)

niku ga taberemasen.
(I cannot eat meat.)

chiizu, tamago wa daijoubu desu.
(Cheese and eggs are OK.)

Today we were going to visit Rabbit Island and Onomichi, both places were east of Hiroshima and accessible by using our JR passes. On the first train journey I chose to stand, the view out of the drivers window was fascinating and not something you can experience in England. Equally fascinating is watching the driver pointing in his pristine white gloves at every signal as he passes through it. I'd noticed this back in 2014, it helps the drivers stay fully focused.

I sat down eventually though to eat this rice snack from 7 Eleven. It was a bit like eating left over egg fried rice from the fridge, delicious and only ¥120 (about 75p)

Just over an hour later we arrived at Tadanoumi station, we were now just a short distance to a small island we were keen to explore.

The clue as to why we wanted to visit this island was clear to see on the station sign. We were finally going to visit the island Okunoshima, home to thousands of rabbits!

We couldn't possible visit the island without bringing some food along for the rabbits. This Family Mart store had pots of carrot sticks and rabbit pellets for sale beside the till, we stocked up and went in search of the ferry that would take us to rabbit island.

The ferry office was close by and the service was really regular, the cost of the return trip was no more than a few pounds each.

Whilst waiting for the ferry I spotted this in a vending machine, I love sweetcorn so decided to try some. It was the most delicious sweetcorn drink served ice cold, so far the best vending machine find on the trip.

The ferry arrived and we boarded with just a handful of other people. We were hoping it wouldn't be an island full of tourists as we wanted to experience the rabbits all to ourselves, it was looking like this would be the case.

Between 1929-1945, the Japanese army secretly produced over 6,000 tons of poison gas on Okunoshima, which was removed from maps of the area and chosen because of its discreet location and distance from civilian populations. At the time, an unfortunate colony of rabbits was brought to the island in order to test the effects of the poison. After the war the poison gas was removed from the island, the island is still to this day inhabited though by thousands of rabbits.

 No sooner were we off the ferry and the first rabbit came running over, it had spotted our carrot sticks.

Less than a minute later more came running over, they all looked incredibly healthy and were all really friendly!

My wife was in her element being surrounded by bunnies. If you love rabbits and are visiting Japan you really should visit Okunoshima, its also known as Usagi Shima (Rabbit Island)

After the initial excitement of seeing all the rabbits we started to notice just how beautiful the island was and with so few other people about it really felt like paradise.

There was a free bus service that covered the whole island, this is somewhere you will definitely want to explore on foot though.

Surrounding Okunoshima are many other islands, some were accessible by ferry.

We tried them out, I'm guessing they were to demonstrate how good rabbits can hear with their large ears.

We walked until we reached the highest point of the island, the view was stunning and rabbits continued popping out from the bushes to visit us. It was nice to see bowls of clean water that had been scattered around the island for the rabbits to drink from.

On the other side of the island is a hotel and a six hole golf course.

We'd reached the area where the poison gas had once been stored.

Some rabbits were enjoying the shade inside the old storehouse.

The last place we passed on the island before arriving at the ferry port was the old ruins of the gas manufacturing plant, quite an eerie place.

 We said our final farewell to our hosts on this island and returned to the mainland on the ferry.

We returned to Family Mart by Tadanoumi station to pick up something for lunch. All Family Mart and 7 eleven stores in Japan have microwave ovens, this came in useful for the gyoza I'd bought. Even though it was gyoza from a convenience store heated up in a microwave it was still incredibly nice. Gyoza are dumplings filled with ground meat and vegetables and wrapped in a thin dough, they are usually fried and sometimes known as pot stickers. I also bought some Calpis Soda, a slightly milky flavoured soft drink, really nice! Finally I bought a rather nice tuna and rice roll coated in seaweed. 

My wife bought some edamame beans, blanched in salt water these are delicious, they also go incredibly well with a cold glass of beer.

My wife was feeling experimental but later regretted it, sour kneeding plums were certainly an acquired taste! After eating a few they kind of grew on me but I said this with a screwed up face.

This banana drink was really delicious!

We boarded our next train to Onomichi.

 Something I observed was this simple but affective method of advertising on trains in Japan, these posters hung from each carriage. I couldn't help thinking that at home some people may just tear them down, in Japan it worked well though.

By the time we'd reached Onomichi it was getting really hot. My wife was keen to come here to find a place known as "Cat Alley"

With a map from tourist info we headed along the pathways behind the town in search of cat alley. It was in this area that my wife dropped her phone for the third time since arriving in Japan. The first two times the screen had been forgiving, this time though it gave up and cracked. Despite having a cracked screen the phone still worked which was a great relief to my wife, it was after all her only camera for the trip.

We passed some stunning cemeteries and temples and passed very few other people. 

This old school looked like it had closed down sometime ago.

This was the centre of cat alley, it consisted of cat based shops, cafe's and galleries. Strangely though we didn't spot many cats along here.

This area, once laden with crumbling housing was given a second life in 1997 by Shunji Sonoyama who saw much potential in this hidden cove. 

Overlooking the trees was this quint tea house. We considered stopping for a drink but feared an expensive cover charge so decided to search for a vending machine instead.

As we climbed the steps above Cat Alley we finally spotted a cat.

We followed the steps to the very top where we found Lovers Sanctuary. Visitors could buy locks and keys to write their name on to hang here.

The view from the top was breathtaking, we'd walked up from the station in the distance down below. Onomichi is off the tourist trail but well worth visiting, this is made fairly simple if you have a JR Pass.

We figured it was time to start making tracks back to Hiroshima, pausing to decide the best route to take back to the station this chap offered to help. We roughly knew the way but to be polite asked his advice anyway, he then went on to lead the way for nearly ten minutes! This had happened numerous times since arriving in Japan, the Japanese are so helpful and friendly. Eventually we had to insist we were certain of our way back as he had gone so far out of his way to help us.

By the train station we spotted some lovely signs outside the shops in a small shopping mall.

This elephant is the Sato Pharmaceutical's mascot found outside many pharmacies.

As we travelled back towards Hiroshima we witnesses a stunning sunset from the train.

After a quick pit stop at the hotel we went in search of the okonomiyaki restaurant that Bom had recommended to us.

It was really easy to find and only a short walk from our hotel, we headed up to the 2nd floor with nothing but okonomiyaki on our mind.

We were warmly welcomed and told to sit in front of the griddle. With a cold beer we watched closely as our okonomiyaki was prepared right in front of us. First a thin pancake was created and then topped with shredded cabbage.

Next some seasoning was added.

Bacon was added to my one.

Next it was flipped over.

There were different noodles to chose from, my wife chose spicy and I chose plain. You could add extra ingredients if you wanted, I chose squid.

The cabbage had been cooking for about 5 minutes, it was then flattened down.

The cabbage and pancake was placed over the noodles.

Next an egg was cooked.

Everything was placed over the egg and the sticky sauce was painted over the top.

Finally some more seasoning was added.

Each region of Japan has its own variation of Okonomiyaki, in some areas the ingredients are mixed before cooking but in Hiroshima everything is layered.

I've tried okonomiyaki many times now but it doesn't get much better than this! My wife was delighted to be able to join me this time with her vegetarian version.

We didn't really need anymore food tonight but my wife was won over by these soft chocolate cookies from Family Mart.

It had been an amazing day! My wife reached for her pencils and beautifully sketched her memory of rabbit island.

Click here for Day 11
A difficult climb in Miyajima

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