On our third trip to Japan a couple of months ago, we wanted to focus not on shrines and temples and impossibly beautiful scenery, though we did see all of those, but on friends and experiences. In the friends department, we are blessed to have known Rika for more than three decades, and her family -- husband Ichiro, daughters Nagisa and Misaki, son Shumpei (who climbed Mt. Fuji with my husband Ted), and brand new son-in-law Takumi -- are like family to us. They live on the west coast of Japan, which gives us the opportunity to step off the tourist trail whenever we go to visit them, and there are no more generous hosts anywhere in Japan. For experiences, we took classes in shibori dyeing, spice blending, cooking, and painting of the little plastic food models you see everywhere in Japan.
Perhaps our best discovery on this trip, however, was okonomiyaki, a cabbage pancake to the max. Going out for okonomiyaki is more than a meal -- it's a complete entertainment, as the dish is made on griddles, often right at your table. The basic pancake consists of a thin batter, sometimes noodles, always what seems like an entire head of cabbage, and optional mix-ins like shrimp or pork, with special Japanese barbeque-like sauce on top. In our cooking class in Osaka, Ted and I learned to make a "chopstick" version that you can find at a street festival. These photos are from a tiny restaurant in Hiroshima called Hassei. I'd go far out of my way to eat their okonomiyaki again.