Walking into Hiroshima Okonomi Monogatari Ekimae Hiroba in the evening is walking into a riot of noise, smells, and color. One doesn’t know which way to go among the crowd of bustling families, tourists, and businessmen, the shout of “irashaimase!” or “welcome!” from the staff, and the lines of steaming griddles. Hiroshima Okonomi Monogatari Ekimae Hiroba (here on after I will be calling it Ekimae Hiroba for short) is an exciting place to try Hiroshima’s famous dish, okonomiyaki.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with okonomiyaki, I’m afraid I can’t decide on a satisfactory English translation for it. Many have tried. For instance, “Japanese pizza” and “Japanese, savory pancake”. These descriptions aren’t completely off, but they’re also not quite right. If you’ve had okonomiyaki, you know what I mean. Also, for those of you familiar with the Kansai/Osaka style okonomiyaki, you’ll notice a difference with the Hiroshima style right away.
What makes Ekimae Hiroba special is, firstly, it’s close proximity to Hiroshima Station, it is in a building right across the street from the Station’s south exit. Secondly, it has over a dozen okonomiyaki shops side by side for you to choose from. Every okonomiyaki shop has its own story and its own creative contribution to this classic Hiroshima dish. Check out their website below if you want to look at all of the different okonomiyaki shops before you go.
I’ve been to Ekimae Hiroba a few times and I always try a different okonomiyaki stand when I go. This time, it was a Sunday evening on November 15th 2020. After a long, chilly day outside it was nice to go someplace warm and have a hot meal. Okonomiyaki is definitely comfort food and I crave it a lot in the cold months. When I arrived it was early, around 4:30pm, so well before the dinner rush. I had never been there so early so I was afraid things wouldn’t be open. I was wrong, Ekimae Hiroba is open from 10am to 11pm, so I could have come for a late breakfast if I wanted. 4:30 is a bit of a lull, it didn’t have the usual loud, busyness of the later hours, but it turned out it was lucky I came so early. The okonomiyaki stand I had my eye on this time, was 電光石火, “Denko-Sekka” or “Lightening Stone Fire”.
Denko-Sekka is a very dramatic name for a very popular okonomiyaki shop. It is actually a chain. There are a few restaurants here in Hiroshima and there is even one in Tokyo. Their okonomiyaki is unique because of its shape. Usually, the egg on top of the okonomiyaki is a flat omelet, but Denko-Sekka makes their omelets so that they balloon up making the okonomiyaki look like a smooth, fluffy mound. Even though I arrived early, they were already full and I had to wait about 10 minutes for a seat. Just after I arrived and got a number, more people started showing up. I imagine the dinner rush for this place is crazy so if you want to try it, I recommend coming early.
Denko-Sekka is arranged like the other okonomiyaki shops in Ekimae Hiroba. Every shop gets about the same amount of space, which isn’t much. The cooks and all of their equipment are surrounded by one long hot plate and customers sit on the other side, on stools, like one would sit at a counter in a diner. The cooks make the okonomiyaki in front of you and you eat it directly off the hot plate. Even though Ekimae Hiroba is inside, it is meant to look and feel like you’re walking outside along an old-school, Japanese, strip of food stands. There are no doors so passersby can have a good look inside.
The highlight of my evening was definitely my meal at Denko-Sekka. When they called my number, I sat down and ordered a big, frosted mug of beer. It’s a little warm in front of the hot plate so the icy, cold beer helps offset the heat. At least half a dozen different okonomiyaki were being cooked simultaneously. You can watch every move the cooks make. Hiroshima okonomiyaki is layered, so they cook most of the layers separately and then start stacking them together at the appropriate time. The cooks work really fast and skillfully, it is fun to watch. At Denko-Sekka, every time an okonomiyaki is finished and placed in front of the customer, a chorus of “Yukuridozo!” or “relax and enjoy!” sounds off from all of the staff. Sure enough, when my okonomiyaki came, it had that beautiful, rounded, fluffy omelet and the staff all cried “yukuridozo!”. I cut into my okonomiyaki with the little spatula they provided me and served portion after portion onto my little plate. It was delicious! And the egg was just as fluffy as it looked. Okonomiyaki is always really filling! Be warned if you’re eating one by yourself like I did. Depending on how hungry you are and how good you are at eating large portions, you may not be able to finish it.
When I was full and happy after finishing my Denko-Sekka okonomiyaki, I decided to explore the rest of the building. The building is called Full Focus and there are several things to do there. Ekimae Hiroba is on the 6th floor but the bottom 5 floors, plus the basement, are stuffed with other places. Most of these other places are other restaurants, not okonomiyaki places but a Korean barbeque restaurant, a traditional Japanese restaurant and a Yakitori place, just to name a few. So, if you find yourself wanting to eat in the Full Focus building there are other choices besides okonomiyaki. I, of course, recommend the okonomiyaki, for both the taste and atmosphere but the other places are good too, I’ve been to a few of them.
There are non-food related activities to do in the Full Focus building as well. For example, there is a karaoke place and a pachinko parlor.
The karaoke place in the Full Focus building is a typical, Japanese, karaoke place. Meaning, there are different sized, private rooms for you and whoever you’re with to choose from. So, it’s not a bar where you sing in front of a bunch of strangers. This particular karaoke place is called カラオケ館, “Karaoke Kan” or “The Karaoke Hall”.
This was the first time I had ever come to karaoke on my own. I always go with at least one other person.
The staff didn’t seem phased by me being solo though, I think it’s fairly normal. So, I got a small room for an hour and settled in for some sing along fun.
I always feel overwhelmed by the amount of choices these karaoke places have. There are literally hundreds of songs in both Japanese and foriegn languages. Karaoke Kan had a good variety of English song choices. I often hear songs I think would be fun to sing but when I finally get a chance to, I can’t remember a single one. This is my bane! This is why I usually book two to three hours of karaoke. I spend the first hour puzzling over what to sing. This past time, I definitely spent too much time puzzling, but eventually, I did settle on a handful of songs in both English and Japanese. I can’t sing very well at the best of times but for some reason I was really bad that evening. As I began singing, I was suddenly grateful for my solitude and the sound-proof walls so I could squawk away without judgement.
Karaoke places are always really fun and pretty affordable. Just one word of warning. Don’t go over your pre-booked amount of time, not even by a minute, they will book you for another whole hour. For this reason, and any extra drinks and snacks you might order, you pay at the end as you leave.
My last adventure of the night was at the Gaia Pachinko Parlor. I had never done pachinko before and I thought I’d give it a try.
Pachinko is a game of chance, a gamble, not so different from a slot machine, if you’re familiar with those. You put in a certain amount of money and if you’re lucky you make more than you put down. The more money you put down, the more money you might be able to make (or lose). pachinko parlors are insanely popular in Japan. They are everywhere. In the past, when I’ve poked my head into such places, they are huge rooms lined with rows upon rows of these box shaped machines. There are flashing lights, loud clangs and what sounds like arcade, game music, and countless businessmen still in their suits, chain smoking.
Due to this sensory overload spectacle, I’ve always avoided pachinko parlors. However, Gaia, in the Full Focus building, wasn’t so bad. There was no smoking and there weren’t so many people there that day. It was still really flashy and loud, but for a short amount of time, it wasn’t bad.
Since this was my first time, it was recommended that I go to one of the “beginner” machines. I inserted ￥1,000 into the machine. 1,000, tiny, metal balls were then deposited into a tray in front of me. The object was to sling the balls into a honey-comb shaped maze displayed behind glass before me. It reminded me of pinball, except, after the initial launch of your ball, you have no control over where the ball goes. It ricochets off the plastic walls and corners of the maze and drops down into a hole. Each hole represents a certain amount of points.
The sounds and the strange animated images on a screen right at eye level put me in a kind of trance. 30 minutes of launching each of my balls, one by one, flew by. I broke the trance when I ran out of money. I could have kept playing the balls that I had “won” but I decided against it.
I went to the front desk with my points and the staff asked if I wanted a prize or money for them. They had all kinds of prizes lined up on shelves, like at a Dave and Busters (for those of you who know what that is). I chose money. Pachinko places aren’t allowed to hand out money in the store. They sent me out and around the back of the building. This was pretty shady. In the back, it was a garage-like space. There was no one there that I could see, just a bunch of cameras. There was a small, one-way window and a thin slot. I put these plastic cards I had gotten from the staff onto a metal tray and slid it through. Cash was immediately slid back out. I didn’t win anything, in fact I lost half of the ￥1,000 I had put in. I suppose it was worth it for that experience.
My experience in the Full Focus building and at Ekimae Hiroba was a lot of fun and it was easy and fairly inexpensive to spend several hours there. It is a good place to go when the weather is bad or if you’ve had a long day and just want a place to eat and do something low key all in one place.