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Archive: American Haibun & Haiga Volume 2

[Return to Author List, Vol 2 ]

Kenneth C. Leibman




In Nara, a short walk from the Kinki Railroad Station brings one to the Seikanso Inn at the edge of Naramachi. The street goes through a shopping arcade, where, near a huge pachinko parlor, there is a Makudonorado, with its golden arches, and a katakana menu including Bigu Maku and doburuchiizubahgah. Upon crossing a main street, one finds oneself in Naramachi, a neighborhood of older houses, shops, and the Seikanso, a lovely inn with its office,  breakfast room, and baths surrounding a courtyard garden on the ground floor, and a number of tatami/futon/balcony rooms on the upper level, which becomes my headquarters for three days of  exploring.

While strolling further into Naramachi, I come upon a corner guriru with a sign in the window announcing, in katakana, okonomiyaki. This word (literally, “well-liked grilled things”) is familiar to me from a Zen cook/baker’s Tassajara Bread Book: Japanese pancakes stuffed with chopped vegetables. There are four varieties offered, of which I can decipher only one: ebi, which I remember from the sushi menus at home as meaning “shrimp.”

In the evening I stroll down to the corner and enter the restaurant. There are only two people in the shop: the proprietress and an old lady who, judging from the dead soldiers beside her on the bar, is on her fifth bottle of beer. The proprietress seats me in front of the grill at the end of the bar, and I say, okonomiyaki ebi kudasai. She gets the ingredients out of the refrigerator, carrying out a continuous chatter directed to the old lady, which I gather consists of all the latest dirt on the inhabitants of Naramachi, judging from the old lady’s repeated “Ohh . . . ohh . . . ohh!” In the middle of whipping the batter, the proprietress turns to me:

“Amerika!” “Hai!”
“Seikanso!” “Hai!”
“Ohh . . . ohh!”

At last, after a period of cooking and nonstop talking, the pancake is done; it is flipped onto a plate and put in front of me. I break apart my hashi and dig in. The proprietress watches me.

“Good? Good?”
“Oishii desu!”
“Ohh . . . ohh!”

I eat my okonomiyaki while Motormouth-san continues to dish the dirt to the old lady, to the latter’s intense and vocal satisfaction; she orders another beer. I finish the pancake and pay my bill (the proprietress maintains her rapidfire monologue while making change). As we exchange sayonaras, she extends her hand to be shaken. The old lady very carefully turns around on her barstool and shakes my hand too.

as i go out the door
another chapter begins
“Ohh . . . ohh!”

[Return to Author List, Vol 2 ]


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