About 40 years ago one of Ohio Governor Jim Rhodes’ assistants saw a small article in the Wall Street Journal indicating Honda was looking for a site in the United States to build motorcycles.
Governor Rhodes immediately flew to Japan to meet with Mr. Honda. They hit it off. The governor invited him to come to Ohio. They played golf, and the rest is history! Today Honda employs 15,000 workers in Ohio, and because the plants are in Ohio, many more suppliers are here as well with thousands of Ohio jobs.
Last week I accompanied Mike and some of the JobsOhio team to the Midwest U.S.-Japan Association Conference in Tokyo. The purpose of the trade mission was to reinforce relationships with companies who are already in Ohio, and recruit more to come to Ohio.
The meeting was attended by governors from Midwest states — Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Nebraska and Illinois (lieutenant governor), as well as governors from many Japanese states. The week was filled with meetings of Japanese industries and leaders from Ohio municipalities looking for new jobs to be brought to their counties.
When we arrived in Japan, greetings were easy. “Ohayō Gozaimasu” — or, for short, “Ohayo,” pronounced “Ohio” — means good morning!
Sunday morning we went to mass, then walked around the city and explored the markets of fresh fish and food before the meetings started and the typhoon came.
Tokyo was incredibly clean. There were no signs of trash anywhere, and no receptacles to put your trash in — you were just responsible for your own. Everyone was incredibly polite — bows from everyone to everyone. While Mike was in meetings, I checked out some little shops, looking for some small gifts for our grandkids. My group shared the biggest cotton candy I have ever seen, and then tried some bubble tea. Bubble tea comes in many flavors — green tea with milk and little tapioca “bubbles.” Tapioca pearls are soaked and then cooked. They are then added to the tea where they sink to the bottom. What a fun sensation to drink the tea with a very fat straw and then chew on the tapioca “bubbles!”
We also crossed the street at the busiest street crossing in the world. There at Shibuya Station was a statue of an Akita dog named Hachikō. Legend has it that he walked to that spot every day to meet his master after work and walk home with him. After his master died, he continued to return to the station to wait for his master every day for the next 10 years until he died.
Our Japanese hosts were anxious to show us their culture and prepared a great day for all of the spouses to see and learn. We watched some of the traditional Japanese women do some flower arranging demonstrations for us. Then we were given a bunch of flowers to make our own. My mother and grandmother Hawkins were great flower arrangers and I did not receive that talent. We had a beautiful traditional tea ceremony, and then each of us learned to make some origami birds.
Dr. David Harrison, president of Columbus State Community College, and his wife Tracy joined us for a tour of Hattori Nutrition College. Columbus State just recently held the ribbon cutting for their new state-of-the-art Cameron Mitchell culinary building. Chef Yukio Hattori, who I recognized from the Iron Chef, is the president of the school and his family has a 500-year tradition of Hattori-style cooking. His son Yoshihiko Hattori showed us around. The kitchens were fantastic and modern. We all chuckled at the long shelf of Ohio-made Kitchenaide mixers! We’re hoping some exchange partnership might develop as a result of our meeting.
We also visited Honda and celebrated their 40th year of making cars in Ohio! We enjoyed watching Asimo, their robot.
Later in the week we visited Ohio’s sister state, Saitama, where the brand new governor hosted us for lunch. Our lunch was served in a lacquered Bento box. When you removed the lid, there were four compartments. Each contained a small bowl of beautiful food. There was also a side covered dish of rice with mushrooms and one with delicious corn soup. For dessert we were served three persimmon halves in a lovely porcelain bowl. Then we visited a brand new high school in the area. The teachers had cubicle offices in one area, and the kids stayed in their home room classes all day with the teachers moving. The kids were great fun and many of them spoke English.
We took the very efficient and fast bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto for a few more meetings before heading home. I enjoyed seeing the farm land and mountains and small villages and even Mount Fuji on the way. Kyoto is a port city, the original capital of Japan. We flew out of Osaka’s airport, which is built on a land fill in the sea, creating its own island.
The culinary experience in Japan was pretty amazing with all of the beautifully-presented food. I tasted lots of sushi and raw fish, and we also enjoyed some hotpot cooking and a barbeque at the table. Out of all the food we ate, I enjoyed the ramen bar best of all — comfort food!
Throughout the trip I was looking for a good recipe to share with you. One of the women at the embassy had helped compile a cookbook and shared her recipe for a pan-fried snack.
Japanese Pan Fried Snack Nabe Yaki
1 ¾ cups flour
¾ c. water
¾ c. cooked rice
3 Tbsp. brown sugar
4 Tbsp. raisins, chopped
3 Tbsp. Walnuts, chopped
½ tsp. baking soda
1 Tbsp. Miso or 1 tsp. salt
½ Tbsp. butter
Combine all the ingredients except the butter in a bowl and mix together to form a very thick batter. Heat a skillet over medium high and melt the butter to coat the skillet bottom. Add the batter and cook for about 5 minutes per side to a golden brown. Transfer from skillet to a cutting board and slice into 8 portions. Arrange on plate. Serve hot or cold.