Sweet Little Kochi

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I’m a real fan of taiko drumming, which, when played in a group, is properly called kumi-daiko, so says Wikipedia. It has a thrilling energy that always captures my attention, but it never occurred to me that I would hear the best taiko of my life on a dock in a small Japanese town I’d never heard of before. These guys were absolutely fierce, and approached drumming as a martial art. Best wake-up call ever, and their energy got my day off to a great start.

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Today I had just three goals: get more yen, find a specific lunch, and do some non-specific shopping. I had read that the latter two were to be accomplished in the covered arcade called Obiyamachi, and I assumed that yen were everywhere. It was an easy walk from the ship to Obiyamachi, but an ATM proved more difficult to find. The directions I was given at the money exchange office led me through some narrow back streets, so that was interesting in itself, although, in fact, there was a bank not 100 yards from the spot I’d left when setting out on a wild goose chase. Wandering semi-aimlessly is getting to be a specialty of mine on this trip, and in Japan, at least, it feels perfectly safe and comfortable.

Once properly provisioned with money, I began to enjoy the window shopping.

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This was an amazing flower shop, and leads me to a question. Which of the above photos is “better?” Obviously, it’s the same shot, just with a different crop. To me they say two entirely different things, but maybe that’s just me.

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There were also several shops selling kids’ school uniforms,

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and even a couple of western-style cake shops. I thought the $15 price tag on those pretty rolled cakes was quite a bargain, and proved that not everything in Japan is exorbitantly expensive.

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I stopped into a little textile shop, because I needed a hand towel. It’s an odd fact of Japanese life that many restrooms, even though they have fancy toilets that can play music to drown out potentially embarrassing bathroom noises, do not have any paper towels. Some have air dry systems, but many have nothing at all. I noticed lots of Japanese people pulling small towels from purses and pockets and decided that I needed one too.

I found many lovely things in that shop, and ended up buying several of them. But the real story is that a couple of the pieces had unfinished edges and were unraveling a bit. I could see that the shop made things to order, so I asked (pantomimed, really) whether the edges could be sewn up. The helpful couple running the shop indicated that they were happy to do so, and I kept on looking around for a few minutes until I saw, to my horror, that the lady was sewing them up by hand and not by machine. Since they had already told me “free” and “service” I felt terrible about all that work, and ended up saying that I would do the piece that she hadn’t already finished by myself. I was just blown away by the fact that she was willing to hand sew the edges of a $17 piece of fabric, which took her about 15 minutes, for free.

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Next I set out looking for the Hirome market, which I’d read about on TripAdvisor. There someone had said there would be no English sign, that I should just look for the “fortune cat.” I correctly identified this as the lucky creature, and dived in.

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That post also said that the market itself was a sort of madhouse of non-English-speaking, communal tables, free-for-all, which turned out to be pretty accurate. I was in search of the meal this post had described, a local specialty, and to find it, I’d read, I should look for the longest line in the place. Bingo.

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My apologies for the photo. The food, however, needed no apologies. This is katsuo tataki, bonito fish that is wrapped in hay and set on fire, to char the outside while leaving the inside rare. Sliced and sprinkled heavily with coarse salt, it’s heaven. Served with freshly-grated wasabi and thinly sliced raw garlic (which my first enthusiastic bite revealed to be definitely not ginger) it’s a total treat. In the background you can see the blobby green aonori tempura, which looked even blobbier up close. Just imagine taking sheets of nori and crumpling them, then dipping and frying them into a dense crunchiness. I wish I could eat that meal again and again.

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Being alone, I sat at a table with several young Japanese guys who were all looking at their phones and paid no attention to me. But as they began to leave these five ladies filtered over to my table, one by one, until we were all together. The lady at the far end turned out to be a retired English teacher, which really brightened things up for me. It turned out that these ladies had all played together in an orchestra at university, and now they make an annual reunion trip together, this year to Kochi.

Weirdly, they weren’t eating what I had, and they asked me how I knew to eat those dishes. When I said it was a “famous meal on the Internet” they were all astonished. They professed to be equally astonished by my proficiency with chopsticks, which made me realize that it was the fourth or fifth time I’d heard that compliment since we got to Japan. It was hard for them to understand that, growing up in California, I’ve been using chopsticks for most of my life. I guess my upbringing was more cross-cultural than I normally give it credit for being.

Some of my best experiences here have been around food, and partaking of it with people who are also willing to share a bit of their culture with me over a bite and a glass. But I imagine that comes as no surprise to you.

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3 Comments on “Sweet Little Kochi”

  1. Heidi Husnak Says:

    Thanks so much for your efforts. I’ve sent the link to a friend headed to Japan. On the photo – personally I found the un-cropped one most evocative of the shopping experience; showing the woman


  2. Fascinating stories! I love going out on my own into the neighborhoods. But I once traveled to the Caribbean with a woman who wouldn’t go anywhere except McDonald’s because she didn’t trust the local food. I didn’t let that stop me from eating wherever the food looked interesting.

    Anyway, the close crop in the photo of flowers is nicer. It brings all your attention to the blooms. The larger crop was also nice, but the other elements didn’t add much. Except for the woman in the foreground. So now you have my opinion.

    School uniforms. It would be nice to have them here in the States. I went to Catholic schools, and we wore uniforms. They kept all of us on equal footing when it came to our clothing. Also cheaper for our parents.

    I’m not a big fan of Japanese food, so rare fish doesn’t appeal to me. Maybe because I grew up with Italian immigrant grandparents, my tastes are more in line with the Western Hemisphere… especially in the warmer climates, where spices and color play a big role. That said, I do love the food of India.

    Thanks for the vicarious thrills!!

  3. Pat Says:

    I so love reading all of your posts, longing to see Asia, but lacking your sense of adventure. I wonder, too, if you’ve connected with my friend, Gloria, who is sharing this trip with you. I don’t know what her specific port plans were, as started out; but I’m imagining her having experiences similar to yours. I’m looking forward to hearing her tales, as well.


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