LA-style food truck serves tacos and builds cultural bridges
HIDAKA, Kochi Prefecture–The village of Hidaka, located in central Kochi Prefecture in southern Japan, is reminiscent of Masahiro Tsuzuki of Los Angeles, where he lived for about two decades.
“I am delighted with the spirit of the people of Kochi; they know how to accept people from outside their community and have fun too,” said Tsuzuki, 51.
So he moved to the village of 5,000 and started a taco truck business here three years ago.
Tsuzuki grew up in Yokohama and moved to Los Angeles in 1999 with the dream of starting her own music label.
He built a career as a music engineer, working on projects involving big-name musicians such as Norah Jones and De La Soul.
He was known as “Masa” by his friends there, which is Spanish for the dough used for tortillas.
Occasionally, Tsuzuki would treat her friends to tacos, a staple in Los Angeles with a large Hispanic population, at house parties.
Whenever he worked at a sound studio in East Los Angeles, he would always stop in front of neighborhood trucks and taco stands to grab a bite to eat while on a break.
“Masa loves his tacos,” his friends often joked.
Tsuzuki said he cherishes life in Los Angeles, a city full of people from diverse backgrounds, delicious food, and rich music.
He said he wanted to create a community like that.
Using the air miles he accumulated throughout his music career, Tsuzuki began traveling between Japan and the United States, looking for a new base to make music and tacos.
Tsuzuki first visited Hidaka five years ago at the invitation of a friend.
He stopped at a musical instrument store and immediately hit it off with the owner. Tsuzuki went to the owner’s favorite place in the village, a cafe playing jazz music. The people there listened intently to his dream.
He was further inspired when he visited the Makino Prefectural Botanical Garden in Kochi, where his Los Angeles acquaintance was working.
He saw a display of maize, known as “kibi” in the area.
Different from typical sweet corn, kibi is flint corn, a hard-grained species.
Tsuzuki said he was surprised to see the main ingredient for tortillas grown in this area of the prefecture.
He thought Hidaka Village would be perfect for him to open a taco business.
The Hidaka Sakagura Hall, a renovated sake brewery now serving as a concert hall, was another deciding factor in him calling the village his new home.
The brewery was established during the Meiji era (1868-1912). When it was about to be demolished, locals worked to preserve it and have since run the hall.
Tsuzuki thought it would be a perfect base for him to make music.
In 2019, Tsuzuki moved to Hidaka as a cooperation volunteer for the village economic development project.
Since then, he has hosted three concerts in the hall, inviting musician friends from his time in Los Angeles.
A plan to shoot a music video is also underway, he said. He also started a taco truck company, called Masacasa Tacos.
He uses the kibi that local farmers grow. He also rented a field last year in the village and harvested around 10 kilograms of maize himself.
He got a used food truck from an acquaintance. A friend then helped decorate the interior of the truck.
Tsuzuki designed a sticker to decorate the body of the truck, which features a jalapeno pepper wearing a taco-shaped hat while shaking two maracas.
One of the maracas says “LA” and the other shows the rising sun flag.
The taco truck has been a main attraction for local events as well as weekend markets held in central Kochi.
For the tacos, Tsuzuki mostly uses locally grown, seasonal ingredients such as vegetables, seafood, chicken, pork, and even wild boar meat.
“Any ingredient can make a taco once it’s in a tortilla a traditional food,” he said.
Making tacos is just like making music, he says.
“A musician can adopt different genres of music depending on the sound of their own roots,” he said.
Tsuzuki hopes to spread the way to embrace diversity through tacos and music, like he did in Los Angeles, among the people of Hidaka.