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LA-style food truck serves up tacos, builds cultural bridges

HIDAKA, Kochi Prefecture–The village of Hidaka, centrally located in Kochi Prefecture in southern Japan, reminds Masahiro Tsuzuki of Los Angeles, which he called home for about two decades.

“I get a kick out of the spirit the people in Kochi have; they know how to accept people from outside their community and have fun, too,” said Tsuzuki, 51.

Thus, he settled in the village of 5,000 people and started a taco truck business here three years ago.

Tsuzuki grew up in Yokohama and moved to Los Angeles in 1999 with a dream of starting his 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 treated friends to tacos, a main staple in Los Angeles with a large Hispanic population, at house parties.

Whenever he worked in a sound studio in East Los Angeles, he always stopped by neighborhood taco trucks and stalls to grab a bite during a break.

“Masa loves his tacos,” his friends often joked.

Masahiro Tsuzuki prepares tacos at a Sunday market in Kochi on May 22. (Hiromu Imabayashi)

Tsuzuki said he cherished life in Los Angeles, a city full of people with diverse backgrounds, delicious food and rich music.

He said he wanted to create a community like that.

Using airline miles he accumulated through his music career, Tsuzuki began traveling between Japan and the United States, seeking a new base for making music and tacos.

Tsuzuki visited Hidaka for the first time five years ago at the invitation of a friend.

He stopped by a musical instrument store there and immediately hit it off with the owner. Tsuzuki went to the owner’s favorite place in the village, a cafe playing jazz music. People there listened attentively to his dream of him.

He was even more inspired when he visited the prefectural Makino Botanical Garden in Kochi, where his acquaintance from Los Angeles worked.

He saw a display for corn, known as “kibi” in the region.

Different from typical sweet corn, kibi is flint corn, a hard grain species.

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Masahiro Tsuzuki makes tacos using fresh ingredients and tortillas made of locally grown “kibi” corn. Photo taken on May 19 in Sakawa, Kochi Prefecture (Hiromu Imabayashi)

Tsuzuki said he was surprised to see the main ingredient for tortillas grown in that 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 facility, was another deciding factor for him in calling the village his new home.

The brewery was established during the Meiji Era (1868-1912). When it was about to be torn down, locals worked to preserve it and have since managed the hall.

Tsuzuki thought it would be a perfect base for him to make music.

In 2019, Tsuzuki moved to Hidaka as the village’s economic development project cooperation volunteer.

Since then, he has hosted three concerts at the hall, inviting musician friends from his LA days.

A plan to shoot a music video is under way, too, he said. He also launched a taco truck business, called Masacasa Tacos.

He uses kibi that local farmers grow. He also rented a field last year in the village and harvested about 10 kilograms of corn himself.

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Hiromu Imabayashi takes care of “kibi” corn in Hidaka, Kochi Prefecture. (Hiromu Imabayashi)

I have obtained a used food truck from an acquaintance. A friend then helped with decorating the inside 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.

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A woman eats a taco made by Masahiro Tsuzuki, owner of the Masacasa Tacos food truck, on May 19 in Sakawa, Kochi Prefecture. (Hiromu Imabayashi)

For tacos, Tsuzuki mainly uses locally grown, seasonal ingredients such as vegetables, seafood, chicken, pork and even boar meat.

“Any ingredient can make a taco once it’s in a tortilla a traditional food,” he said.

Making tacos is exactly like making music, he said.

“A musician can take in different genres of music based 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 residents in Hidaka.

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