Japan traveler observes similarities between New Orleans and Tokyo

William Archambeault, Contributor

Despite being separated by oceans and a day-long plane ride, Japan and New Orleans share a number of similarities. The world is smaller than I thought.

This past summer, I experienced Japan first-hand through the University of New Orleans summer study abroad program. Over the course of five weeks, I was surprised whenever I found new ways the two cultures coincided.

The only Cafe Du Monde locations outside of Louisiana are, you guessed it, in Japan. The country actually hosts 52 Cafe Du Monde stands. Unlike their New Orleans relatives, these are not 24-hour locations, leaving 2 a.m. beignet trips out of the question. But on a sunny morning in Osaka, I experienced a little piece of home.

While the cafe’s Japanese menu closely resembles the original in New Orleans, it does have its fair share of oddities. In addition to beignets, a customer can also find hot dogs on the menu. A special evening menu features jambalaya and even Jack Daniels. I decided to stick with the tried-and-true beignets; though I found them smaller and lighter than their New Orleans counterparts, with considerably less powdered sugar. On the bright side, though, reduced quantities of powdered sugar kept me from looking like I rolled around in baby powder.

While the Osaka location embraces the more modern elements of design, the Cafe Du Monde in Tokyo does its best to imitate the French Quarter location. Carriage lanterns and arched windows adorn the walls. Outside, the all-too-familiar green and white awnings welcome visitors. The shop even sells New-Orleans-themed merchandise, including tote bags featuring landmarks like Jackson Square, St. Louis Cathedral and of course, the original French Quarter location of Cafe Du Monde. I changed up my order at this location, deciding to go with beignets with a sweet combination of caramel and chocolate.

Further trips around Tokyo revealed more unexpected similarities to New Orleans. A journey through Tsukiji fish market, an internationally known wholesale seafood market, made me homesick. The market’s crowded sidewalks and open-air feel brought me back to a busy Saturday morning at the French Market. A street barker, not unlike those on Bourbon Street, convinced my friend and me to step into a restaurant for a breakfast of fresh tuna and miso soup.

But it was my encounter with Kentaro, a Tokyo funk musician, that truly pushed the boundaries of the city. When he hopped out of his taxi, he immediately rushed me across the street to buy himself a beer. He explained that Tokyo is not too different from New Orleans.Drinking in the street is typically frowned upon but completely legal. Armed with his beer, we made it through the hectic subway system to a restaurant. There, he shoved plate after plate in front of my face but refused to disclose the identities of anything. Midway through, he revealed that I was eating a trio of whale, raw horse, and chicken intestines. Although these are not frequent staples of a typical Japanese person’s diet, Kentaro enjoyed seeing a Westerner’s’ reaction. He was not surprised by my unfazed reaction once I reminded him I’m from New Orleans. He commented that New Orleanians eat lots of strange foods like crawfish and oysters.

One of the most noticeable connections between New Orleans and Japan is music. Walking down the aisles of Tower Records in Kyoto, I spied signs paying tribute to music legends like Prince, David Bowie, and New Orleans’ own Allen Toussaint. Below the Toussaint sign was a section dedicated to New Orleans music, something that appeared in most of the record stores I visited across Japan. Even the record stores without such sections stocked a wide variety of New Orleans releases, ranging from ‘60s R&B superstar Ernie K-Doe to sludge metal lords Eyehategod.

Encounters with different Japanese people also revealed an eclectic interest in New Orleans music, ranging from jazz to hardcore punk. During our stay in Kyoto, a university choir put on a performance featuring “When the Saints Come Marching In.” At Stormy Dudes Punk Festa in Osaka, discussions with punk musicians typically led to New Orleans music. When I mentioned New Orleans to Razors Edge guitarist Taka, he professed a love of Louis Armstrong without missing a beat. During his set, Melt-Banana guitarist Agata sported a shirt for New Orleans hardcore punk group PEARS. A discussion afterwards focused on our mutual love of the band and his recollection of a Baton Rouge show with the group.

The world really is smaller than you think.
Assistance from the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship was vital to my participation in the UNO-Japan program. For more information about the UNO-Japan program and potential scholarship options, check out http://inst.uno.edu/japan/.