Spice Haven: The Indian (?!) Cultural Festival

Sometime in early October, the people I trained with and I went to Kobe for an Indian Cultural Festival. In other words, we went to Kobe one by one and somehow managed to meet up after 3 hours of looking for each other. Even though we’re all gaijin by trade, it’s still really hard to find people.

My friend from Gakuenmae and I wound up arriving in Kobe around 1 pm. We took the JR line straight from Nara. It changes to the Hanshin line midway through and winds up stopping in Sannomiya. After 30 minutes of fighting with her i-phone and one embarrassing moment of nearly falling on my face in front of a bus full of Japanese tourists (who, might I add, proceeded to laugh and point at the uneven sidewalk… or me. I’m still not sure which one), we finally made it to Meriken Park, a small area situated on the edge of the sea. The breeze was exhilarating and somewhat cold, but the view was nice. Unbeknownst to either of us, Meriken Park is the location of a memorial for an earthquake that struck Kobe in 1994. Funds to rebuild the area were accumulated through special motorboat races held in 1995 and 1996. The most awesome thing for me was the fact that they walled off part of the road that had been destroyed and left it as is. It reminded me of my vacation in South Carolina, when the high tide swept away part of the road near our cabin.

Memorial Park

The random lamp post in the middle of destruction… something tells me this will be a symbol in my upcoming writing project.

Being next to the ocean really makes me feel alive, so I liked Kobe quite a bit. The festival was fun. There was also the Japanese equivalent of a garage sale: a bunch of people selling wares and used clothes from the trunks of their cars for incredibly low prices. Of course, I saved my money for the festival. When the time for eating came, we collectively settled on Naan bread. I’d never had Naan bread before, and I was looking forward to trying it. Since there were actual Indian people cooking it, I can only assume that this Naan was 100% authentic. They were throwing balls of dough into what looked like a kiln, then scraping them off after they were done cooking. And the keema curry was perfect: hearty and delicious. We ate while sitting in the grass at Meriken Park, then did some shopping at the festival.

Naan and Curry

My first ever naan bread, and curry that actually didn’t burn my face off! And, as a bonus, some deep-fried vegetable thing that I can’t remember the name of.

I wound up buying only four things at the festival. The first was a skirt that was only 1500 yen (about 13 dollars). I really like it and wish I would have bought seven more just like it, but perhaps even more precious to me were the spices I acquired. An indian food company from Tokyo was in the area, and they were selling 3 containers for 500 yen. These weren’t the miniscule grocery store containers, either… they were American sized. And that meant I had to buy some. I settled on chilli powder, cumin, and coriander. They all work really well in soups, and if I felt Mexican, I could even make tacos (if only I could find the shells… I actually made taco hamburg recently… just a hamburger patty with garlic and spices cooked in a frying pan and eaten with rice. Close enough, I suppose… in Japan, sometimes, you just have to settle). Needless to say, these spices have been my friends in all sorts of cooking ventures.

Kobe at Night

The sea and the lights…

We wandered around until night. Then, one of the latecomers suggested we go get a bite to eat at a Belgian (?) pub near Sannomiya station. It took forever to get there on foot, and it didn’t help that someone (coughs, me, coughs) wanted to see the giant ferris wheel up close. After close to 40 minutes of walking, we arrived, and by that point, I was in desperate need of vodka. So, I ordered a 600-yen vodka and cranberry (and felt no remorse), then a 900-yen cheeseburger (again, without remorse). I practically swallowed it whole, I was so hungry, and my feet were super-sore from walking all day.


American food in some European nationality pub in Japan. For the win, I CAN haz cheezburger.

[Intermission: Have I mentioned how much BETTER mayonnaise is in Japan? It doesn’t feel like I’m swallowing an oil slick, and it actually tastes GOOD. In America, I never was much of a mayonnaise fan, but in Japan, they put it on more than you would think. My second bento had mayonnaise all over the rice and chicken, and okonomiyaki also has mayonnaise on it. For me, this is still very strange. I mean, on the burger, it was fine. My thought is that mayonnaise belongs on a cheeseburger if you like that sort of thing. The problem is, I don’t think mayonnaise belongs on fried chicken, so when I eat o-bento with mayonnaise in it, it’s still a little strange for me. End intermission. Trust me… you’re going to need it for what’s coming.]

My friend from Gakuenmae and I decided we had had enough of Kobe and wanted to head home. There were, however, three problems with my brilliant plan:

  1. We had been walking around all day and, although we knew the name of the station, we couldn’t remember the name of the train line (note that I remember it now).
  2. We were running low on yen, but we had plenty to get home.
  3. The night before, I had five hours of sleep, and on five hours of sleep, I am even more useless than I usually am when it comes to navigating.

At the suggestion of someone who lives in the Kobe area, we hopped the JR line. The plan was to get off in Shin-Osaka or Osaka with our friend from Namba. Unfortunately, a cognitive break and a rather unfortunate miscommunication wound up with my friend and I missing both stops and winding up in the middle of nowhere. We had two options: either take the train to Kyoto, or turn around and go back. She opted for turning around, so we got off and ran (I mean ran… like, little child fleeing from a giant, vicious shika-monster ran) to catch the one that was already there… only to find out it was a local. By this point, I was in full panic mode, thinking about that 11:51 final train from Osaka, but I was still optimistic. Everything takes longer when you’re completely exhausted and in a state of mental disturbance. We made it back to Shin-Osaka and waited for the Midosuji line to take us to Namba, where we planned to hop the Kintetsu line back to our respective homes. The subway seemed to take forever, and the fare adjustment we had to pay for taking the train too far left me in a foul mood. But, we made it to Namba with 30 minutes to spare.

By this point, fatigue made me impatient. I just wanted to get back to Nara so I could sleep. I saw there was a rapid express line leaving Osaka soon and raced down the stairs. This is how the line of reasoning went:

  • P1: This train is facing the direction opposite that which the Nara train usually faces.
  • P2: This train says it’s going to Nara.
  • P2A: This train is going to Nara.
  • P2B: This train might be lying. Trains like. People lie. Words lie. I’ve read plenty of books. It could be a lie.
  • C: Shut the hell up, paranoia… this train is going to Shika-Shika-Nara!

The thoughts only took a split second. This is how the conversation went.

  • Me: This train is leaving for Nara!
  • Caroline: But it’s facing the other way!
  • Me: But it says it’s going to Nara!

One leap later…

One leap and two seconds later, I turned around to see the doors closing and Caroline still standing on the platform. And it’s about this time when P2B returns with a vengeance. I envision myself winding up in a different Nara, not being able to sleep in a hotel. An English-speaking woman reassured me that the train was going to Nara, but the first stop was somewhere in Osaka, and by that point, my adrenaline kicked fully in. She got off a few stops before the last one and reassured me that the train was going to Nara, but by that point, it was too late. Cue panic attack number 2 in Japan. The whole time I was sobbing quietly and shaking, I just kept thinking… “And all the people left on the train think I’m some stupid-ass gaijin who can’t hold herself together…” To my relief, I heard the word “Nara” overhead and climbed off, but by that point, I was so exhausted, so disoriented, that when I came up from underground, nothing felt like the Nara I left behind.

Not more than 24 hours later, I was reaping the consequences of my lack of sleep…