I’d heard about Miracle Fruit at a hipster science conference in New York a few years ago, and had dreams of them ever since. History: in the 1700s, an explorer moved into a West African village. Everything was great, except the food — it was horrible! Sour, disgusting, absolutely inedible! After a few days in the village, though, he realized the locals were all sucking on berries before eating. He joined in, and suddenly, this vile meal became glorious! So sweet, so tasty — absolutely divine! Turns out this berry makes everything sour taste sweet!
In America, though, it’s banned. Sugar and confection lobbyists have kept the berry outlawed, leaving Japan to trailblaze with a handful of Berry shops. And, after a few hours of looking, I finally found one.
Hidden on the top floor of Ikebukoro’s Sun City Mall, in the back of the terrible Namjatown Theme Park, there’s a restaurant: The Miracle Fruit Cafe. For $2.50, they’ll sell you one berry.
I came to Tokyo for three pilgrimages. The first, a trip to Miyazaki’s Ghibli Museum, left my cheeks wet with tears. The second, lunch at a Miracle Fruit Cafe, had me giggling aloud, the juice from an inedible umeboshi plum running down my chin. And the third? It was to be dinner at an izakaya tavern, waited on by monkeys.
Monkeys. Not guys in monkey suits, or hirsute fellows, but real, honest-to-xxx monkeys. This was probably a PETA nightmare, but monkeys are totally awesome!!!
But instead of being in “North Tokyo,” which I’d heard from the Internet rumors, it was far north of Tokyo. The “short train ride” turned out to be two hours from Shinjuku. And from there, another two hours of walking through ramshackle neighborhoods, fields, along highways. I carried a useless map, and asked directions every ten blocks, miming a monkey carrying a tray of sake to help explain what I was searching for. Ominous clouds hovered overhead, threatening rain, but I kept pushing on.
The long, slow, dusty bus-ride cost 20 cents and took lord knows how long. But eventually it delivered us to the incredible Buddha Park.
You see, 40 or so years ago, some loony Lao was hiking along a remote mountain trace, accidentally tripped, and fell into a hole. A deep hole. It was a lot like Alice in Wonderland. But instead of meeting his quick, bloody end, he… fell into the padded lap of a meditating guru. Nice!
The faller and the padded became quick buddies, and traveled Laos and Thailand together, spreading their unique mystic word.
I’m sorry I can’t be more specific than this, but a large part of their divine message was that the world didn’t have enough outsider art. Hindu-Buddhist outsider art. AWESOME Hindu-Buddhist outsider art. It didn’t matter that neither of them had much artistic experience… they had divine tutelage! All of a sudden, out of nowhere, their inexperienced acolytes started creating hundreds of these bizarre masterworks.
Later, an eavesdropping Lao leaned in to our conversation about the temple, and interjected: “Hey, I was a monk, once. Twelve years! Twelve years no sex, no drugs! You know what I mean? I MEAN NO BOOM BOOM!”