I've long wanted to pay a visit, but never really had the opportunity. There are many things in Kyouto that I can seek out and try on my own, but Sweets Paradise is not one of them. Just imagine what they'll say! “Look at that foreign guy sitting in the corner. Is he...is he here by himself?” Fortunately, I finally got my chance, enlisting along with Tiny Korean Girl, one of the Taiwanese girls I took Japanese with last semester, and two of the dormitory assistants. Flawless camouflage!
We all bought a ticket, of which there was only one option, that was then immediately taken away by our waitress, which seems to defeat the purpose just a little. It makes sense when it prevents the people making the food from having to handle cash, but here it seems to serve little to no useful purpose, besides keeping the staff from learning to count money. Anyway, the decor was overwhelmingly red and yellow, perhaps not the smartest move for a tabehoudai place, since those are the colours that make you want to eat more. There was, for some reason, a single giant table in the middle of the room, lanterns hanging from the ceiling, and pinwheels and paper chains attached to the walls.
Though the primary (and, really, only) reason to go there is the sweets, Sweets Paradise provides a fairly robust range of normal food as well. It's all pretty standard salad bar-type fare: Spaghetti, coleslaw, raw vegetables, nothing especially spectacular or unusual but all of surprisingly good quality considering. When Cologne went, or rather was unable to weasel out of going, he described the strategy as first loading up on enough actual food to make you not feel like quite such a horrible, disgusting person, and then going to town on the cakes. The girls I was with, however, chose to alternate, that their tongues would not tire. All playstyles are accepted, it would seem.
Now you'll notice that I said “cakes.” The name of the restaurant would seem to suggest a wide array of sugared delights, but in actual fact the prospective masticator is greeted mainly with a wall of baked confections. To be sure, the variety is so vast as to paralyze one with indecision. Cheesecake, bunt cake, pound cake, roll cake, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, oranges, kiwis, creams, sauces, beverages. Do you take the lemon meringue cake, the cake with lemon baked right in, or the cake with the lemon veneer on top? At the very end of the shelf, there is a modest collection of yogurt, Jell-o, and the like, in case you want a little extra, but it comes off as an afterthought.
As for being the only guy, I needn't have worried. Indeed, the majority of the clientele were young females (three of them children having a birthday party), but there were a handful of couples scattered here and there as well, which must have been nice. But then the assistant pointed out a group of two, and then four guys who'd come here by themselves. “You're not weird,” she assured me. “You at least came with girls.”
On the way home, we stopped for an hour of karaoke, and right in the middle, it hit me again: one of those moments of “this is where I belong” that I sometimes feel here, that it all felt so natural and good, that I'm doing exactly what I'm supposed to be doing. And that – well, it's not that the little moments are necessarily more important than the big ones, or more satisfying, but that the big moments are few and far between, so it's the little moments that you really have to learn to recognize and enjoy. And, of course, that good company makes everything worthwhile.