Translated by Lester Somera
Just a Kansai guy trying to get by
Kakigōri, Japanese shaved ice, is what summer's all about! In this article, we explain kakigōri's history and the secret of its many flavors, as well as recommend some kakigōri shops.
Kakigōri (かき氷), Japan’s quintessential summer treat, is shaved or crushed ice eaten with a drizzling of flavored syrup or condensed milk. Cheap, refreshing and easy to make, it’s the perfect thing to help you get through the sweltering summer heat.
Kakigōri was eaten as early as the eighth century, when it was a treat reserved for the upper classes. Apparently, in those days, people used blades to shave blocks of ice, and ate the shavings with amazura, a sweetener made with ivy sap.
At the dawn of the 19th century, stores which specialized in ice appeared in Japan, and once companies began producing man-made ice, kakigōri experienced a rapid boom in popularity. According to laws passed to deal with this ice store boom, all stores which passed government hygiene inspections were responsible for hoisting a banner or signboard with their name on it and placing it outside. This is how the “ice banners” (with the Japanese character for "ice" 氷 written on them), which still fly at kakigōri stores, got their start.
In July and August, you will see kakigōri at summer festivals held on shrine and temple grounds. as well as at beach houses. You may see it as early as Golden Week, being sold at kakigōri stands, sweets shops, supermarkets, convenience stores, and baseball stadiums, among other places.
Thanks to the spread of kakigōri makers for home use, now anyone can easily make their own at home. These kakigōri makers will be really useful when kids are off from school for a month and a half of summer!
Kakigōri is made from all sorts of ice, from the fluffy natural variety to the crunchy cups sold at convenience stores. The real key to kakigōri’s flavor is the syrup topping.
While the typical flavors are strawberry, lemon and melon, there are also toppings like mizore; made from white sugar syrup, mizore kakigōri looks exactly like a snow-covered mountain in winter. Other traditional flavors include kintoki, an azuki bean paste placed atop the ice, as well as Uji kintoki, which combines green tea-flavored syrup and kintoki. On festival days, some stalls sell Blue Hawaii, which has a vivid blue coloring just like the cocktail, and an invigorating taste like soda.
Recently, kakigōri shops which are open year-round, not just in the summertime, have been appearing on the scene.
Yelo in Roppongi has won popularity for its gorgeous kakigōri and rich variety of flavors. It has also launched a project in collaboration with Lawson's strawberry kakigōri and caramel kakigōri, by Yelo. This tag team of a popular kakigōri shop and convenience store chain has seemingly spread those flavors across the country in one shot, and made them a recent trend. You can easily pick up some kakigōri at any convenience store, and if you have the chance to visit the actual store, you’ll definitely want to stop by!
Here, we’ll introduce you to various kakigōri shops! All of these places enjoy great popularity, enough to have lines outside.
Yuzawa-ya Saryō (湯沢屋茶寮)
There is a tea space known as Yuzawa-ya Saryō in Nikkō City in Tochigi. This shop uses expensive Nikkō natural ice in their specially-made Japanese kakigōri.
Asami Reizō (阿左美冷蔵)
Located in Chichibu City in Saitama, this shop’s trademark is the natural ice they use for their kakigōri and its honey topping, made from a secret recipe.
Shigen, a kakigōri establishment in Kumagaya City in Saitama, has plenty of peculiar ingredients to add to its milk cocoa, such as soybean flour cream and wasabi cheese, and serves kakigōri that are practically parfaits.
Akafukugōri, from Ise City in Mie, is the city’s famous original version of kakigōri. Akafuku mochi - specially made to pair well with ice - is stuffed inside kakigōri that has been drizzled with green tea syrup. It is sold at Akafuku specialty shops within Mie, as well as at the Nagoya branches of Takashimaya and Matsuzakaya.
This well-established sweets shop in Imabari City in Ehime has been going strong for four generations, and it offers some unique flavor twists on kakigōri, like iyokan - Ehime’s best-known citrus fruit - as well as blueberry, plum nectar, and more.
Tenmonkan Mujaki (天文館むじゃき)
Located in Kagoshima City in Kagoshima, this is the originator of kakigōri shirokuma. The shaved ice in this extravagant version is covered with homemade milk and honey, then topped with all sorts of fruit, gelatin, and white beans. You can order it at department stores nationwide, or from online shops.
Try out kakigōri from all over Japan, and fully savor the summer!