Translated by Sandy Lau
Adorable Polar Bear Shaped-Dessert - Shirokuma Shave Ice In Kagoshima
Written by Kousuke DEKI
Shirokuma is a popular Kagoshima dessert. This shave ice treat is covered in fruit, condensed milk, and syrups, and looks like a polar bear! Learn about Tenmonkan Mujaki, the first shop to make this Japanese sweet in Kagoshima.
What Is Shirokuma?
Have you ever heard the Japanese dessert, Shirokuma?
Shirokuma is a type of kakigori, with condensed milk poured onto freshly shave ice generously topped with fruits and beans. The milk-based syrup and fresh flavor of the fruit make this treat addictively delicious.
This dessert can be found throughout Japan, but its roots lie in Kagoshima. This time, we’ll be tasting the original flavor itself at Tenmonkan Mujaki, where shirokuma is thought to have started!
Tenmonkan Mujaki: Home of the Original Shirokuma
Tenmonkan Mujaki is the shop that first devised and made the shirokuma sweet. It is located in Tenmonkan, a main street in Kagoshima lined with restaurants and shops.
The picture above displays the shop at 11:00 on a weekday. There was a long line despite the store just opening, showing its immense popularity.
The shop is busy with international visitors all coming to try this famous treat.
What Kind of Dessert Is Shirokuma?
This is shirokuma! The regular size is 16 centimeters high and 14.5 centimeters around, giving it great volume.
The sweet is served with plain milk syrup poured plentifully on top of fluffy ice that is then lavishly decorated with seasonal fruit.
It Looks Like a Polar Bear
The first shirokuma was made in 1947. At the time, it was a simple shave ice treat with cherries, raisins, and other fruits added on top to give it color. Looking down from above, it looked like a polar bear (shirokuma in Japanese), resulting in its name.
You’ll see the cute, polar bear-like face that will put a smile on your face when you look down at this dessert.
The Recipe Is Top Secret
There is not only plenty of fruit on the outside, but fruit inside the shave ice, too. The toppings have become more lavish since the original creation, and is now often decorated with a lot of seasonal fruit.
The syrup also has a flavor that you won’t taste in anything else except for the shirokuma of this shop. The shop originally poured condensed milk on top when the sweet was first created but then developed their own refreshing flavor after repeated taste testing and improvements. The recipe is a secret kept only between the founder and their children.
The soft, snow-like ice is shaved manually when ordered. The way the ice melts changes depending on the season, so the staff adjusts the way the ice is shaved, too. Only specialized employees can shave the ice, as it requires special skills.
Enjoy What’s Inside
Confections made with sweet potatoes, a product of Kagoshima, and different varieties of beans are also inside the shave ice. You’ll encounter a new flavor every time you take a bite. We ate all of it very quickly despite the dessert's large size.
Shirokuma is 720 yen (including tax) for a regular and 510 yen (including tax) for a slightly smaller size.
Try Other Kinds of Shave Ice!
Picture courtesy of Tenmonkan Mujaki
At Tenmonkan Mujaki, you’ll not only find typical shirokuma, but an entire menu consisting of fifteen types of shirokuma and shave ice.
Pictured is the Strawberry Shirokuma (720 yen including tax). Strawberries and milk are a classic and delicious combination. A strawberry pulp sauce is layered on the top, creating an addicting sweet and sour flavor.
There is also a variety of other shirokuma, like the Chocolate Shirokuma, generously drenched in chocolate sauce, or the Custard Pudding Shirokuma topped with homemade baked custard pudding (825 yen including tax). If you're visiting with friends and family, try ordering different shirokuma to share.
Other Types of Popular Shave Ice
Picture courtesy of Tenmonkan Mujaki
A menu item popular with overseas customers is the Uji Kintoki (720 yen including tax). Uji kintoki is a type of shave ice made with powdered green tea from Uji, Kyoto topped with red azuki beans. This isn’t shirokuma--however, it is a dessert that allows you to sample the flavors of Japan.
There is an abundant variation of non-shirokuma shave ice. For example, guests can choose the Shochu Mizore (660 yen including tax), which is topped with original syrup made from sweet potato shochu, a local beverage of Kagoshima. This shave ice is highly recommended for Japanese sake and alcohol enthusiasts.
Takeout is Also Available
If there’s a line for the cafe and you don’t have extra time, then you can also order takeout from the storefront!
Shirokuma is available for takeout in a slightly smaller handy size (450 yen including tax) or in a takeout cup. Customers can take a stroll on the Kagoshima streets with a cup of shirokuma.
Shirokuma Cafe, where diners can enjoy desserts and snacks, is on the first floor of Tenmonkan Mujaki.
The building houses all of Tenmonkan Mujaki’s shops. The basement floor is a teppanyaki (iron griddle cuisine) restaurant, the second floor is Western-style food, and the fourth floor is an izakaya (Japanese pub) where you can enjoy local Kagoshima cuisine. If you’re feeling a bit hungry, you can also enjoy a meal here.
Lastly, Take a Picture with Shirokuma!
On the way home, take a picture with the polar bear at the front of the entrance! This photo spot is very popular and can become crowded, so we recommend snapping photos right after the shop has opened.
Make sure to take the time to indulge in shirokuma, a classic Japanese dessert you can’t leave out in your Kagoshima sightseeing!
*Prices of all shirokuma are scheduled to change from June 2019.
In cooperation with Tenmonkan Mujaki