Keeping cool from Japan’s summer heat with kakigōri

Any overseas tourist that has visited Japan in the months from June to September will tell you that summers in Japan are hot and humid. As predicted this summer has been extremely hot, with Tokyo continuing to exceed the 30℃ mark, recording a high of 36.7℃ on July 7. In addition to the high temperatures, Japanese summers can feel uncomfortable due to humidity that is unique to Asian countries.

To cool off from the summer heat, the Japanese have taken special care in what they eat since ancient times. The refreshing combination of cold zaru soba and somen noodles with dipping sauce is a summer lunch staple and hiya-jiru (cold miso soup poured over rice) can often be found in places such as Miyazaki and Saitama prefectures. The most popular summer favorite however, is shaved ice with syrup called kakigōri.

Japan’s history of kakigōri is long, with historical evidence from the Heian Period. A description of kakigōri topped with amakazura can be found in Sei Shōnagon’s The Pillow Book. In 1869, Fusazou Machida opened Japan’s first kakigōri shop in Yokohama’s Bashamichi. After WWII, strawberry and lemon flavored syrup for kakigōri was introduced to the market, making it a popular summer dessert that could be enjoyed at home.

Up until the Shōwa period, kakigōri and syrup were always served together. However, more recently kakigōri has drastically changed. Established dessert shops in Tokyo and Kyoto are opening branches in departments stores and shopping centers, traditional techniques have been utilized to create kakigōri, and boutiques are opening dessert shops within their stores. What used to be simply shaved ice topped with syrup or condensed milk, has evolved into a summer cake-like dessert in both taste and appearance.

Kyoto’s dessert shop Gion Tokuya Harajuku located inside United Arrows Harajuku for Women serves a special warabi-mochi as well as a variety of kakigōri flavors. The summer exclusive ‘Obancha kakigōri’ sold for 900 yen (incl. tax) features sugar candy with an obancha (coarse tea) aroma and hints of honey lemon that creates a refreshing taste.

BAYCREW'S interior, food and clothing boutique etc. JOURNAL STANDARD and London’s deli cafe FRANZÈ & EVANS LONDON has collaborated with Hyousha mamatoko, the kakigōri shop by Asako Harada, also known as the Queen of Kakigōri. With the collaboration, original kakigōri flavors were created exclusively for the stores. ‘Citrus and meringue tart’ and ‘Black spice chai and mint cream’ flavors will be available July 30-31 at FRANZÈ & EVANS LONDON. The two flavors, inspired by English sweets, resemble cakes in their appearance as well.

PASS THE BATON is a new type of recycle shop that has been reinventing recycling. In 2015, the Gion location in Kyoto opened a tea room, Tasuki Tea and Sake Room, where the ‘Kinako rennyu hōji tea mitsukakigōri’ is highly popular. The hōji tea aroma and the natural ice from Mount Fuji which melts in the mouth, makes it a satisfying sensation.

The bear-face motif of Japanese Ice Ouca’s ‘Shiroikumasan’ in Ebisu and Kurogi’s ‘Kuromitsu kinako kakigōri’ located on the campus of The University of Tokyo, are other kakigōri favorites that often have long lines of customers. When Japan’s summer heat becomes too intense, take a break from shopping and sightseeing and try kakigōri-hopping instead.