This post is also available in:
During Japan’s hot summer season, what kind of sweets do you like to eat? Ice cream is a solid way to cool off, but what about shaved ice?
The Popularity of Shaved Ice in Japan
Shaved ice is a very popular sweet during summer in Japan, and there are certain reasons why Japanese people love it so much.
This article will introduce the history of shaved ice and why Japanese people are so attracted to it.
1. Shaved Ice Has a Long History
Did you know that shaved ice has been around since the Heian Period (794-1185)? Because ice was so rare, at that time only the nobility could afford this summer treat.
During the Edo Period (1603-1868) shaved ice was sometimes given as an offering to the shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu.
Once the ice-maker was invented in the Meiji Period (1868-1912), the greater availability of ice made shaved ice affordable for the general public.
The very first shaved ice shop was opened in Yokohama City in 1869.
2. The Rise of Syrup After World War Ⅱ
If you’ve ever had shaved ice, it was probably sweetened using one of the popular syrup flavors: strawberry, melon, blue Hawaii, or lemon. Before the invention of modern sweeteners after World War II, however, the Japanese used sugar, honey, or azuki beans to sweeten shaved ice.
What syrup flavor is your favorite? Strawberry? Lemon? Melon?
Shaved ice stands are one of many types of food stands popular at summer festivals in Japan. If you try comparing the various flavors of shaved ice, for the most part they’ll all taste the same. The major flavors found at summer festivals are made with sugar, food coloring, and a simple fragrance. The apparent difference between types of shaved ice is an illusion — people just see the variety of bright colors for each flavor, and somehow their minds do the rest of the work. Weird, isn’t it? But it’s true!
3. Shaved Ice and Social Media
New things become popular quick in Japan, especially when they are trending on social media.
Social media has a big influence on Japanese people, and websites like Facebook and Instagram have induced a shaved ice renaissance. People post reviews or pictures of a particular shaved ice shop, then other people see the reviews, try it for themselves, create their own posts, and the cycle repeats. Recently, due to its renewed popularity, cafes, restaurants and shops are creating new, unique shaved ice flavors. The combination of new flavors and social media has made shaved ice an enduring part of modern Japanese culture.
Let’s take a look at what a few specific shaved ice shops have to offer.
Wa Kitchen Kanna @Sangenchaya
Do you like tiramisu? If you do, try visiting “Wa Kanna” in Tokyo and try their shaved ice and tiramisu combo. You can taste the mascarpone in the tiramisu and enjoy a rich-tasting brand of shaved ice here. Wa Kanna’s shaved ice is also remarkably soft, made using natural ice from Nikko city.
If you feel little bored with the basic flavors of syrup, come here and try tiramisu shaved ice!
Address: COMS SHIMOUMA 2F, 2-43-11, Shimouma, Setagayaku, Tokyo, 154-0002
Access: (Tokyu Denentoshi Line) Sangenchaya Station (10 minutes walk from the station)
Business Hours: 11:00 AM – 19:00 PM
Himitsu Dou @ Nippori
This shaved ice shop uses a rich, 100% homemade syrup in their shaved ice, and they don’t use any ready-made ingredients. Many Japanese people love the shaved ice here, and, depending on the time, you may need to get in line, especially if it’s a hot summer day. There are many regular customers here, even in the winter!
1000 yen – 2,000 yen
Address: 3-11-18, Yanaka, Taito-ku, Tokyo, 110-0001
Access: (JR Yamanote Line) Nippori Station (5 minute walk from the station)
Business hours: 10:00 AM – 18:00 PM
Closed: Monday (Tuesday is also closed October through May)
*During the month of August, Himitsu Dou is also open Monday
Cooling Down with Shaved Ice This Summer
It’s already extremely hot around Japan, especially in Tokyo. What do you like to do on a hot summer’s day? Why not try some Japanese-style shaved ice? On a hot day, it’s as good as an air-conditioner.
Have a nice, icy Japanese summer!
Note: this article was originally published on August 7, 2018 and edited and republished on August 3, 2021.