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Crazy About Kakigori: Japan’s Favorite Summer Treat

Learn about a Japanese summer dessert that traces back to the eighth century.

By 4 min read

Now that it’s summer in Japan, the days feel like they’re only getting hotter. From record-breaking temperatures to humidity levels that leave you drenched in sweat, it’s no wonder why there are tons of seasonal Japanese treats that are made to keep you cool.

Kakigori is a shaved ice dessert that dates all the way back to the Heian Period and is still enjoyed today.

Today we’ll be covering a brief history of kakigori, where to find it and our top kakigori cafe picks in Tokyo.

Kakigori Origin Story

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The ice houses looked something like this.

In ancient times, there were icehouses or himuro built deep within caves or at the base of mountains that saved ice to serve just for summer. Because there weren’t any kind of hi-tech facilities to keep the ice from melting, there was only a little of it left once it arrived at its destination. Due to its scarcity at the time, kakigori was a treat only for affluent families and those in power.

This icy treat was even mentioned in Heian Period literature which even talked about the kind of syrup that was used as flavoring.

In the Meiji Period when icemaking became more widespread, so did kakigori. They say the first kakigori cafe was established in Yokohama and has evolved since then to the version of it that we enjoy today.

July 25 also marks kakigori day since the date in Japanese kinda sounds like “summer ice.”

Where to Find it

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A staple during summer months.

One of the easiest ways to spot a cafe or restaurant that offers kakigori is to look for the Japanese kanji that denotes ice: こり.

You can find it almost anywhere during the hotter months at summer festivals, in convenience stores and at beach stalls but arguably it’s a treat that’s even enjoyed all year round.

Best Kakigori Cafes in Tokyo

Nowadays kakigori comes in all sorts of flavors. The simplest kind is normally just shaved ice with syrup drizzled on top but there are much more decadent ones out there. With toppings like fresh cream, mochi (rice balls), anko (sweet bean paste) and seasonal fruits, you can customize kakigori to your liking.

Toraya An Stand

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Green tea and red bean paste on a mountain of fluffy shaved ice.

Established over 500 years ago, Toraya An Stand is a popular wagashi or traditional Japanese sweets shop. During summer, you can expect them to add kakigori to their usual menu featuring three flavors – matcha (green tea), strawberry and condensed milk. What makes their kakigori special stand out is that they serve it with their own anko spread and yokan or red bean jelly.

Available in areas like Shinjuku, Aoyama and Yokohama

From ¥990
11 A.M. ~ 8 P.M.
Newoman Shinjuku 2F,5-24-55 Sendagaya, Shibuya, Tokyo - Map

Atelier Sekka

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Shaved ice from Mount Fuji topped with a layer of strawberry syrup and condensed milk.

Hidden along the backstreets of Sugamo’s shopping district. Atelier Sekka is a local kakigori cafe with a waiting line that never seems to go away. Using ice from Mount Fuji, the texture of the kakigori is softer and takes longer to melt. To make the icy dessert, the folks at Atelier Sekka leave it up to old-school ice-shaving machines to get the job done.

Choose from over ten different kakigori toppings ranging from pumpkin caramel to lemon milk and even yogurt.

From ¥900
11 A.M. ~ 5 P.M.
Closed on Mondays
3-37-6 Sugamo, Toshima, Tokyo - Map

Contenart

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Tea flavored kakigori, anyone?

Contenart in Yoyogi is a small, hole-in-the-wall cafe that sells high-quality tea and scones but during summer sells kakigori with a twist. With just ten seats inside the cafe, waiting in line can take hours.

Instead of the usual syrup to top off the icy treat, they use different flavors of the tea that they sell. Topped off with generous servings of fresh cream and mochi, enjoy your chai tea-flavored kakigori. It might sound strange but the long line outside the cafe says otherwise.

From ¥1,800
11 A.M. ~ 5:30 P.M. (weekdays) 11 A.M. ~ 5 P.M. (weekends)
Closed on Mondays
1-42-14 Yoyogi, Shibuya, Tokyo - Map
Reservation needed

Shimura Confectionery

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Pour that syrup!

This reservationn only kakigori cafe in Toshima ward means business. A Japanese sweets store on the first floor with a cafe on the second and third floors, Shimura is a household name in Tokyo. Expect a mountain of soft, fluffy ice drizzled with a layer of thick, sweet syrup and slices of the sweetest fruits in season. Just a four-minute walk from Meijiro station, drop by on your way back from Ikebukuro or Shinjuku.

From ¥1,000
11 A.M. ~ 5:30 P.M. (weekdays) 11 A.M. ~ 5 P.M. (weekends)
Closed on Mondays
3-13-3 Mejiro, Toshima, Tokyo - Map
Reservation needed

Mamechawan

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A different take on kakigori.

Udon? Kakigori? Say no more. At Mamechawan, you can sample both. Just a stone’s throw away from Iidabashi station’s west exit, this nondescript cafe is loved by locals. Come early to reserve your slot otherwise, you’ll miss out on one of the best kakigori in Tokyo. Feeling a little adventurous? Try their peanut-flavored or coffee and red bean-flavored kakigori.

From ¥1,000
12 P.M. ~ 9 P.M.
2-7-2, Fujimi, Chiyoda, Tokyo - Map
Reservation needed
Have you been to any of these cafes before? Let us know in the comments!

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