19 December 2013

Summer in Tokyo ~ Kakigori Shaved Iced Dessert

We had three days in Tokyo to top off our Sapporo trip. One of our aims was to try as much kakigori as possible. Kakigori is a summer speciality of flavoured shaved ice, a Japanese snow cone or ais kacang.

We first read about kakigori in our favourite book on Tokyo food, Pretty Good Number One by Matthew Amster-Burton. In the book he visits a fancy-pants 75 year old tea shop above an Armani store in the high-falutin' suburb of Ginza. Here the kakigori is flavoured with exquisite matcha, green tea powder. We visit the same store only to find it is shut for an art exhibition, thus denying us magical kakigori. So we trawl Tokyo's inner burbs searching for the kakigori of our dreams.

The first place we try is in the inner suburb of Nakano. This little lunch resto promises kakigori glory but the boss lady tells us it is off the menu today.

Summer in Tokyo is stinky hot. It's over thirty degrees and humidity sucks the life out of us. So we head to the air-conditioned walkways beneath Tokyo station where we see this head-scratching scene.  Is that a class being held by two giant stuffed toys? Or are they hosting a chat show? We really should learn to speak or at least read Japanese but that would take the "what the?" out of travelling.

This we do understand however, this sign tells us Kakagori is sold here.

This bakery\pasta\cafe\diner joint is a bit posh for us, but we're desperate for kakigori, street cred be damned.

Our kakigori under construction.

Green tea is the kakigori flavour we've been looking forward to most. It's pretty good but a lot sweeter than we envisaged. The green coloured ice gives it a seamonster look.

Strawberry kakigori - an Everest of shaved ice with strawberry syrup and a couple of strawberries for good measure. Pour the little jug of condensed milk over the top and it's like a big Redskin Split. These kakigori are delicious in a sweet-toothed way but we're after something more subtle and delicate.

Kakigori menu.

The next day we head to the posh area of Ginza to try the 75 year old tea house above the Armani store, Uogashi, only to find that the cafe is closed for an exhibition. We are devastated, we've been dreaming about this place for weeks. The staff cheer us up with some free green tea, which is way more incredible than we though free tea could ever be. Wish we bought some...

Uogashi may be closed but we're determined to find some seriously good kakigori. We catch a train to the suburb of Kagaruzaka, a former hanamachi (geisha district) with streets lined with lanterns and stores with traditional Japanese goods. It's fairly upmarket and a pleasant area to wander around.

Off the main road are endless little quiet alleyways with homes and smaller local stores.

We see the magic sign for kakigori but the cafe is closed.

We need to line our stomachs for our kakigori bender so we stop at this bun shop.

A pork bun and a sweet red bean bun, just like Chinese steamed buns.

Kinozen is a traditional sweets shop that serves sweets of each season.

Complimentary green tea is served and it's incredible, it's in a completely different ballpark to green tea we've tasted back at home, it's so fresh and alive with flavour, and this is probably just the cheap stuff...

Kori Uji - shaved ice with green tea syrup. This is less super-sweet than the last kakigori we tried but it's still not what we were hoping to find. It's got balls.

Kori Melon. This one is super sweet.

We didn't find the kakigori of our dreams but we fall in love with this old style of tea\dessert shop. These places are so quiet and relaxing.

Kinozen menu. Simply look confused and the nice ladies will bring you an English version.

Kinozen menu.

Plastic desserts on display out the front of Kinozen.

It's our last day in Tokyo so we head back to Ginza for one last chance at kakigori greatness. We take a punt on Tatsoutano.

Tatsoutano is another old-fashioned tea house. These places make for such a pleasant time-out. We're hooked on them and can't wait to come back to Tokyo to explore them further.

The view from upstairs.

Complimentary green tea is served. Once again, it's incredible.

As we sip our tea the streets of Ginza are blocked from traffic and folks stroll the streets in their Saturday best.

Green tea matcha (uji) with adzuki jam and mochi dumplings. This one is a corker. The green tea flavours are subtle, it's perfect.

Served with a tiny jug of matcha flavoured condensed milk to pour over as you please.

Sumos love a bit of kakigori too! Don't forget to pick up this beautifully illustrated shop brochure.

Special bag storage bags to keep your shopping contained and off the floor. So classy, so thoughtful.

Kakigori street stall in Ueno. We've got no stomarch room and a plane to catch.

We love Japan.


  1. Very interesting to read about the "Kakigori" shave ice. I've never been to Japan, but I have been to Hawaii where there is a large Japanese influence due to Hawaii's history.

    From your blog posting it now looks pretty certain that shave ice arrived in Hawaii with the Japanese. Which I wasn't aware until I read your blog and put two and two together.

    Hawaiian shave ice is also really good, but it's been so long since I have been there that I can't remember the flavors exactly.

    If you do some research about Hawaian shave ice you'll probably come to the same conclusion as did that it came with the Japanese immigrants.

    Please tell us if the video below demonstrating how Hawaiian Shave Ice is made the same way as the Japanese Kakigori is made.

    Something You Should Eat: Hawaiian Shave Ice

  2. My apologies, but another late entry. I thought I was pretty to cool (no pun intended) to climb snow covered mountains to collect the required ingredients. See below:

    ---- History ----

    The first documented "shaved ice" dessert was made in 27 B.C.E. The Roman Emperor Nero sent slaves to collect snow from nearby mountains that he then flavored with a fruit and honey mixture.

    In imperial Japan, similar things were happening. The wealthy lived in warm areas that were near the snow capped mountains. These wealthy would send poor people to retrieve the snow, which they would flavor[citation needed]. As Japanese immigrated to Hawaii, they brought this tradition with them. Like Rome and Japan, in Hawaii warm areas are close enough to snow capped mountains that snow can be brought into the warm areas without melting.

    Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shaved_ice

  3. The large stuffed animals are Gaspard et Lisa - a kids show like lots of them in multiple languages. One of those things you learn when you have kids.

    Got onto your blog (love it) via HK entries (been there twice, planning a 3rd and hopefully a week in Japan).

    I reckon if we can manage HK with 4 kids, we can manage anything. If I could be bothered, I wonder if a blog about travelling with kids in densely populated areas would catch on?

    1. I guess we have a kidless view of the world and missed that one, thanks! I think if you can manage 4 rugrats then you can conquer the world. Why not a blog? Hey, even we have one!

  4. Wondering if you guys can help? I've called every bookstore in Sydney to find Pretty Good Number One but nobody stocks it! They will order it in for me but it will take 3 weeks and I leave for Japan in 2 weeks! (So excited to try all your tips, by the way!) Can you let me know where you sourced your copy from? Thank you!

  5. We bought the e-book version on Amazon, but don't tell anybody, I sell books for a living...


Thanks for your comment joy - please keep your musings happy - if you want to complain about a restaurant please do it on a restaurant review site (or your own blog) - we're all about celebrating cultural diversity and the great eats that come along with it :-)

Our ethics: We pay for all our own meals and travel (though sometimes Mum shouts us).