Cool down with kakigoori! Shaved ice a sweet summer treat in Japan

Cool down with kakigoori! Shaved ice a sweet summer treat in Japan

by Takahiro Takiguchi & Shoji Kudaka
Stripes Japan

Summer in Japan gets scorching and steamy. Mid-summer Temperatures often reach 95 F or higher depending on the region. Along with beer, watermelon and soomen (cold udon noodle), kakigoori (shaved ice) is a popular cold food that cools us down during summer.

For many Japanese, the memories of a banner with the red kanji letter of koori (ice) in white and a blue background are fond ones. These banners are seen outside shops offering kakigoori and often meant a sweet, snow-like treat to help us cool down as kids.

Besides at local sweets stores, kakigoori can be found at matsuri and bon odori festivals or fireworks events, along with other festive foods.

“Kakigoori is one of the most popular traditional cold sweets throughout history,” says Ryusuke Koike, managing director of Japan Kakigoori Association. “This cold food goes back to more than 1,000 years and has been enjoyed as festive food for special occasions.”

Kakigoori is not only available during the summer, but it is a year-around cold dessert, according to Koike.

“Since a lot of kakigoori joints make their syrups and sauces using fruits in season, they offer different types of throughout the year,” Koike said.

In fact, there are countless types of syrups and sauces. While many places offer the standard strawberry, cherry, lemon, green tea, melon and colorless syrup, others offer unique syrups made from vegetables, sake, wine, or even vinegar, miso or soy sauce.

Japanese kakigoori may remind many of a snow cone, but there are few significant differences between the two iced sweets.”

“Japanese kakigoori has a really fine, smooth fluffy ice consistency, just like fresh fallen snow,” Koike said. “While Americans make snow cones with extreme hard ice, we would never do that to keep it soft and fluffy.”

Besides the difference of ice, snow cones usually come with artificial flavors, while kakigoori uses more natural syrups and ingredients, such as sweet beans, matcha and brown sugar.

But, despite a key difference in the flavoring, the main part of kakigoori is actually the ice, according to Koike.

“Most of kakigoori joints pay more attention on the quality of ice, rather than varieties of syrups, since quality and condition of ice determines the taste of kakigoori,” Koike said.

For Japanese kakigoori, extreme cold ice is not good. For a fluffy snow-like soft texture, the ice temperature needs to be kept around 14 F.

“Since ice in freezer is usually around - 4 F, we need to take out the ice and warm it up before we shave it,” Koike said.

Clean and transparent ice is ideal, as it can make smooth, fluffy kakigoori. Water that takes a long time to freeze can make clean ice.

“Natural ice is considered the best,” Koike said.

Why not make kakigoori yourself?

You can make a transparent ice yourself. Wrap an ice tray with a towel before putting it into a freezer. This will make the ice take longer to freeze which should ensure the ice is transparent, according to Koike.

Then, you can shave it by using a hand-spinning ice shaver, which can be found at various stores for around $30-40.

The hand-cranked ice shaver is a popular kitchen item in Japan. It is fun making kakigoori by spinning a block of ice over a blade by turning the lever by hands. Syrups for kakigoori are available at most of supermarkets or grocery stores.

According to Japan Kakigoori Association, there are some tips to making tasty kakigoori at home: Use mineral water instead of tap water when you make ice. Serve it in a glass bowl to make the colors stand out, and be sure not to put on too many toppings as it can spoil the fluffy texture.

Now that you know, get out and enjoy the hot Japan summer with some cool kakigoori!


Did you know?
Kakigoori is a popular cold treat in ball parks. Yokohama Stadium offers Mikan Goori (ice orange) while Jingu Stadium (Tokyo) offers Pine Goori (pineapple Ice) during ball games. Koshien Stadium (near Osaka) offers simple “Kachiwari” (literally shaved ice).

Left: Mikan Goori (Ice Orange), Right: Pine Goori (Pineapple Ice) Photos by Jun Sakahira

Left: Mango Goori (Ice Mango), Right: “Kachiwari” (literally shaved ice) Photos by Jun Sakahira

Kakigoori parlors near you

During summer months, you can find sweets joints and cafes serving kakigoori virtually everywhere in Japan. The followings are some of the most popular and highly rated joints in the region. Visit one or more and enjoy the traditional treats.

Tamura Koori Hanbaiten (near Misawa)

Tamura Koori Hanbaiten is a long-established
ice dealer. It offers popular fluffy shaved-ice
made from local Mishima spring water with various
syrups and condensed milk for 300 yen during summertime.
Location: 8-5-16 Konakano, Hachinohe City, Aomori
Hours: 9 a.m. - 7 p.m.
Tel: 0178-22-1549

Wataboshi (near Zama and Atsugi)

Offers tasty kakigori made from natural ice from Mt. Yatsugatake. Among various options, Tiramisu for 850 yen is the most popular and  must-sample.
Location: 1-24-12 Higashi-Kasugaya, Ebina City, Kanagawa Pref.
Hours: 11:30 a.m. - 7 p.m.

Hinode-en (near Yokosuka and Zama)

The popular tea shop in Hayama Town offers kakigoori in various tea flavors. Among more than 10 options, macha or toasted tea Kakigoori  with sweet beans and milk for 825 yen are popular.
Location: 1413-212 Nagae, Hayama-cho, Kanagawa Pref. (30-min. drive from Yokosuka Naval Base)
Hours: Thu. - Tue.11 a.m. - 6 p.m.

MELANGE De SHUHARI (near Iwakuni)

They make quality ice for kakigoori using pure water. Tiramisu, made from coffee syrup and mascarpone cheese sauce, is one of the most  popular kakigoori.
Location: 9-19 [3F] Hondoori, Naka-ku, Hiroshima City, Hiroshima Pref. (5-min. walk from Hondoori Station of Hiroden Line)
Hours: 11:30 a.m. - 9 p.m.

Takabo (Sasebo)

This popular café in Sasebo offers two kakigoori dishes - “ujikintoki” and “strawberry frappe (with milk)” during summer.
Location: 3-15 Sakaemachi, Sasebo City, Nagasaki Pref. (4-min. walk from JR Sasebo Chuo Station)
Hours: Mon. - Sat., 8:30 a.m. - 9 p.m.

* The above-mentioned business hours may be changed according to the state of condition with COVID-19.


Popular versions of shaved Ice

  • SHIROKUMA: originated in Kagoshima Pref.: Shaved ice with condensed milk, small colorful mochi, fruits, and sweet bean paste, along with orange, cherry, pineapple, and raisins on top.
  • Yukiusagi: originated in Komazawa, Tokyo: Shaved ice with sake and sugar syrup, served on New Year’s Day.
  • Ujikintoki: originated in Okayama Pref.: Shaved ice made up of matcha syrup and sugar, along with sweet beans.
  • Sudamari koori: originated in Yamagata Pref.: Shaved ice with vinegar, soy-sauce and strawberry syrup.
  • Akafuku goori: originated in Mie Pref.: Shaved ice with sweet bean paste, rice cake, and matcha syrup on top.
  • Zenzai: originated on Okinawa: Popular kakigoori dessert on the island. Sprinkle shaved ice on sweet beans.
  • Cobalt Ice: originated in Kumamoto Pref.: Shaved ice with bright

Make your own

It doesn’t get much better than eating shaved ice during the summer. But making the cold sweets at home offers a different sense of joy.

Kakigoori-ki (shave ice machine) is a common item for families with children in this country. Just like many flavors are introduced at shops every year, shaved iced machines are also evolving to show great variety. But there is a trend commonly seen in many of them: nostalgia.

“Kyoro-chan” is a shaved ice machine that looks like a cubby bear doll.

Originally released in 1976, this cute looking machine became a hit back then. When the handle on the top is turned, the cubby’s eyes move left and right. The name Kyoro-chan refers to this gimmick, which was very appealing to kids.

Although it was discontinued for a while, Kyro-chan was brought back in 2016 with the same design.

“Ice Robo III Hatsuyuki” is another popular shaved ice machine with a retro look. At first glance, the yellow, red and green machine almost looks like a character out of an old Nintendo game. But, on the inside, this machine has an advanced system that can automatically make shaved ice, even allowing to adjust sizes.

“Dendo Honkaku Fuwafuwa Kakigori-Ki” (electric-powered machine for totally fluffy shaved ice) goes further back in time to dig up people’s memory of shaved ice.

It is said that Kakigori-ki became commonly available in the Showa era (1926 – 1989). This machine has wheels and a logo that can remind Japanese of when they ate shaved ice at stores in their neighborhood back in the day.

Thanks to an updated system, this retro-looking machine can shave ice to fluffy flakes, something only stores could provide back then.

These shaved ice machines are closely associated with people’s happy memories of having the cold sweets as a child. The sense of fun and nostalgia is so strong that you could feel it even if you didn’t live in Japan in those days.

– Shoji Kudaka, Stripes Okinawa

Did you know?
In Japan, kakigoori has been enjoyed for more than 1000 years. Makuranososhi, an essay by Seisho Nagon, has a description of people enjoying kakigoori in the 11th century.

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