Kakigori: Japan's Sweet Answer to Beating the Heat

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It's starting to feel like summer these days as the temperature hit the mid-20s (I'm referring to Celsius, for American readers) during the Golden Week. Inside trains, young children have traded their jackets for short-sleeved shirts and on the streets, women both young and old protect themselves from the sunlight with parasols and arm protectors. This week, I even switched the setting on my air conditioning unit to "cool" for the first time this year.
One of the many joys of warmer weather besides finally being able to put away bulky winter coats, is the return of shaved ice or kakigori in Japanese. There's no better way to beat the heat and feel refreshed than indulging in a mountain of delicately shaved ice topped with syrup, condensed milk and other appetizing toppings such as vanilla ice cream or sweet red beans. Kakigori is a staple in Japanese summers and you can easily find them at firework festivals or in Japanese tea houses. There are so many different varieties of flavors that you'll have many chances to try new ones throughout the summer. Here are a few places I recommend to get your fix of kakigori.

1. Wagashi Kurogi (和菓子くろぎ)

You can't really call yourself a true Todai student if you haven't tried Wagashi Kurogi. Located inside the Hongo campus of The University of Tokyo, Wagashi Kurogi is a speciality store that sells Japanese sweets. The wagashi-ya was opened by Chef Jun Kurogi, the last Iron Chef Japan and owner of restaurant Kuriya Kashi Kurogi. While they sell sweets such as warabi-mochi year-round, their kakigori are perfect during the warmer seasons. I often go here in between classes with friends and have never been disappointed so far. The last time I visited, I ordered their Kinako Kuromitsu Kakigori. When it arrived at our table, we were surprised at the size of the shaved ice. We were expecting smaller portions--since this is Japan after all--but this was what we received:
Personal photo

If you're wondering what's on top of the ice, it's cream topped with a generous amount of kinako powder and sweet red beans. The dish came along with a little cup of kuromitsu, a syrup made from brown sugar.  And unlike most kakigori that often leaves you with just a mountain of shaved ice after you've finished devouring the top, this one had another layer of cream and kinako powder hiding underneath. I definitely recommend sharing this with someone though, as I was not able to finish it all by myself.
This particular kakigori has a soy milk and cream cheese base  and is topped with plum-flavored jellies and cherry sauce:
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One serving of kakigori is around 1,400 yen making it more on the expensive side, but given the sheer volume that you get, it's a good dish to share with someone. Do bear in mind that the store has a policy that each person must order one item from the menu, so what you can do is order a kakigori and a small wagashi to share. 

2. Kazu Kitchen Kanna (和キッチン かんな)

This next place is located in the neighborhood of Sangenjaya, just a couple minutes by train from Shibuya station. Kazu Kitchen Kanna is another popular kakigori spot that serves up ginormous shaved ice that's a feast for your eyes and mouth. Here you won't find basic flavors like strawberry, melon or blue Hawaii. Instead, you'll find interesting, unique flavors like black sesame and anzu (apricot).
They do offer more of the regular flavors like strawberry (for you traditionalists) but they often come with a twist. This particular shaved ice combines strawberries with mascarpone:
PC: http://www.tabearuking.com/_ct/16858252

If your tastebuds are up for an adventure, opt for the Mitarashi Milk shaved ice. While the shaved ice itself looks rather inconspicuous, it comes with thinly sliced seaweed, mitarashi sauce, and crunchy toppings. All of them combined together makes for a unique shaved ice experience you're not likely to encounter elsewhere.
PC: https://tabelog.com/tokyo/A1317/A131706/13156812/dtlrvwlst/B111468888/

Most of the kakigori dishes are priced around 700 yen, making them an affordable treat. The store however, is quite popular especially during summer, so you can expect some waiting time before you're able to get a seat. 

3. Shimokita Chaenōyama (しもきた茶苑大山 )

Shimokitazawa is just a few minutes from Shinjuku station by train and is a trendy area with many thrift stores and curry restaurants. So far, this post has been lacking in matcha so here's one for all the green tea lovers out there:
PC: https://co-trip.jp/article/62176/

The matcha syrup that's generously poured all over the shaved ice has a mousse-like consistency that fully captures the slightly bitter notes of the green tea powder. It comes served with a small dish of sweet kuromitsu that blends nicely with the bitterness of the matcha. While the matcha kakigori is the obvious star of the show, you can also try out their hōjicha shaved ice which is topped with roasted green tea flavored syrup. 

4. Funabashiya Koyomi Hiroo (船橋屋 こよみ広尾店)

Funabashiya Koyomi specializes in making Japanese sweets such as kuzu mochi which is a jelly-like dessert that is usually served with kinako powder and kuromitsu. The store has been in business for over 200 years and their motto is 「おいしいものは人間を幸せにする」which roughly translate to English as "Delicious things that make people happy." And the kakigori they serve at Koyomi are exactly that--delicious treats that will put a smile on your face.
PC: http://kai-you.net/article/28388

The kind of shaved ice they serve here are the quintessential kakigori that Japanese people enjoy eating. They're fruity, light and refreshing to eat; and best of all, they'll cool your body down. So far all of the kakigori I've mentioned are more toward the creamier, thicker side. But not all of us like eating something heavy during a hot summer day--it's the same reasoning behind choosing an ice cream or a popsicle. If you prefer your sweets to be more tart and fruity, this peach flavored shaved ice might just be the perfect summer treat:
PC: http://www.ozmall.co.jp/sweets/list_koyomi/

5. Yuki Usagi (雪うさぎ)

You can't beat the classic ichigo miruku (strawberry milk) kakigori--it's a wonderful marriage of creaminess from the milk and tartness from the strawberries. At Yuki Usagi, they serve theirs with a mountain of shaved ice, a thick layer of strawberry milk and a bright red strawberry on top:
PC: https://tabelog.com/tokyo/A1317/A131707/13169308/

But classics aside, what makes this place stand out from others are their shaved ice served on top of fruit bowls. Not exactly sure what I mean by that? Here's a picture that does a better job at describing:
PC: https://retrip.jp/articles/59593/

Here's another one for good measure:
PC: http://swatchstyle.seesaa.net/article/405773634.html

At the bottom of where the bowls should be are half of a watermelon and canteloupe which are both popular summer fruits in Japan. If you're wondering whether they're there just for decoration and all of the edible portions have been scraped away, let me reassure you that there's plenty of fruit waiting at the bottom for you to enjoy. 

6. Japanese Ice OUCA (ジャパニーズアイス櫻花)

We've climbed through so many mountains (mountains of kakigori that is) in this list, but what's waiting at the other side? The answer is...bears, but the cute ones like this:
PC: http://girly.today/5933

The kakigori at Japanese Ice OUCA in Ebisu are almost too cute to eat...almost. The shaved ice serves as the head of the bear while an ice cream scoop forms its snout and fruits are used to give it ears, eyes and a nose. For just 620 yen each, you and your friends can gather together to eat this bear and his friends, but not before taking tons of photos to post on Instagram.
PC: http://www.masaemon.jp/entry/2014/07/02/tokyo-ebisu-sweets-ice-ouca

If you're getting quite sick of looking at kakigori (sorry for the visual overload in this post), Japanese Ice OUCA also sells ice cream that you can eat-in or take-away. 
PC: http://www.ice-ouca.com/shuzai.html

Well I've certainly made myself craving  for shaved ice while writing this post, and I apologize if I've made any of you have cravings in the middle of the night. Just a disclaimer: some of the kakigori featured in this article are seasonal specials or are no longer available in the menus. So before visiting, make sure to visit the website and check what flavors are available at the moment. But don't fret if what you wanted to eat isn't longer available: there's always new, exciting flavors to try so you'll be sure to find something you like. 

Midori Nishida