What does “氷” means?

When summer comes, you’ll probably see flags which say “氷” hanging in front of shops. “氷” means ‘ice’ in Japanese. The pattern of Chidori (plover bird) between the waves is an old traditional pattern that has existed in Japan for many years. This is used in the pattern on yukata (summer kimono) to represent coolness. The flag combines the kanji, “氷” and the traditional Chidori pattern called “Kouri-hata”. It is essential to Japanese summer life.


Kakigōri or Shaved ice

When you see this flag flying in front of a shop, it means that they serve shaved ice called Kakigōri, in many delicious flavors. Old historical records show that Kakigōri was enjoyed during ancient times, but the majority of people have only been eating it for about 130 years, because of recent advances in refrigeration technology.

Syrups of Kaki-kouri

Syrups of Kaki-kouri

Summer ice and “Okouri-sama”.

During the time when ice was difficult to come by, natural ice was kept in a shed called a “kouri-sitsu” or in a deep hole inside the shed. The ice was a gift and a dedication to an Emperor or those in high positions. During the Heian period (8C〜12C), Seisho Nagon described shaved ice with a golden syrup (amazura) decorated in a silver bow as “elegant and sophisticated”. During the Edo period (17C〜19C), the summer kouri was delivered from Kaga-han (Ishikawa Prefecture) to Edo-bakufu (Tokyo) as gift. The distance between these two places is about 480km. This trip usually takes 10 days, but the 4 Daimyo messengers delivered it within 5 days without stopping. People tried to get fortunes from the water dripping off the ice, and it was much like a parade.


The letter of “氷” means so much!

Kakigōri is shaved by a machine. Over the top of the fluffy white ice, you pour your favorite syrup and eat. It is so simple, but if you think about how big the letter, “氷” is written on the flag, you can imagine how it was rare it was and how it was so special to the people at the time.

The guy who is making shaved ice.

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Writer/ Translator

I love Japanese folkcraft article, traditional handicrafts and antiques. I’m seeking the Japanese people’s religious outlooks and its origins that are behind Japanese people’s unique sense and techniques rooted in the ordinary life.