A Beginner’s Guide to Kakigoori (Shaved Ice), a Japanese Summer Classic Food

In this article I’d like to introduce you to shaved Ice, called ‘Kakigori’ in Japanese, a beloved and refreshing treat of the Japanese summer.

2019-09-05   Food & Drinks, Travel Tips,

Spot the “氷” signs!

This is the sign you have to look for if you want to enjoy shaved ice.

When the summer comes to Japan, you’ll probably see flags bearing the kanji “” hanging in front of shops. “” (read ‘koori’) means  ‘ice’ in Japanese. These flags are called koori-hata (ice flags) are usually decorated with a traditional pattern:  chidori (plover birds) combined with waves. It is an old traditional pattern you can also often see used on yukata (summer kimono) and that represents coolness. The designs may vary slightly (on some flags the birds are missing) but they are very easy to spot with their bright red and blue colors. You can easily find them during the matsuri, the Japanese summer traditional festivals.

What exactly is kakigori or shaved ice?

Shaved ice can be very colorful

If you have spotted this flag, then you can order shaved ice there. The name of this summer treat is pretty self-explanatory: a block of ice is shaved into small pieces with a machine. Then your preferred syrup is poured on the ice.

A typical shaved ice machine

Old historical records show that kakigoori has been enjoyed since ancient times. Natural Ice would be kept in a deep hole inside a shed. Ice, being rare, would be offered as a gift to the Emperor or people in high positions. During the Heian period (794-1185), the Japanese author and court lady Sei Shounagon described shaved ice with a golden syrup decorated in a silver bow as an “elegant and sophisticated” treat. Another story from the Edo period (1603〜1868) states that some summer ice was delivered from the Kaga Domain (modern-day Ishikawa and Toyama Prefectures) to Edo (Tokyo) as a gift. This trip, covering 480km, would usually have taken 10 days, but the messengers did not make a single stop and delivered it within 5 days! 

However, the majority of people have only been enjoying this dessert for about 130 years, thanks to recent advances in refrigeration technology. Today, everyone can enjoy it in many flavors and colors, as you can see in this refreshing video:

Green tea shaved ice and Akafuku-goori, a traditional taste of Ise

The traditional Akafuku-goori

In Japanese traditional cafes, you can also enjoy green tea flavor shaved ice topped with sweet red beans paste; it is then called uji-kintoki.

If you like this kind of traditional taste and are visiting the very famous Ise Shrine during Summer, make sure to stop by the traditional Japanese sweets shop Akafuku (赤福) in Ise city. (But only after reading our article: 8 things you should know before visiting Ise Grand Shrine). Akafuku was founded 300 years ago as a rest station for people visiting the shrine, and is famous for its Akafuku-mochi, a rice cake covered with sweet pureed red beans paste. These cakes can only be found in Mie prefecture.
During summer only, the shop serves a special shaved ice filled with these rare sweets, called Akafuku-goori. Originally, it was a special menu for tourists who visit Futamigaura Beach and started selling in 1961.

How to order kakigoori in a Japanese shop – discover the Japanese people’s 12 favorite shaved ice flavors!

Ordering is very easy! Just follow this pattern:

[Your preferred flavor] o hitotsu kudasai‘ (Which can be translated as ‘One… please’). For example, if you want to order strawberry, the most popular taste, just say ‘Ichigo o hitotsu kudasai‘.

Here are the Japanese people’s 12 favorite flavors (statistics from summer 2017) and how to say them in Japanese; as you can see most of them come from English which makes things even easier!

  1. Stawberry – Ichigo
  2. Blue (tropical taste) – Buruu
  3. Melon- Meron
  4. Mango- Mangoo
  5. Lemon- Remon
  6. Green Tea- Matcha
  7. Simple syrup – Mizore
  8. Grape – Gureepu
  9. Peach- Piichi
  10. Pine- Pain
  11. Cola- Koora
  12. Orange- Orenji

If you want to order two shaved ice cups, replace ‘hitotsu‘ (one), by ‘futatsu‘ (two), and replace by ‘mittsu‘ if you want to order three.

So… are you ready to order?

Shinji, manager of the Tadaima Japan Shinjuku Ryokan, has installed a shaved ice machine to entertain the customers during summer.

Click here to learn more about the Tadaima Japan Shinjuku Ryokan.

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Writer / Translator

I’m French but I’ve been living in Tokyo for many years during which I had a lot of meaningful and thrilling experiences. I’m curious and I love learning new things. My hobbies are kick boxing, scuba diving, Japanese traditional painting, etc… As a writer, I’d like to share information about less touristic, more authentic places. I will also write about all the fun and cultural activities unique to Japan.