In 1947, Japanese-American George Tanaka established the company Nissei and began selling softcream machines to businesses around Japan. In 1951, after hearing about the success of softcream sales to the public at an American Independence Day event on July 3 – a date that was designated as Softcream Day in 1990 – he decided to begin supplying restaurants and cafés with the softcream ingredients too, in addition to the machines. As more places started serving the dessert, the country fell in love with softcream – even though once upon a time it cost double the price of a regular restaurant meal.
Today, the swirl of sweet goodness that is softcream has become synonymous with fun, travel, playfulness and even Japan as a country. Here are four reasons why.
1. Softcream Is Not Ice Cream
Forgive us for being softcream otaku, but we must point out that ice cream and softcream are not the same thing. Softcream is also not gelato, sherbet or shaved ice. The key is right there in the names: “soft” versus “ice.” Ice cream is hard-frozen and ice cold, usually sold at around minus 18 degrees Celsius. On the other hand, softcream is soft, served fresh from the machines and at a ready-to-eat, melt-in-the-mouth minus five degrees Celsius.
2. It’s All About the Creamy Texture
The ingredients of softcream and ice cream are fairly similar, but the production process makes all the difference. Ice cream is cooled and solidified at minus 18 and kept frozen, while softcream ingredients are mixed in the special freezer machine, maintaining a soft state, as air is pushed in to achieve its signature smoothness. To all the people who wait for ice cream to melt to a creamier consistency – softcream is what you’re looking for.
3. It’s Meant for Eating in the Moment
Ice cream can be bought anywhere, taken home and kept in the freezer. It can also be made at home from scratch, making it an everyday product. Softcream, however, is all about being in the moment. Mixed and served fresh, smooth and milky, it should be eaten right away, before it melts in your hand.
4. Japanese Softcream Ups the Standards
Japan has a knack for perfecting and expanding on pretty much any product it adopts. Softcream in Japan grew from a product to a culture. Sometimes eating a softcream is the whole reason for going out or traveling. Flavors sold around the country are countless and tasting local ones while traveling is akin to collecting souvenirs.
Where to Try Softcream in Tokyo
Softcream in Japan is everywhere: coffee shops, festivals, food stands in tourist areas, gas stations, farms. In Tokyo, start with Paradise Lounge, the location for this page’s photoshoot. It’s on the 46th floor of the new Shibuya Scramble Square building and their signature softcream is a baby blue ramune flavored swirl.
Other good spots include:
・Gion Tsujiri, Tokyo Solamachi
Tokyo Solamachi East Yard Block 6F, 1-1-2 Oshiage, Sumida-ku
・Italian Kitchen Vansan in Shinjuku
7-9-13 Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku
・Ryogokubashi Sabo inside Ryogoku Edo Noren
JR Ryogoku Station, 1-3-20 Yokoami, Sumida-ku
2-2-2 Asakusa, Taito-ku
・Glocal Cafe Ikebukuro
Sunshine City Alpa 1F, 3-1-2 Higashi-Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku
Photographs by Allan Abani