What began as a treat for Japanese aristocrats in the 11th century turned into one of Japan’s most popular summer treats in the Meiji Period (1868-1912). From its simple origins, shaved ice has only become more elaborate, especially thanks to the advent of Instagram.
Come summertime, shops across Japan compete with each other to produce the most ‘gram worthy dishes. This can mean anything from lighting it up (one year a shop in Yoyogi created a light up shaved ice) to piling it up.
And the flavors have only become more creative, with restaurants seeking that viral glory. Alongside more conventional ones such as Calpis and strawberry, one can find wasabi and even pumpkin. Additional toppings can include the traditional option of shiratama (flavorless mochi balls) and adzuki beans. Other wilder varieties include biscuits and even fire.
We looked at the most Instagrammable (or even TikTokable) shaved ice around Tokyo this year. While the heat is cranking up outside, now is the time to get stuck in.
Half-Melon Madness (Ginza)
Daikichi in Ginza takes fruit shaved ice to the next level. With its Whole Fruit Shaved Ice series, customers are treated to half an entire melon, hollowed out and replaced with shaved ice and said melon’s balls. If melon does not tickle your fancy, pineapple is also on offer.
The shaved ice is topped with cream. Its sheer size and volume — remember, this is half a large fruit here — makes it almost a whole meal. Best to share or go on an empty stomach.
Works of Art (Kichijoji)
Kooriya Peace, a shaved ice cafe in Kichijoji, serves up the most professional looking, well-shaped bowls of shaved ice for those parching summer days. There are mouth-watering flavors in innovative combinations. Some specials include melon, cherry and rare cheese as well as peach and plum.
The shop is incredibly popular and sees queues stretching down the block on particularly busy days, but it is worth it for that delicious bowl of ice in a unique shape.
Extremely Popular Creations (Yoyogi)
Miho Horio, former pastry chef of double Michelin-starred French restaurant Florilege, opened her eagerly awaited shaved ice cafe Azuki to Kouri in Yoyogi earlier this year.
Her extremely popular creations sometimes include caramelized baked shaved ice (yes, a blow torch is involved) and Amazon cacao and sansho pepper. To keep things exclusive, the menu constantly changes.
Azuki to Kouri is so popular that the only way to get in is to reserve a table. However, it’s often booked up weeks in advance so act fast.
Tomato Vegan Delight (Tomigaya)
Using fruit tomato which is a Japanese name for tomatoes with higher natural sugar content, Tree by Naked serves up a sweet tomato shaved ice, complete with tomato compote. Its other delectable flavors for non-vegans are mango and mascarpone.
Chocolate Haven (Yoyogi)
Minimal Chocolate, the bean-to-bar chocolatier in Yoyogi, has reinvented its popular chocolate shaved ice for 2022. Its offering a variety of shaved ice parfaits, paying homage to all the new innovations that are included in the dessert.
Aside from shaved ice, it contains tea jelly cubes, in-house chocolate syrup, tea-strained condensed milk, apricot compote and a ball of chocolate ice cream in the middle. Wonderful.
Savory Shavings (Shinjuku)
Garden House has created a pumpkin-flavored shaved ice that means we can enjoy the Halloween vegetable year-round. It’s not only for the brave, with a pumpkin cream and walnut topping proving a surprising crowd pleaser. Maple syrup is included for those who have a sweet tooth.
Shaved Ice from the Future (Omotesando)
With a spaceship-shaped roasted green tea and Hokkaido mint ice, Lexus Cafe Intersect’s shaved ice is a feast for both the eyes and taste buds.
There are two types of sauces, strawberry compote and Tokyo milk. Alongside a perfectly shaped blob of ice cream and sauces to experiment with combinations, this shaved ice is one for the science buffs.
Delicate Dishes (Shinjuku)
Korio Bake includes the sweetest little character on its icy dessert, which is packed with a thousand flavors. One of its most popular flavors contains five types of chocolate, pink grapefruit jelly, mint and whipped cream. The accompanying sauce is butter chocolate tart custard.
It hosts an ongoing collaboration with tableware brand Mio, making for a very on-trend interior type picture.
Flavorful Half-and-Half (Ginza)
Parlor Vinefru, based in Ginza, is a shaved ice and pancake specialty store. Come summertime it is inundated with customers keen to grab one of its wagashi-style flavorings. Step forward mugwort and roasted soybean, topped with red bean paste and kuromitsu (brown sugar syrup).
This half-and-half mountain could probably be scaled like Everest. When the mugwort sells out, customers can enjoy corn potage flavor and tiramisu.
Cute Creations (Kichijoji)
Cafe Lumiere in Kichijoji pours fire over its shaved ice mountain, which has been inspired by Alice in Wonderland. The flaming red sauce changes depending on the flavor. Watch in awe as the impossible is made possible, a perfect capture for budding TikTokers, too.
Not only does Cafe Lumiere serve these flaming creations, it is also loved for its cute cake-like shaved ice. These often feature homemade animal biscuits perching on top of a mound of delicious dessert.