A delicious swirl of ice cream in a cone is always in order in Japan. Even on the coldest days of winter, you can walk up to any seller, buy a freshly served softcream, and no-one will bat an eyelid. 

Softcream, if you’re wondering, is a Japanized word that refers to what you probably know as soft-serve ice cream. Aside from its name, what sets this type of ice cream apart is that it usually hovers around -5 degrees Celsius. Compared with ice cream that is packed and sold in shops, which generally rests at -18 degrees Celsius, softcream is not actually that cold – making it arguably the best choice for icy dessert options during Tokyo’s chilly February.

Ever since Japan fell in love with softcream in the 1950s, when Nissei introduced this treat to the country, it has been so popular that it can be thought of almost as part and parcel of culture rather than just a sweet way to cool down in the summer heat. The sheer number of softcream cone signs that can be spotted anywhere and at any time across Japan testifies to the significant level at which it has been embraced by the public. 

It’s a Form of Communication

The softcream eating culture in Japan ties this dessert to memories of travel, discovery, friends, family and loved ones. On a recent visit to Nissei, during which TW was able to view the manufacturing process (and sample plenty of tasty flavors), we learned that the company views its softcream as a form of gentle communication. 

“Softcream is often a shared joy”

In fact, it’s apparently uncommon to find a person eating the dessert alone. Instead, softcream is often a shared joy between parents and children, friends and couples – and always has been. 

One of the first types of establishments to serve softcream in Japan was soba shops with televisions – a rarity in the past – where people would gather for a chance to watch TV. The shop owners wondered what to serve after dinner, and softcream just happened to launch at the perfect time to provide the answer to that puzzle. 

There are other ways that softcream establishes connection and communication between couples, says Nissei: trying different flavors and swapping cones halfway or sharing one cone and passing it back and forth can feel almost as intimate as planting a kiss on your Valentine’s lips. 

And if you can’t choose between two flavors? You can always opt for the softcream mix that comes with two flavors in one (for example, vanilla on the right and chocolate on the left), which not only helps you narrow down your choices but results in a new and exciting combination. 

TOP DATE TIP: Wondering where to take your Valentine for a softcream date? Our photoshoot for this article was done at the cute and cozy Chocott Milk Bar inside Grand Tree Musashikosugi department store.

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Portrait photographs by David Jaskiewicz