Japanese Shaved Ice: What is Kakigori & Where To Try It

By Annika Hotta
Updated: March 4, 2024

If you've ever spent a summer in Japan, you know how impossible it feels to stay cool. One refreshing way to beat the sweltering heat is to eat Japanese shaved ice (kakigori), which doubles as a delicious sweet treat.

But what exactly is kakigori, and where did it come from? In this post, we introduce a short and sweet history of kakigori, typical flavors, and where you can get a taste. 

What is kakigori?


Traditionally, Japanese shaved ice is made from a block of pure ice where the restaurant or tea house clerk would literally chip or shave bits of ice from this block until it created a mount inside a deep bowl. They would then top it off with fruit syrups or condensed milk, fresh fruit, adzuki bean paste, and other tasty add-ons.

Can I make kakigori at home?

While there are at-home kakigori machines, it will be difficult to replicate the unique texture of the kakigori you can order at specialty shops. Plus, kakigori shops around Japan will usually use homemade syrups and rare toppings, making it well worth going out in the summer weather. 

That said, we won't stop you from trying. We found this recipe online for those willing to take on the challenge.

A bit of kakigori history


You will find ice treats similar to kakigori in various cultures — you might know of snow cones, halo-halo, or granizada, for exampleAlthough the use of ice in confections has been documented in Persia as far back as 400 BCE, the kakigori is believed to be unique to Japan, namely because of its fluffy texture and consistency that's only possible when you shave ice bits off an ice block.

Kakigori dates back to the Heian Period (794–1185). Then, kakigori was fairly simple, with only a few swirls of syrup atop the ice. And while nowadays kakigori is easy to find, for a long time, it was a cool dessert that was reserved for aristocrats. It wasn't until the 19th century that middle and working-class folks could also enjoy this refreshing treat. 

The first public shaved ice shop is believed to have opened in 1869 in Yokohama, Kanagawa. From then on, kakigori really anchored itself as a Japanese summer food. You'll rarely see a summer matsuri without a kakigori stand, and for many Japanese children, it's one of the things they look forward to the most.

What are some common kakigori flavors?


Kakigori comes in an array of flavors, from strawberry to crême brulée. Here are some common you might find on your trip:

  • Strawberry kakigori
  • Green melon kakigori
  • Uji matcha kakigori
  • Mango kakigori

You can even find combinations of these flavors: uji-kintoki, which uses top-shelf matcha from Uji City, Kyoto Prefecture, and strawberry uji-kintoki, the pink twin. Both versions are usually topped with a dollop of adzuki bean paste. 

For those willing to shell out more money for a gorgeous, photogenic bowl of kakigori, some shops sell original flavors such as cookies and cream, avocado, fig, and more. There are even some fried and alcoholic options if you want a truly unique experience. 

Kakigori is one of those Japanese foods that will see dozens of spins depending on trending flavors. Your options will change from one year to another, so there's plenty of room to play and try.

No matter which flavor you choose, I recommend getting as many toppings as possible. Syrup, condensed milk, fruit, adzuki bean paste, chestnut, mochi, dango — whatever you like! It all adds to the kakigori experience.

When can you eat kakigori in Japan?


While you can get kakigori-like desserts year-round at most convenience stores in Japan, kakigori season is usually between the last week of June and the last week of August, when temperatures are high and festivals are frequent.

Fun fact: Did you know there's a national kakigori day in Japan? July 25 is an unofficial holiday dedicated to Japanese shaved ice because the Japanese word for this particular calendar date (natsu gori) sounds similar to "kakigori." How's that for the perfect excuse to treat yourself to some shaved ice dessert? 

Where to find kakigori in Japan


There are summer festivals and specialty shops all across Japan where you can try kakigori. Look for the kakigori flag (pictured above) — it's the easiest way to find kakigori without needing to ask around. Below are some additional tips and tricks on finding kakigori in Japan.


The capital city of Tokyo is home to kakigori shops that are in their own league in terms of tantalizing flavors and quality. Check out our YouTube video on the best gourmet kakigori or this list of six kakigori shops in Tokyo for specific recommendations.

Nagatoro (Saitama)

Nagatoro is a small town not too far from Chichibu, Saitama. Nature lovers visit Nagatoro for its rapids, but it's also one of the rare places where you can try kakigori made from natural ice — that is, ice cultivated from the nearby freshwater river. Asami Reizou, not too far from Nagagoro Station, offers some of the fluffiest kakigori in town. Their flavor offerings are simply delicious and inspired by traditional wagashi. 

Himuro Shrine: A kakigori shrine in Nara

Nara is said to be one of the best prefectures for kakigori, and there's even a shrine dedicated to it! Check out Himuro Shrine just outside Nara Park, accross the Nara National Museum, where you can pull "invisible" fortunes that can only be read after being pressed onto an ice cube. Between early June and early September, you can purchase pure-ice kakigori to offer the gods. 


We hope this breakdown of Japanese shaved ice was helpful in your quest to beat the summer heat.

Visiting Japan this summer? Satisfy your sweet tooth with a Harajuku sweets tour in one of Tokyo's trendiest neighborhoods.

We strive to be as accurate as possible and keep up with the changing landscape of Japan's food and travel industries. If you spot any inaccuracies, please send a report.
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Annika Hotta
After studying abroad in Shiga prefecture in 2019, Annika moved to Japan in 2021. In her writing, she highlights the best dishes and places to eat in Japan for both the picky and the adventurous.
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