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With the heat of Japanese summer rising, travel consultant Anna, found the most delicious way to stay cool. As with many things, ice cream is a little bit different in Japan – step aside vanilla, there’s some new flavours in town.
Ice cream in Japan
Food is undoubtedly one of the reasons people travel to Japan. Having been designated a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage, foodie culture in Japan is unique, seasonal, and a source of pride for every region in the country. But as temperatures soar into the high 30s, okonomiyaki over a hot teppanyaki plate isn’t top of everyone’s list right now. How about an ice cream?
1. Lavender ice cream – Furano, Hokkaido
Hokkaido: home to the Sapporo Snow Festival, world-class powder snow, fresh seafood and… lavender? Japan’s northernmost island is known for winter-related images, but in the summer the icy landscapes become awash with colour.
The area of Furano is most famous for lavender fields. Best viewed in July, no summer trip to Hokkaido is complete without a ride on the lavender bus and a taste of that floral-flavoured dessert.
2. Salt ice cream – Hakata-jima, Ehime (Shimanami Kaido)
One of Japan’s (and the world’s) best cycling routes, the Shimanami Kaido stretches between Imabari in Shikoku and Onomichi on Honshu. This series of 6 bridges spanning 6 islands over 70km is a picturesque ride over the Seto Inland Sea. To fuel your journey, try the local salt ice cream on Hakatajima.
While you’re on your bike stop off at Oshima’s Rose Garden for rose-flavoured ice cream, and local mikan (orange) and lemon flavours between Ehime and Hiroshima.
3. Gold leaf ice cream – Kanazawa, Ishikawa
If you’re anything like me, sightseeing in a hot country results in a tomato-like face and regular breaks to drape cool towels around your neck; it’s not the prettiest picture. Shops in Kanazawa have come up with a way to cool down and still feel fancy – vanilla soft serve ice cream wrapped in edible gold leaf. Although the gold leaf has no taste, it is believed to promote perennial youth and long life (as well as brief respite from the heat). Not bad for £6.
4. Sake ice cream – Takayama, Gifu
Looking around shops in the traditional merchants’ quarters in Takayama, observant tourists will notice the sugidama, or balls of cedar branches, hanging above some doors: this indicates sake. When the ball is green the sake has just been made, and as soon as the ball turns brown it is ready to be consumed! It took me a good year to “learn” to like sake (lots of studying at izakaya – Japanese pubs – was involved).
For those of you who aren’t sure about “Japanese Water”, I highly recommend the ice cream variety. It doesn’t get much better than strolling through Takayama’s little streets with sake-flavoured ice cream.
5. Something weird and wonderful – Ame-mura, Osaka
Every once in a while, weird and wonderful food trends come out of Japan; particularly in young, hip centres of cities, like Harajuku in Tokyo and Amerika-mura in Osaka. I’m talking about giant rainbow candy floss, gourmet popcorn, and créme brûlée… In Osaka I wanted a little bit of the action.
A brief glance at Instagram and Pinterest took me to Ame-mura for the most decadent ice cream I’d ever seen. A local magazine interviewed the owners of the tiny Poppin’ Sweeties shop while I was there – this colourful trend may be here to stay!