Everyone loves ice cream. While chocolate and vanilla remain in our hearts this sweet, delicious snack comes in all flavors to satisfy everyone. The first Japanese people to try ice cream were likely the samurai who visited America in 1860. When they came back to Japan, they brought the method of ice cream making back with them, and only in 1869 Japan produced its first ice cream in Yokohama. The soft serve was sold at 25 yen per serving which was at that time a luxury most people couldn’t afford. By 1902 ice cream had fallen to 1 yen and became increasingly popular as more people could afford it. Ice cream has to include more than the standard chocolate and vanilla. Unique ice cream flavors have become a novelty and a good reason to travel across the country. So we’ll introduce some of the most unique ice cream flavors you can only find in Japan.
1. Golden Ice Cream (Kinpaku)
People in Kanazawa love ice cream, and the prefecture is known to produce a lot of it. The most popular flavor by far is the golden ice cream flavor. More of a decoration than a flavoring, the locals call it kinpaku in Japanese which means golden leaf. The gold leaf started as a symbol back in 1583 and has remained a part of the city’s heritage to this day. You can find golden ice cream in popular tourist areas in Kanazawa like the Kenrokuen Garden and Kanazawa Castle.
Where to find it: Hakuichi, Kanazawa (Ishikawa)
2. Miso Ice Cream
Nagano Prefecture is known to produce the most miso out of all the prefectures in Japan. The company Marukome Miso is headquartered in Nagano city, and with the help of small-scale miso makers, together they produce 40% of Japan’s supply of miso. The Suyakame shop in Nagano city has been making miso for over 100 years in their traditional brewery. You can try delicious miso soup and some famous miso soft serve for dessert. Don’t be shy, the saltiness of miso perfectly matches with the sweetness of ice cream with a flavor closely resembling salty caramel or peanut butter.
Where to find it: Suyakame, Zenkoji (Nagano)
3. Lavender Ice Cream
You wouldn’t think lavender would make for a good ice cream flavor but people love visiting Hokkaido in the summer for this unique flavor. Farm Tomita is the largest lavender farm in Japan, and from spring to autumn over 1 million tourists (!) come and visit the farm for its beautiful flower sights. With one bite of the light purple soft serve, the lavender flavor expands in your mouth and is the perfect taste to define your summer.
Where to find it: Farm Tomita, Nakafurano, Hokkaido
4. Wasabi Ice Cream
Wasabi is typically found on sushi as a topping and packs a powerful peppery punch. The wasabi farm in Azumino in Nagano created this unique green dessert using the wasabi peas off their farm. The sharp flavor might not seem like the perfect ice cream flavor but the unique mix of tart and sweet attracts visitors from all over the country!
Where to find it: Daio Wasabi Farm, Azumino (Nagano)
5. Hojicha Ice Cream
A bit more commonly found across the country hojicha is a tea flavor similar to matcha. It’s a dark roasted tea, reddish in color, and has an earthy flavor. The roasting process is uniquely Japanese and you likely tried some at your local izakaya. Over the years it’s recently become a popular flavor due to its subtly sweet flavor.
Where to find it: Morinoen, Ningyocho (Tokyo)
6. Soy Sauce Ice Cream
Soy sauce is a common flavoring in Japanese cuisine. The flavor is so popular that of course, you’d be able to find it as an ice cream flavor. There are several locations where you can try soy sauce ice cream, but Ando Jozo in Kakunodate is said to be the birthplace of it.
It might sound like an unlikely combination but some soy sauce ice cream’s flavor is closer to caramel than traditional soy sauce.
Where to find it: Ando Jozomoto Kitaura Honkan, Kakunodate (Akita)
7. Sweet Potato Ice Cream
Japanese people love sweet potatoes and around the autumn season, you’ll be able to find sweet potato flavoring everywhere. Known as satsumaimo in Japanese, the subtly sweet flavorings of this soft serve is a perfect treat to enjoy while viewing the autumn foliage. Kawagoe is most famous for its local sweet potatoes, so as your exploring the city be sure to pick up your own serving.
Where to find it: Kasho Umon, Kawagoe (Saitama)
8. Sesame Ice Cream
Sesame seeds are a common topping used throughout Japan. Locals use it to top their rice, as a vegetable seasoning, and even salad dressing. As an ice cream flavor, the earthly taste is perfect for the Japanese palette that tends to avoid overly sweet treats.
In Sugamo, you can find a small sesame shop in the Jizo Shotengai selling sesame ice cream. You can choose from the white sesame flavor and black sesame flavor. Toasted sesame on top of the vanilla ice cream is enjoyable.
Where to find it: Gomahukudo, Sugamo (Tokyo)
9. Soba Ice Cream
The Togakushi Area in Nagano is a famous place for soba noodles.
Soba restaurant Niomonya in that area is said to create soba ice cream originally before the soba flavored ice cream spread throughout Japan.
The savory taste combined with sweetness is the perfect example of the subtlety of Japanese flavoring.
Where to find it: Niomonya, Togakushi area (Nagano)
10. Shirasu Ice Cream
Found exclusively on Enoshima island in Kanagawa, shirasu ice cream is known as a local delicacy. Shirasu are young sardine eels that might not look too appealing at first. But it’s definitely an interesting thing to try while you’re on vacation. Enoshima is a popular daytrip located about an hour south from Tokyo by train. A good place to alternate the concrete jungle with a more local spot where you can enjoy some ice cream with a relaxed beach vibe.
Where to find it: Kitasan Chaya, Enoshima (Kanagawa)
Japan Wonder Travel Tours
If you want to know more about the unique flavors of Japan, join our food and drink tours in Tokyo, Osaka or Kyoto. On these tours you will visit some popular places in each respective city and try some of the local food and drinks.
Japan has lots of unique and interesting treats to try. Although snacks like wagashi and candies are the first thing people think to try, ice cream is a delicious treat that’ll help you create memories of your trip. Vanilla and chocolate are long-time favorites among ice cream lovers, these unique flavors of ice cream will surely leave you with a story to tell. So next time you’re traveling be sure to stop by a local restaurant to try their own special ice cream flavor.
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Jamila Brown is a five-year resident of Japan, teaching in the day and writing at night. She enjoys movies, reading, cosplaying, and eating good food in her downtime.
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