Let's start from the top and work our way down Japan! Northern Japan, Hokkaido and the Tohoku region, is the coldest part of the country, but it still gets warm in the summer. And thanks to famously high-quality dairy coming out of Hokkaido, the area makes some great refreshing treats.
Hokkaido: Melon and Lavender Ice Cream
- Hokkaido might be known for dairy, but the island's lush fields are good for more than grazing cattle. The region is famous for its melon, and there's no better way to enjoy Hokkaido's bounty than this luxe soft-serve nestled right in a small cantaloupe half! Both the ice cream and the melon melted in our mouths. We found this at Popura Farm, in Furano, where it was a little expensive, but totally worth it.
Akita: Rose-Shaped "Babahera" Ice Cream
- This ice cream is an Akita street food specialty! The name, "babahera" (ババヘラ) ice cream, comes from a nickname for older women in Japanese, "baba", and the spatulas they use to spread the ice cream, "hera." These baba set up on the sidewalk and use their hera to make adorably rose-shaped cones. This one is strawberry and banana flavored!
▶ Find Akita cuisine right in Tokyo, too, at the Namahage Izakaya!
Yamagata: Rice and Cherry Ice Cream
- Again we find ice cream made with local agricultural specialties, as Japan loves to do. Yamagata produces a fairly famous variety of rice in Japan, called Tsuyahime, so of course you'll find Tsuyahime soft serve there! The sweet ice cream has a bit of a savory rice grain undertone, and it's supposed to taste 100x more delicious if you dig in while soaking your feet in the footbath at Tendo Onsen!
Yamagata's Tendo City is also known for great cherries, so you'll find some cherry ice cream at the Ohsyo Fruit Farm (王将果樹園).
Next we'll be moving a little farther south, to the eastern Kanto region of Japan. Between the big city of Tokyo and the more rural surroundings, the area has plenty to offer!
Tokyo: Cookie Dough... and Ice Cream
Kawagoe: Purple Sweet Potato Ice Cream
Chiba: Loquat Ice Cream
Nasu: Simple Milk Ice Cream
- Nasu, in Tochigi Prefecture, is another place famous for high-quality dairy in Japan. The simple ice cream you'll find there has a light milk-centric flavor, and a decadent creaminess.
Western & Central Japan
Shizuoka: Green Tea Ice Cream
- Green tea ice cream seems like a staple of Japanese sweets these days, but when you want the good stuff, head to Shizuoka. The region grows close to half of Japan's green tea, and the green tea ice cream comes in different levels of flavor-intensity! However sweet or strong you like your green tea ice cream, you'll find the perfect cone here.
Osaka: Loooooong Ice Cream
- This soft serve is piled high, which means that unfortunately, you'll sometimes find it splattered on the nearby streets of Osaka's Amerikamura area. Make sure you don't drop yours too!
Nagano: Wasabi and Mocha Ice Cream
- Nagano is a region of strong flavors, the first of which is none other than wasabi! That's right, spice up your day with a dollop of the green stuff in your ice cream. It lends the dessert an intriguing kick.
Kyoto: Tofu Ice Cream
Kanazawa: Gold Leaf Ice Cream
Shodoshima: Olive and Soy Sauce Ice Cream
- That's right, your eyes aren't fooling you, this is a cone of olive-flavored ice cream. Shodoshima Island is home to a famous olive orchard, where they produce artisan olive products, including this very ice cream!
Aside from that orchard, Shodoshima is also famous for its soy sauce, so keep an eye out for the soy sauce ice cream as well! Of course it's not exactly salty, but it has a subtle soy flavor that's a bit addictive.
▶ In the region you'll find all sorts of good food, from rooftile soba to rakkyo pickles.
Last but not least, we find ourselves in Southern Japan, on the island of Kyushu and far south in Okinawa. With the warmer weather down south, it's the perfect region to get frozen treats any time of the year!
Okinawa: Blue Seal Ice Cream
- This local ice cream chain goes by the slogan "Born in America, Raised in Okinawa," and locals say that if you're visiting Okinawa, you should have at least one Blue Seal ice cream a day! The shops sell over 100 different flavors, and some of the most popular ones are Okinawan specialties: sweet potato and shio chinsuko. The latter, shio chinsuko, refers to a salty variety of local chinsuko cookies, making it kind of a delicious Okinawan cookies and cream.
▶ Okinawa has its own distinct island culture, beautiful beaches, and great weather. You'll never want to leave!
Kagoshima: Shirokuma Shaved Ice
- Our final treat isn't actually ice cream at all, but Kagoshima's shirokuma kakigori, or polar bear shaved ice! Shaved ice is a traditional summer treat in Japan, but this cute take on it gives the dessert a little bear's face. This particular kakigori has become so popular that you'll find it all over Japan now, but the best place to try it is of course the shaved ice specialty shop that created it, in Kagoshima!
▶ It's one of a few spots we recommend you see on Japan's island of Kyushu.
The Ice Cream of Japan
If you're anything like us, after seeing all this amazing ice cream all around Japan, you can't choose just one. So the more relevant question is: which do you want to try first?
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