1. Chavaty, tea ice cream
    Photo: Chavaty
  2. Chavatay
    Photo: Chavaty

9 Japanese ice cream flavours you need to try

Swap your vanilla ice cream with these unique Japanese flavours: matcha, sesame, sake and more

Youka Nagase
Emma Steen
Written by
Youka Nagase
&
Emma Steen
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Tokyo has its fair share of quality gelato shops, with flavours ranging from classic chocolate to salted caramel, but let’s face it – you can find those flavours in any other city. Trade your run-of-the-mill ice cream and soft-serve for something more exotic and Japan-specific, like sakura, roasted green tea or ume plum. You might even discover a new favourite flavour.

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  • Restaurants
  • Harajuku

Chavaty operates as a tea shop serving classic treats like scones, but the store also serves delectable tea-flavoured ice cream (¥480) that are worth stopping by for when exploring the backstreets of Omotesando. Hojicha, or roasted green tea, has an earthy, toasty richness that makes it perfect for desserts, especially in the summer. To ensure that its soft-serve has the same depth of flavour year-round, Chavaty sources its tea leaves from different prefectures across Japan according to season.  

  • Restaurants
  • Ice-cream parlours
  • Ebisu

Hailed from Okinawa, Blue Seal originally opened as an American-style ice cream parlour to serve soldiers at the military base, but it now offers a lot more familiar Japanese flavours. While you can’t go wrong with the classic neapolitan, chocolate mint or chocolate banana ice cream, we recommend trying one of its unique Okinawan flavours. The refreshing shikuwasa (Okinawa’s native citrus) sherbert in particular has a sweet and sour tanginess that’s perfect on a hot day.

The other Okinawan special flavours are Ryukyu royal milk tea made with black tea from Nago city in Okinawa, and sugar cane. The chinsuko (Okinawan salt cookie) is Blue Seal’s take on the classic cookies and cream, except it's a vanilla ice cream with bits of crushed chinsuko.

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  • Restaurants
  • Ice-cream parlours
  • Ebisu

Ouca in Ebisu specialises in Japanese flavoured ice cream. The showcase is stocked with around a dozen house-made gelato, which are served with a piece of Japanese wafer and a side of salted kombu flakes.

While many of the flavours are seasonal, kinako (roasted soybean flour) with black honey is a staple. Other regular flavours include milk, matcha, azuki, karinto (sweet deep fried Japanese crackers), black sugar hojicha and black sesame. Not to worry if you can’t decide on one – you can choose up to three flavours per cup.

Mentaiko
Photo: Tokyo Tarako Spaghetti

Mentaiko

Tokyo Tarako Spaghetti specialises in cod roe pasta, but noodles aren’t the only cod roe dish served here. The restaurant has recently introduced a mentaiko ice cream at its Shibuya and Harajuku outlets that goes for ¥308. The creamy vanilla base has bits of salty mentaiko mixed in, adding a spicy, savoury punch to an otherwise sweet dessert.  

 

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Soba
Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

Soba

Maruyama Gelato started out as a small shop in front of Sapporo City Maruyama Zoo in Hokkaido, but it has since branched out to two other locations within the prefecture and another one in Tokyo. Maruyama prides itself on using top quality milk from Hokkaido together with seasonal ingredients. The classic milk gelato is a crowd pleaser but you’ll find plenty of unique flavours here including a soba (buckwheat) gelato as well as other popular Japanese flavours like matcha, yomogi (Japanese mugwort) and hojicha.

  • Shopping
  • Chocolate and sweets
  • Shibuya

At Nanaya, you can choose from seven different green tea ice creams, each with a different concentration of potent matcha. The most popular order is number seven, the scoop with the highest grade and intensity of matcha. If you’re a sweet tooth, choose a lighter colour; the deeper the shade of green, the more bitter the matcha flavour. Otherwise, get a combination of two to compare.

Apart from matcha, Nanaya also serves other tea-flavoured ice creams such as hojicha and sencha (infused green tea); there’s also chestnut in autumn. Prices range from ¥380 to ¥730, depending on the matcha’s level of intensity.

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  • Restaurants
  • Cafés
  • Asakusa

Sorry kids, these boozy scoops are only for the over-20s. Sakeice in Asakusa specialises in ice cream flavoured with the quintessential Japanese tipple. There are two types of sake ice cream here, one of which changes seasonally, but they are all made with rice alcohol from the acclaimed Otokoyama brewery in Hokkaido, which relies on natural spring water for its sake.

The level of alcohol in each scoop (¥500) probably isn’t enough to get you tipsy, but the subtle sweetness of the rice brew compliments the creamy texture of the ice cream, making for a perfect frozen treat. For youngsters, however, the shop offers classic strawberry and vanilla, which are non-alcoholic.

  • Restaurants
  • Ice-cream parlours
  • Shibuya

Shiroichi’s cones are something to marvel at. These soft serves are unusually long and thin, so you’ll want to devour yours quickly before it melts or topples over. That’s not hard to do, though – the fresh milk frozen treat is utterly irresistible.

Shiroichi’s ice cream stands out from the rest as the store doesn’t boil the milk to make the sweet treat. Instead, fresh milk from Hokkaido is used to make ‘raw’ ice cream so that the rich dairy flavours are enhanced. Cones are ¥440 and for an extra ¥50, you can get a topping of organic black honey.

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  • Restaurants
  • Cafés
  • Nakameguro

Vegans usually get stuck with sorbet when it comes to finding dairy-free ice cream. That isn’t the case at Premarché Gelateria, where, on top of fruity sorbets, the store also serves vegan gelato that’s so creamy you’d never believe it’s completely milk-free.

Japanese varieties here range from shiso sorbet to roasted sweet potato gelato, but the tartness of the refreshing kishu nanko ume (Japanese plum) makes it especially popular in the summertime. Pick one flavour for ¥600 or two for ¥700.

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