It is not weird at all to have kakigori (shaved ice) in Japan in December, no matter how weird it might sound. Firmly believing in the former statement, I traveled to a hidden gem in a neighborhood in Tokyo far away from the crowded city center. It was so cold I didn’t even want to open my mouth to talk after getting off the car. Walking for about five minutes, I arrived at one of my favorite hidden gems in Japan. It is a small wooden room sandwiched in between private houses. It’s a room, wooden, with no door or whatsoever, but if you walk past the wooden door there is another small room behind, and you will find the owner there. I was quite early that day, kakigori wasn’t served yet. So he asked me to wait in the wooden room, and he turned on all the heaters inside the room.
Apart from kakigori, this store also sources sweet potatoes from all over Japan, and grill them to order. Japan probably has some of the sweetest sweet potatoes, so they are often eaten as snack or dessert. The owner stores his sweet potatoes at the entrance, in buckets. He places small blackboards beside each bucket with handwritings carefully explaining the location, the texture, and the sweetness of each produce.
We had our sweet potatoes first while waiting for the kakigori. They were very good indeed. The owner grills all of the sweet potatoes and makes all of the kakigori by himself. This might once again sound weird in many cultures, but in Japan, there is craftsmanship in almost everything. Even the basic grilling sweet potatoes and making kakigori can be so different if one puts creativity and care to the process of making them.
Kakigori is initially just a big round chunk of ice. A special machine in Japan is used to shave the ice into flakes, so it literally becomes shaved ice. This machine is normally manual, which a person has to constantly turn the wheel on the side to shave the ice flakes into the bowl. Ice flakes then form a small mountain like shape inside the bowl. After that, according to the shop or the flavor, different toppings or sweetener would be added in layers and on top of a kakigori. Due to the facts that ingredients are relatively simple, kakigori masters in Japan will try to control all ingreidents to be at their most ideal conditions to create a dreamy and delicious bowl of ice. There are many Japanese who are crazy about kakigori and would travel long distances to small towns in the middle of nowhere in Japan just for a bowl of highly rated kakigori. Yes, that is the allure of Japanese craftsmanship.
The kakigori at this joint is probably some of the best ones in Tokyo. The ice had great texture, and the topping (seasonal grilled sweet potatoes and milk) was sandwiched between layers. Pink salt and homemade caramel were placed on the side in case one wants to elevate the flavor. That’s a kakigori I find worth eating in the freezing weather in Tokyo. The water used to make kakigori ice at this small shop is said to come from the mountain area in Japan to reach the pureness the owner desires. Kakigori involves ice and toppings. A good kakigori would ensure that every bite you eat would consist of ice and topping, so no single bite is pure ice. That involves the design of layering and shapes. The flavor can also be very creative, from conventional matcha to sweet rice wine, to berry cheesecake or fruit juice just to name a few. In Japan, these kakigori craftsmen do not seek expansion but would rather stick to the one thing they do and try to bring the best out of that. It always struck me when I think about that somewhere in the world; there is someone taking these little details so seriously. It feels almost like respect not only for the things he/she makes but also to the time and his/her life spent on making such things.
The owner was probably afraid that we might get lost in the neighborhood, so he left all his local customers and sweet potatoes behind and walked us back to the main road and the car, and waited until we drove away. He stood there wearing a short sleeved T-shirt that he wears because it was hot in front the grill. He stood there and became smaller and smaller until we don’t see him anymore.
The metamorphose of your life: Now you are familiar with the Japanese desert kakigori. Sometimes people who work with ice when it’s freezing outside turn out to be very warm-hearted. Truly, this is what we should all be aiming for any time of the year. Dear reader, try to live your ordinary life seriously and enthusiastically. Life is not always exciting, but there is beauty everywhere. Don’t find life boring and just feel depressed, try to find the beauty of the ice even if it’s freezingly cold and all you dream of is for it to melt.