Consider this your treasure map to the wonders hiding in Japanese convenience stores’ cooler cases.
With meteorological agencies in Japan declaring the rainy season officially over, it’s time for the sunny days of summer! Of course, the sunny days of summer are also the blisteringly hot days of summer, but they’re alternatively, as those of us who like to look on the bright side would argue, the “ice-cream-tastes-great” days of summer.
But as you duck into an oasis-like convenience stores in search of cooling refreshment, you may run into a downside to the well-stocked shops of Japan: not knowing which brand to pick, especially if you can’t read Japanese. So we partnered with polling website Minna no Koe to create a list of Japan’s best frozen treats. In all, our survey received 5,520 votes, so let’s take a look at the top 10.
10. Gold Line (110 votes)
The name might have you thinking this is one of Japan’s ultra-luxurious desserts that has gold leaf as one of the ingredients, but confectioner Meiji’s Gold Line has a simplicity that belies its fancy name, as it’s good old-fashioned chocolate-covered ice cream on a stick.
9. Lemon Gyunyu Soft (114 votes)
Soft-serve ice cream cones with protective domes, these deserts make use of Tochigi Prefecture’s famous Lemon Milk (“Lemon Gyunyu” in Japanese), which has the aroma of lemons and a slight citrus flavor.
8. Calpis Ice Bar (132 votes)
While the yogurt-like beverage known as Calpis isn’t a dessert in and of itself, it can definitely lend itself to such endeavors. Aside from these sweet and slightly tangy popsicle sticks, Calpis has also been the inspiration for donuts and McDonald’s shakes.
7. Viennetta (220 votes)
Manufacturer Morinaga mixes in Hokkaido-made mascarpone cream cheese and crispy bits of chocolate into vanilla ice cream to make this elegant indulgence.
6. Black Mont Blanc (279 votes)
Literally meaning “Black White Mountain,” the inspiration for this ice cream bar seems to be more the mountain on the French/Italian border than the chestnut-rich dessert of the same name. Especially popular on the southwestern island of Kyushu, Black Mont Blanc consists of vanilla ice cream covered in chocolate, with crumbled up cookie pieces forming the final, outermost layer.
5. Sacre (283 votes)
A cup of shaved ice with a slice of lemon sitting atop it, Sacre is an excellent choice for when you want to cool off without also getting a dose of high-calorie dairy. Just make sure you don’t give yourself a brain freeze.
4. European Sugar Cone (350 votes)
Unlike other items on this list, Kracie’s European Sugar Cones can’t be bought individually, and instead have to be purchased in a box. The downside is that you’ll either need a freezer or a group of ice cream-consuming cohorts so that they don’t go to waste, but on the plus side, the discount you get for buying in bulk means that the cones work out to less than 50 yen (US$0.45) each.
3. Gari Gari-kun (659 votes)
One of the best-kept secrets of the Japanese sweets scene, Gari Gari-kun are popsicles with a thicker outer layer and a core of delicious shaved ice. While the manufacturer, Akaginyugyo, likes to dabble in off-the-wall flavors, it’s hard to beat the mild citrus of the original blue-colored version, and while they’re not quite as cheap as they used to be, they’re still about the most thirst-quenching snack on the planet, and even have mouth-watering alternate uses.
2. Super Cup (1,022 votes)
Super Cup actually refers to a variety of flavors confectioner Meiji sells under the same brand name, with vanilla, chocolate, and matcha green tea being some of the most commonly available. Flavorful without being overpowering, Super Cup ice cream exhibits similar balance in its hardness and portion size, making it an almost universally pleasing option (although even Super Cup’s considerable capabilities have their limit).
1. Choco Monaka Jumbo (1,209 votes)
And finally, sitting on the survey’s icy throne, is Morinaga’s Choko Monaka Jumbo. As the name implies, it’s a filling treat, with a thin wafer covering vanilla ice cream and layers of chocolate, that’s been loved by Japanese people with a sweet tooth for generations.
All of our list’s entries can be found at just about any convenience store in the country. Prices vary by shop, none of them will cost you more than a few hundred yen, making them a low-price way to cope with Japan’s summertime heat, as well as one that’s much safer than some other schemes.
Follow Casey on Twitter, where it’s taking all of his willpower to not run down the street to the convenience store right now.
[ Read in Japanese ]