Gion Koishi — Kakigori, summer time treat in Gion

Gion Koishi — Kakigori (shaved ice) in Gion (祇園小石)
Hard to believe that ‘shaved ice’ could be elegant and sophisticated, so Kyoto!

Gion Koishi - preview

Gion Koshi, ameya (candy shop) is surely the best known place in Gion, and probably Kyoto for kakigori (shaved ice). Shaved ice in Japan actually has a very long history, dating back more than a thousand years to a the Heian period, which incidentally, is when Kyoto, then called Heian-kyo (平安京), was founded.

Gion Koshi is famed for it’s Wagamamagori, being a very luxurious kakigori. Gion Koshi’s most famous is kokuto (literally black sugar), select from Okinawa.

Yes, kakigori, even though it is a summer staple of convenience stores, festival night stands and other lowbrow venues has it’s roots in the Heian period as a very extravagant summer treat enjoyed by the imperial court.

Kyoto, situated in a basin, 78% surrounded by mountains, is stifling in summer. Imperial ice was produced and preserved in Yagi-cho, a days journey from then ‘Heian-kyo’.

Sei Shonagon (清少納言) mentions this delight in her diary, The Pillow Book (枕草子) a thousand years ago.

Ice was shaved in a steel apparatus, and was called kezurihi (削り氷). Kezurihi was flavored with a sweetener derived from, perhaps a vine, scholars are not certain. This sweetener itself was a very precious item, often administered as medicine.

A thousand years ago, kezurihi must have been quite a summer treat, indeed!

Modern-day kakigori was invented in bustling port of Yokohama in 1869 and the ice shaving machines became a common sight throughout Japan by the 1920’s.

Mise (店)
Gion Koishi, while being the premier destination for kakigori and parfait in Gion and Kyoto now only has a history of some 70 years. It started out as an ameya (candy store), Japanese style candy, of course. These are hard, sweet candies in natural and seasonal flavors. Gion Koishi’s kokutomitsu (黒糖蜜), a syrup derived from the traditional Japanese ‘black sugar’, is surely it’s signature product. There are some great images on this webpage of kokutomitsu production. Gion Koishi uses only select kokuto from Okinawa. It is selected in Okinawa but blended here in Kyoto.

This famed kokutomitsu can be purchased to take home and is used on some of Gion Koishi’s most famed desserts. Kokutomitsu would make a great omiyage (お土産) gift to take back home. Gion Koishi’s kokutomitsu ought to go very, very well on vanilla ice cream. Of course the hard candies are light weight and travel well.

The sit down area of the restaurant is a bit of a disappointment, the interior is a rather crude, cheap and dimly lit space, not at all in keeping with the culinary delights available.

Dishes and Tastes
I visited Gion Koishi twice in the last few weeks and had kakigori both times.

By the way, kakigori is a summer time dessert. Gion Koishi serves it until the end of September. Ducking in on a hot summer day for some exquisitely flavored shaved ice, is a great way to get refreshed! Gion Koishi serves winter oriented dishes as well, that we will review later when Kyoto is sufficiently bone chillingly cold.

On to the signature dishes — Wagamama kakigori. Wagamama in modern Japanese means ‘selfish’ and is usually used negatively. Here it implies a splurge and spoiling yourself a bit with these lavish shaved ice creations.

Wagamama kakigori features a bed of kanten (寒天) jelly cubes in three natural flavors, mochi, and some azuki paste, on top of this is the shaved ice. Amongst the shaved ice are some whole, sweet azuki beans and on the very top is a candied Japanese chestnut.

The shaved ice is then flavored with a generous dousing of sweetened Uji green tea or rich milk and kokuto syrup.

These are eaten with a spoon and the hidden, bite-sized treasures inside are revealed little by little.

Another staple of Gion Koishi are the parfaits. Japanese styled parfaits are extremely popular with Japanese women. The parfaits feature the same repertoire of ingredients (kanten jelly, mochi, azuki), plus rich ice cream and slices of seasonal fresh fruit, all topped with whipped cream. Gion Koishi’s parfaits are excellent and well worth a try!

Wagamamagori Kokuto Miruku (わがまま氷黒糖ミルク)
Gion Koishi Kokuto Milk Kakigori

Wagamamagori Kokuto Miruku (わがまま氷黒糖ミルク)
Gion Koishi Kokuto Milk Kakigori

Wagamamagori Uji (わがまま氷の宇治)
Gion Koishi ----- Kakigori

Wagamamagori Uji (わがまま氷の宇治)Gion Koishi ----- Kakigori

Maccha Parfait (抹茶パフェ)
Gion Koishi kakigori

Gion Koishi Storefront Showcase
Gion Koishi (Kakigori

Gion Koishi Storefront Showcase detail, the ubiquitous ‘plastic food’ on displayGion Koishi (Kakigori

Gion Koishi take away goodies – hard candiesGion Koishi

Gion Koishi take away goodies – Gion Koishi’s famed ‘kokutomitsu‘ (black sugar syrup)Gion Koishi

Gion Koishi Storefront
Gion Koishi (Kakigori

Gion Koishi second floor art exhibition:
Gion Koishi gallery exhibition
This exhibition is a real treat. It is about 30 traditional Japanese woodblock prints of the storefronts of old and famous traditional shops (老舗, shinese) in Kyoto. On the left is an umbrella shop and on the right a fan shop.

menu: Gion Koshi has an English menu (with weird English)
staff: staff is friendly and seems to speak a little English
website: Gion Koishi’s website is very beautiful, lots of great images. (Japanese language only) It even contains ‘knowledges‘.
map: while just a ‘map’ this image shows the care often put into making something simple beautiful

Gion Koishi is another popular tourist destination and is also very popular with local residents as well. (Often places popular with tourists are scorned by locals.)

This is another destination in Gion that will not bankrupt you and where you can enjoy fine Kyoto desserts. Plan on spending about 800 to 1000 yen for a dessert.

Gion Koishi is on the north side of Shijo Street (四条通り) about a 1 minute walk from the gate of Yasaka Shrine (八坂神社) and Maruyama Park (丸山公園). Definitely worth a visit if you are in the neighborhood or you are interested in some popular Japanese desserts.

5 Responses to “Gion Koishi — Kakigori, summer time treat in Gion”

  1. CC says:

    Was there about 1 month ago, didn’t try their “cold” dessert coz it is too “cold” that day. Only had their sweet “red bean” soup with fried “sticky pastry”. Too sweet for me. Their candy is ok but not very special. The cashier is very friendly though. Will have to come back for the shaved ice.

  2. PekoPeko says:

    Hi CC,
    Yes, the Japanese sweets for winter, those based on azuki beans are an acquired taste, I believe.

  3. […] today at the Kyoto Imperial Palace (Sento Gosho). (For more about ice and summer treats see the Gion Koishi ‘Shaved Ice’ […]

  4. Deb says:

    My friend in Kyoto took me to Koishi for a matcha parfait, and it was wonderful. The best matcha ice cream I had ever tasted.

  5. Emi says:

    I was there last weekend. I had shaved ice and warabi mochi. It was great. We had to wait 20-30min. outside, but it was worth it 🙂

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