If you ever go to a soft cream stand in Japan, you’ll see the standard flavors: vanilla, chocolate, vanilla + chocolate. But depending on where you are, you might see many more flavors than that.
Some of the flavors seem like common sense to have: strawberry, cherry, banana, orange, even coffee, and a swirl of any of these combined plus vanilla or chocolate. Others of them seem odd, but you want to try them because they’re unusual and kind of cool sounding: flan pudding, lamune, cola, green tea, melon, pumpkin, chestnut, rose, etc.
And then there are those that seem right out. Black sesame? Tofu? Wasabi? Soy sauce? All manners of seafood? What? Are the Japanese intent on being weird?
First, an advice for life: don’t knock it until you try it. Second, in America, everyone is intent on bacon-flavored everything, so the Japanese aren’t just being weird. This is part of their culture.
Many of the most bizarre ice cream flavors you’ll come across is region-oriented. In the Hagi area, for instance, not only will you stumble upon natsumikan-flavored ice cream, but blowfish-flavored ice cream as well. In towns where they pride themselves on their wasabi, they’ll boast the flavor with wasabi ice cream. I first tried black sesame ice cream in Nara, where the flavor could be found at every soft cream stand, and for the record, it’s now my most favorite ice cream in the world. Many of these flavors are easy enough to find in other parts of Japan as well; at Asakusa, for instance, they also have an extensive list of ice cream flavors to include tofu and black sesame.
It’s also a good way to make more money off of tourists, as the weirdest flavors are often located at big tourists sights. What better way to get people traveling from far and wide to spend money than introducing them to something completely outrageous, so outrageous they have to try it? Even locals may balk at the strange flavor before them and then let curiosity overcome them as they fork over the 100, 200, 500 yen for the ice cream cone.
The strange flavors go beyond the soft cream stands, however. Google “Japanese ice cream” or “strange ice cream flavors” and you’ll see that the Japanese take a step further in their supermarkets. Prawn ice cream, squid ice cream, eel ice cream, you name it, they have it. And they must sell moderately well as these aren’t necessarily rarities, either. Apparently, they’re tastier than you think they would be. Unusual, for sure, and nothing like you’ve ever tasted before, but not mazui.
For any traveler to Japan, the surest sign of your adventurous spirit is your willingness to try the strangest ice cream flavor you can find. Don’t be afraid; these flavors have stuck around for a reason, after all. Who knows, maybe like the green tea ice cream, some of these will eventually make their way into the Western world. I hope the black sesame ice cream is next myself.