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Nakamuraken: refuge from summer in a glass of shaved ice

by J.J. O'Donoghue

With months of nothing but sun, Japanese summers can sap your will to live. Be grateful, then, for the arrival of kakigōri (shaved ice). In fact, it’s about the only thing to look forward to between now and November.

Nakamuraken is a cafe beside Kyoto’s Katsura River that sells wagashi (Japanese sweets), and its lineup of kakigōri flavors is as voluminous as the ices themselves: yuzu, sudachi (a dark green citrus), mango, strawberry and, in keeping with Kyoto mores, matcha-flavored creations also feature heavily. The ice is piled into a glass, and one between two should do.

The layout in this 130-year-old machiya (townhouse) is decidedly muddled: There is a shop and a waiting room out front, and the rest of the cafe is a mixture of wide Japanese-style rooms linked to narrow Western-style rooms. At the center there is even a garden.

Each season brings new additions and subtractions to the wagashi menu: yomogi-dango (a gelatinous sweet made from mugwort) and hanami-dango (a rice flour sweet served during cherry-blossom season) have given way to mizuyōhan (a rich green jelly made from adzuki beans). Japanese sweets are an acquired taste, but a good place to start is warabi-mochi (gelatinous sweet made from fern starch, served with soybean flour), which, much like kakigōri, sounds as wonderful as it tastes.

61 Katsura Asaha-cho, Nishikyo-ku, Kyoto; 075-381-2650; www.nakamuraken.co.jp; open Weds.-Mon. 7:30 a.m.-6 p.m.; nearest station Katsura; no smoking; no English spoken; no English menu.