When the weather is swelteringly hot, there's nothing more appealing than an ice-cold drink or snack. One of these is kakigōri, a mound of shaved ice that is topped with a sweet, sticky syrup. What makes it different from a snow cone is that the ice is shaved ultra-thin with a plane rather than crushed or pulverized. This results in a very fluffy, airy ice that doesn't clump up but just gently melts as you spoon it into your mouth.
The history of kakigōri goes back about 1,000 years to the Heian Period. A dish made of ice that is finely shaved down with a sharp blade and served with a sweet tree or flower syrup is recorded in "Makura no Soshi (The Pillow Book)" by Sei Shonagon, who was a lady of the imperial court in the early part of the 11th century. But this refreshing snack was available only to the very rich, since ice was such a rare commodity in the summer. It didn't reach the general public until the Meiji Restoration in the 1860s and 1870s, when transportation links from the cities to the places where ice could be harvested got a lot better. Places called hyōsui-ten, or ice water stores, popped up in the summer months to serve this refreshingly icy snack.