Thursday, August 16, 2007

They Scream for Ice Cream

It's been in the mid to high 90's for the past week or so in Tokyo. I guess this is par for the course in August but it never ceases to be an uncomfortable and frustrating experience, particularly when it never cools down at night but remains hot around the clock. This is the sort of weather which causes problems the likes of which I never experienced back home in the summer because things worked differently.

For one thing, water comes out of the tap warm. In fact, it is so warm that washing lettuce in it for salad produces a warm, limp salad unless you toss the leaves back into the fridge to get them cold again. It also causes showers to be almost unbearably hot at the lowest heat setting because the water is entering the heating unit at a warm temperature. Unfortunately, the water isn't quite warm enough to comfortably shower without heating so your options are a painfully cold or a painfully hot shower. Usually I need to sit under the air conditioner at the lowest setting for about 20 minutes to cool down when I take the time to wash my hair as that much exposure to such hot water warms me so much.

This is the sort of weather in which people flock to ice cream shops. In our area, there's only one, Baskin Robbins (known in Japan as "31"). My husband and I go there about once a month in the summer and once every several months during other seasons. The ice cream is very good compared to other offerings in Japan but quite pricey. Most Japanese ice cream tends to be "ice milk" and made with relatively cheap ingredients. Some of it can be pretty good (Morinaga makes a mean vanilla ice cream sandwich but it's hard to find) but, in general, it's rather disappointing though I can't honestly claim to be a Japanese ice cream connoisseur.

A few days ago, my husband was in the mood to take a little sojourn to Baskin Robbins so we hopped on our bikes and braved the sweltering heat. The counter at Baskin Robbins had a parade of little snowmen with surfboards pasted all over it as part of a new promotion for "King plus Kids" scoops. This is a large scoop sold with a much smaller scoop on top of it. I don't believe the point of this is to gobble down copious amounts of ice cream but rather to allow one to enjoy their favorite ice cream in a large scoop size and to sample another flavor in a much smaller size.

If you look at the flavors on the brochure I've scanned in (click to see a legible large size), you can see a lot of the usual flavors from the U.S. have made the transition to Japan but there are some odd ones that you probably won't find back home like matcha (green tea), "musk melon" (cantaloupe) and dainagon azuki (chock full of sweetened red beans). I also would be surprised to find things like "31 love" (lime-colored mint ice cream with lemon marshmallows) and "sweet mariage" (sic) (Chardonnay ice cream with apricot and cherry). I also wonder if the "mango coconapple" is a temporary addition meant to pander to the current mango consumption fad making the rounds in Japan.

Anyway, we picked up a pint each of "chopped chocolate" and caramel ribbon but it was a less than pleasant experience because Baskin Robbins is a magnet for screaming children. It was sufficiently unpleasant that we preferred the 95 degree heat outside to the cool cacophony on the inside while we waited for them to prepare our pints. If you haven't been to Baskin Robbins, they laboriously pack the cartons and weigh them meticulously and that can take a bit of time. I had to wonder if the children carried on so much because of ice cream induced excitement or because high volume clamoring is associated with getting what they want from reluctant parents.

1 comment:

Miko said...

School hols, screaming kids everywhere ... and I'm *soooo* lucky, I get to work with them every evening too (our juku kids are cramming all the way through the summer, so no break for me).

We have one of those 31 places nearby, and there's always a line of people, even on weekdays and even in winter. Variety ice cream has caught on big time in Japan. But the funny thing is, if you ask the average Japanese person her or his favourite flavour, at least seven out of ten will reply "vanilla" and the other three will say "matcha." Very mysterious!