JOURNAL / JAPAN etc.(English)

Food of Japan: Learn and Enjoy

MITSUBACHI since 1805

Series ― Time-Honored Shops - Japan’s Hidden Treasures by Mr. Shoku-iku, Yukio Hattori


A scoop of Mitsubachi’s signature azuki ice cream tops Ogura Anmitsu (¥600), a classic mix of matcha - flavored Turkish delight, kanten agar, stewed apricots, banana slices, and smooth azuki paste, all drizzled with sweet kuromitsu syrup.

text by Michiko Watanabe / photographs by Toshio Sugiura

I have fond memories of going to Mitsubachi as a youngboy with my mother, and the taste of their dark cane syrup—not too cloying, not too sweet—remains afavorite. Fourth-generation proprietor Yuko Shimada relates the tale of how her great-grandparents created azuki-bean ice cream, one of the shop’s signature treats.

Sweet Early Memories

When we opened in 1909 the shop was called Shimada-ya, after our family name. Our specialty then was shaved ice, still a popular summer item today. We heap a generous mound of ice chips into a bowl and pack it down with simmered azuki beans—their natural sweetness is enough to flavor the ice without any syrup. Many customers stop by annually just to escape the heat with this clean cool taste.

Our azuki ice cream dates back to 1915. Daily temperatures were low that summer, and shaved ice wasn’t selling. Not wanting their simmered beans to go to waste, my great-grandparents packed ice and salt around the jars to keep them from spoiling. The outer edges of the preserves began to freeze, and when they tried it they liked what they tasted. This gave them the idea to put the beans in a new-fangled ice-cream machine they had just acquired. 

Using only azuki beans, sugar, salt, water, and not an ounce of dairy, they wound up with a smooth, rich frozen confection and a recipe that hasn’t changed to this day.

It was my grandparents who changed the shop name from Shimada-ya to Mitsubachi (Honeybee). As the story goes, in the early years after World War II they saw bees gathering pollen from wild aster flowers that had sprung up amid the burnt-out expanse of the city. It was their wish that customers, too, would soon return to enjoy the shop’s offerings just as those bees came to gather the flowers’ sweet pollen.

At the storefront window, passersby can pick up ice cream, honey-grilled muffins filled with bean paste, and Ogura Anmitsu to go.

Fourth-generation proprietor Yuko Shimada.

Another popular menu item is Ogura Anmitsu. We serve ours with a small dollop of sieved koshian bean paste that’s prepared daily. Those who want to really enjoy the flavor of azuki beans order Ogura Kanoko—azuki ice cream topped with simmered beans.

The shop’s many offerings bring a steady stream of regulars.

Simmered beans make a wholesome and mildly sweet topping for azuki-bean ice cream (¥530) in the dish known as Ogura Kanoko. During the summer the same topping garnishes heaping bowls of shaved ice (¥630).

Our kuromitsu syrup is an all-natural reduction of Okinawan brown cane sugar, salt, and refined sugar. Customers enjoy it drizzled over ice cream or poured over rice cakes dusted with kinako soy flour.

Most traditional sweet shops serve small individual portions of kuromitsu syrup, but Mitsubachi generously provides a pitcher at each table. 

The dark cane syrup, sold in a 500-ml. jar for ¥900, can be used in place of honey; it’s excellent on toast or blended into yogurt.

And we enjoy it when they tell us it tastes just like what they remember from the old days!

Yushima 3-38-10, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo
Open daily from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. (Seating from 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.)
One minute on foot from Tokyo Metro Yushima Station.