That’s right, you can eat a polar bear in Japan. But before you start freaking out about animal cruelty or endangered species, we are actually talking about the funky dessert in picture above, not the big furry mammal. Meet the shirokuma or polar bear, a delicious treat of shaved ice, sweet milk syrup and fruit from Kagoshima.

Shirokuma have been a popular treat going back more than 50 years. The exact origins of the dessert are unknown, but there are two popular stories. In one, a fabric store began selling kakigori, a kind of Japanese snow cone, as a side business. They used a sweetened condensed milk as a syrup that had a polar bear on the label, so they named the treat after it.

In the other origin story, a coffee shop called Mujyaki in the popular Tenmonkan shopping arcade was the first to sell shirokuma. They used fruit and colored agar jellies to make a bear’s face, upping the standard kakigori’s cuteness factor.

In fact, Mujyaki is still doing a brisk business in shirokuma and many tourists and locals alike stop in to satisfy their sweet tooth.

▼The shop actually covers several floors, with the ground floor serving shirokuma (and Chinese food, for some reason).


Even on a fairly chilly, rainy midafternoon, the shop was bustling with lots of single diners and couples. The menu includes a whopping 15 varieties of shirokuma, largely slight variations on the standard that use a different flavor syrup or have an extra topping. Many are available in two sizes, regular for two people or “baby” for one. A regular will run you about 800 yen (US$7.35), a baby about 500 yen. We opted for baby sizes of a standard shirokuma and a chocolate version.

▼ A shirokuma, not looking at all like a polar bear.


▼This is the baby size. More than enough brain-freeze to go around.


▼A chocolate version, with chocolate syrup, marshmallows, and frosted flakes instead of fruit.


We were not brave enough to try the shochu version, which features a syrup made from the local shochu liquor, potato chips, edamame and peanuts…


Both are very tasty and the fact that the main ingredients are fruit and ice makes you feel like it’s not such an unhealthy snack. Some of the ingredients, like the agar cubes and some kind of sweet white bean, are unusual for the Western palate, but they add a nice element of surprise to the dish. On a hot day, it would certainly be a fantastic way to cool down. Though splitting a baby size would have been just enough for me. Sharing two baby sizes left us brain-frozen and a little sugared-out.

▼ Outside, there are lots of polar bear-themed stuff for photo ops.


▼  Including this slightly creepy display.


All in all, it was a fun tourist experience, so we recommend stopping in to try a real shirokuma if you are in the neighborhood. And then you can tell your friends you ate a polar bear in Japan.

Shop Info
5-8, Sennichi-cho, Kagoshima City
open daily
Source: RocketNews24
Photos: RocketNews24, Mujyaki (interior and shochu version)