With Japan sweltering through the hottest summer on record, Hitoshi Saito’s kaki-gori (ice scraping) machine has been going almost non-stop. But instead of topping off the bowls of ice shavings with strawberry or lemon-lime syrup for a tasty treat, Saito squirts in some shampoo and then dumps the concoction onto the heads of his customers.

For the past six years the Hair Station Saito barber shop in Yokohama has been helping customers beat the heat with snow cones for the noggin.

“Cool shampoo options have been around for a long time, but as far as I can tell, I’m the first barber to start using a kaki-gori machine,” Saito said as he cranked the handle of this machine, sending flakes of thinly sliced ice into the bowl waiting below.

His service has been especially welcomed this year. The Meteorological Agency reported on September 1 that the average temperature in Japan during the June-August period was the hottest since the keeping of records started in 1898. With the mercury rising into record territory, residents of Yokohama have lined up to have Saito massage menthol shampoo and shaved ice into their scalps.

“This service has been a big hit and the number of customers tends to increase along with the temperature outside,” he said.

It’s not surprisng that shaved-ice shampoos originated in Yokohama. This port city was an early base for foreign trade and served as a conduit through which many western influences first entered Japan. Yokohama was home to the nation’s first ever western-style barber shop and was the first city to introduce ice-making technologies.

This year Saito added “soft ice cream” and “cocktail” versions to his menu of cold shampoo treatments. He has also been experimenting with a powdered green tea over ice version that he hopes to debut in the summer of 2011.

The service has been so popular that some people stop by just to have their heads chilled. Saito laments that a few customers seem to have forgotten he also offers shaves and hair cuts.

For those unable to make the journey out to Yokohama for a refreshing shaved-ice shampoo, Saito knows a simple, do-it-yourself method that can closely replicate his service.

“You can always just stick a bottle of shampoo in the fridge,” he said.

Jim Hawe

Jim Hawe

I am a freelance writer and journalist based in Tokyo. In my free time I like to play the drums and read manga until they kick me out of the convenience store. I am also on a quest to find the best cup of ice coffee in Tokyo (any suggestions?).