The inspiration people seek: Much like Japan’s low-priced sweets, for people now in their 40s up through their 60s that spent their childhoods during the “Golden Age” of cream soda, there’s a strong chance that “nostalgic” will be the first thing you’ll hear when they talk about the drink, and strangely enough, this sentiment is something that younger generations share as well. For this older generation that were children back then, the image most of them hold of cream soda is of “the good kid’s reward” they could only get from their parents on sunny days while on family trips to department stores, amusement parks or restaurants at tourist locales. Maybe the memories and childhood “trauma” from not being able to get it whenever you wanted are still fresh in their minds, because now that they’re adults, they often seem to have a slightly abashed look while they drink it at kissatens or pretend to buy it for their own kids but take it all themselves instead.
For younger generations that only know of such times as “background info,” it’s thought that the reason they still share the nostalgic feel for cream soda lies in a time when everything about American culture was fascinating to the Japanese people. Of course, this wasn’t unique to Japan; it was an age when places all over the world were drawn to things from the United States’ “good ole days” of the 1950s and 1960s, and everything from the other side of the pond seemed incredible. Over time, the things from this age became commonplace (or even Japanized) in modern Japan and thus lost their luster, and the visual appeal and colors associated with cream soda became a way to look back into a bygone era in Japan’s modern society.
“Cream soda” has a completely different meaning for those that frequent the streets of Harajuku, by the way.
In short: Cream soda as it’s known in Japan is a standard item on a kissaten menu and simply a glass of soda with a dollop of ice cream on top. Cream soda as it’s known overseas is usually cola or root beer soda with vanilla flavoring, and Japan’s “cream soda” is known called “ice cream soda” or “ice cream float.” The soda flavors used in Japan’s cream soda are primarily the “melon” (green) mentioned above, “lemon” (yellow-colored), “strawberry” (color between red and pink) and even a blue-colored soda. Unlike iced coffee, ever since cream soda first spread throughout Japan, many stores have kept it on the menu regardless of the season. It’s also rarely served at home.
Some background: The first soda fountain establishment in Japan creating and serving carbonated drinks and ice cream was set up inside a Shiseido pharmacy in Tokyo’s Ginza district in 1902 (Meiji 35). The first fans of this new beverage were geishas from Shimbashi that would stop by to purchase skin lotion at the pharmacy (a free bottle of skin lotion was given for ordering a glass of soda). Eventually, “ice cream soda” (its original naming was still used at the time) became a hugely popular feature product of the Ginza area and the Shiseido Ice Cream Parlour (the Shiseido Parlour today) was bustling with people. The surrounding restaurants and kissatens would eventually offer the drink as well and its popularity spread further. Read more It’s thought that the drink became a popular item enjoyed nationally—along with iced coffee, napolitan and other Western-derived cuisine—after Showa 20 (1945) when kissatens began popping up in towns everywhere. As there’s no way to track when the “ice” was dropped from the original “ice cream soda” name, it remains unknown.
Thanks to Sabouru (Coffee shop Sabor)