Anyone who has spend any time in Akita can attest to the Babahera ice cream stalls on every street corner. And by stalls, I mean “bright yellow and red striped umbrellas.” They are called babahera. They are smiling old women in bright yellow and red aprons, with a yellow head scarf, a huge smile, and a large vat of ice cream in front of them.
Akita is famous for Babahera ice cream.
Which, you know, strikes me as ironic because most of the year Akita is unbearably cold (not as much snow as Aomori prefecture, but definitely enough snow to bury a not-so-small car if the owners go on vacation for too long).
Nonetheless, as soon as the snow has melted, you will find these ladies on most street corners peddling their strawberry and bannana flavored ice cream. The ice cream is famous for the old ladies who sell it, the rich flavors, and the fact each lady is carefully trained in the art of scooping ice cream into the exact shape of a rose.
Seriously. The babahera ice cream is gorgeously shaped into a perfect rose. It’s almost a shame to eat it…
Why the name “Baba hera”?
Glad you asked! The name baba hera is derived from the Japanese words baba / ババ (nickname for old women or grandmothers) and hera / ヘラ (the ice cream scoop).
What does the babahera ice cream look like?
The babahera ice cream looks like a rose in a wafer cone.
Why is it only old women selling the babahera ice cream?
For the same reason it is only old men who are taxi drivers, security guards, or traffic assistants, only old women are babahera ice cream scoopers. It’s just the way of life. I had a teacher who claimed this was a sort of social welfare in Japan – assigning jobs specifically to old men or women to make sure they still had money after retirement.
Ryosuke pointed out a couple advertisements in the newspaper (and an Akita magazine) for job postings for old women. The babahera “company” provides your apron, head scarf, umbrella, and vat of ice cream. Each old lady makes 800yen an hour (about $9) regardless of how much they sell.
Sometimes you see them on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, just chilling underneath their umbrella. Don’t feel sad. They enjoy the breeze, get to sit down, and are still making far more than the cashiers at a convenience store. I have a milk allergy, so I’ve only ever eaten a bite of my friend’s babahera ice cream – but I still make a point to say “hi” to the ladies.
Next time you’re in Akita for the summer (perhaps escaping the horrible humidity of the Tokyo / Osaka summers), try some babahera ice cream! You won’t be disappointed.
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