gelato mythologies

Behind the counter, uniformed servers sling “Japanese-style gelato” – including flavors such as “Hokkaido milk” “Japanese rice”, and “Green tea” – in creme-colored cups with white sakura-blossom print designs. Numerous other design touches in this tiny gelateria within a high-end Shanghai grocery store imply a strong connection of this stand’s products and techniques to Japan. Naturally, this stands in contrast with what Westerners are more used to believing as gelato’s “authentic” (read: Italian) origin story.

Independent of what first comes to the minds of westerners like me when we think of Japan, when placed in the context of a grocery store, my hunch is that the hope is to connect this brand to Japan’s reputation for cleanliness and purity for local Chinese customers. This is particularly true for perceptions of places like Hokkaido, as implied by the sign, from its pastoral and untouched landscapes, to the cows that graze on them, to the milk those cows produce, to the gelato made from said milk. 

Regardless of what the customers of this Shanghai grocery store think of the hypothetical cleanliness of Italy’s milk or the authenticity of gelato that doesn’t come from Italy, it’s unlikely they’d believe that the ingredients used to make this gelato came all the way from Italy, so the narrative of coming from relatively nearby Japan is more plausible. Japan’s reputation for taking things from around the world and raising them to their highest form of quality only adds to this credibility and brand perception. 

Given the choice, would you prefer Italian gelato, or Japanese gelato, and why? How might this retail point look if it were adapted for your local grocery store?

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