If you go down to Kuma-chan Onsen today, you’re in for a big surprise…

December 10 this year heralded the arrival of a new hotpot restaurant aimed at solo diners in Shibuya, Tokyo—Hokkaido Menkoi Nabe: Kuma-chan Onsen. Menkoi is a term in the Hokkaido dialect of Japanese that means cute, precious, or beloved. Nabe means hot-pot. Kuma-chan means little bear, and onsen means hot springs. All in all, this might be the coziest title for a restaurant that we’ve ever heard.

We got to take part in the restaurant’s pre-opening press junket, so we can reveal that while Kuma-chan Onsen sounds cozy, looks cozy, and even serves up nourishing and cozy food, the restaurant’s main draw is something seriously depraved. First, allow us to introduce Kuma-chan Onsen’s mascot…Kuma-chan.

▼ Don’t let the rainbow of cuteness fool you.

The first step for a diner in any self-respecting hotpot spot is to select the broth, the tireless backstage worker of the meal. Kuma-chan Onsen has broth made from bonito dashi stock, a soy milk soup, spicy tantan soup like you might serve noodles in, chicken collagen broth, Korean-style gochujang soup, high-quality Junmai Ginjo sake miso broth…as well as a seasonal special broth that changes throughout the year.

▼ Happy little bears basking in broth!

▼ We picked bonito dashi for our stock, plus soy sauce ponzu and white sesame sauce sides for our Hokkaido Menkoi Set. It cost 2,980 yen (US$26.30).

Since Kuma-chan Onsen is a restaurant that serves up soups and stews, its menu is stocked liberally with meats and vegetables, which are served raw and then dipped into the broth for cooking by the diner.

▼ This is what the hot pot meal looks like once it’s been prepared by the diner

To get to that visually pleasing hot pot, however, the diner has to first create the broth, which is where Kuma-chan, the star of the show, steps in. One look into those beady little eyes and you’ll be under the restaurant’s spell for good.

▼ I love you, Kuma-chan!

Kuma-chan is so precious. Personally, we love the little lemon slice accent. It just makes him look that much sweeter, don’t you think? So, anyway, Kuma-chan is only able to maintain his super cute form thanks to a blend of edible fibers and collagen, and if you flick the ignition on the stove provided by the restaurant he will slowly simmer away into nothing.

Yeah, you heard me.

▼ His destiny is to run down like tallow until he’s naught but a soup with eyes.

Okay, calm down. Listen, it’s not all that bad, okay? Just think of it like this—Kuma-chan, who tastes like delicious, dried bonito soup stock, is taking a little dip in the hot springs. As you turn up the heat on the grill, imagine he’s snuggling down into the warm, comfy water.

▼ Let’s make it really nice and toasty for him.

It’s really all in how you frame it. We aren’t mercilessly boiling a tiny critter to death, we’re just…warming up the hot spring for him. Whoever heard of a cold hot spring? Hot springs should be hot.

So you see, when Kuma-chan tips backward into that pleasantly warm water, he’s just…

He’s just enjoying himself. Kuma-chan is just having a nice, long, relaxing soak.

▼ A nice…

▼ Long…

▼ Relaxing…

▼ Soak…

Seriously, it is unreal how much this bear is enjoying these hot springs right now.

He’s so relaxed that he can bear-ly keep his head above the water.

Nothing to see here, just a bear swooning in the springs.

And he most definitely, certainly, positively is not being boiled alive like the Model-101 at the end of Terminator 2: Judgement Day. And, er, sorry for spoiling that movie if you haven’t seen it yet.

If you want to enjoy your meal at Kuma-chan Onsen with a pure heart, you must maintain the mantra in your heart without wavering: Kuma-chan is enjoying a nice, long, relaxing soak in the hot springs. And if, when you look up, Kuma-chan is no longer there…well, he must have gotten out and gone home.

▼ He got out of the hot springs and went home, do you hear me?!

As engaging as it was to watch our little bear friend enjoy his nice, long, relaxing soak in the hot springs we were curious where the idea for such a unique hot pot restaurant came from, so we quizzed the staff on the origins of the store. How come they’d set upon melting bears as their gimmick? What led them to set up shop in Tokyo?

“[Management] initially intended to open this restaurant abroad,” answered the staff.

We could see the logic there. The adorable, kawaii draw of Kuma-chan, mixed with Japanese-style stews, would probably find a natural audience in other countries. So why didn’t the international restaurant idea pan out?

“The COVID-19 pandemic.”

Oh. Right.

“The restaurant in Sapporo was even more successful than intended, though, which is why we’re opening in Tokyo now.”

With most of our questions answered, we had to ask just one more thing—why bears?

“It’d feel vicious if we went with dogs or cats, right? Sometimes bears kill people…”

Ah, so it all comes out! Kuma-chan Onsen actually has a venomous anti-bear agenda. You can’t trust anyone nowadays.

As for the quality of the meal itself, the various ingredients tasted wonderful after simmering in the flavorsome bonito broth. Something we especially appreciated was how the menu is split into stages like an actual trip to the hot springs — you choose your broth, then the meats and veggies that will go inside. The final step is to choose something to top you off after your bath—either ramen, gyoza dumplings, or rice cakes.

▼ We finished our meal with the dumplings. The way they’re served looks like something straight out of a Japanese spa!

All’s well that ends well. Kuma-chan’s old bath water sure made for a tasty broth to stew our food in!

▼ A shot of the broth, smooth and undisturbed after Kuma-chan left it.

▼ Wait…

Oh no

Well, we shouldn’t act too surprised about these crimes against bear-kind. We are the news website that fired a teddy bear into the sky with a rocket, after all.

Restaurant information

Hokkaido Menkoi Nabe Kuma-chan Onsen (Shibuya Miyamasuzaka) / 北海道めんこい鍋 くまちゃん温泉 渋谷宮益坂店
Address: Tokyo-to, Shibuya-ku, Shibuya 1-8-10 2nd floor
東京都渋谷区渋谷1-8-10 2階
Open: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Photos ©SoraNews24
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[ Read in Japanese ]