A small act of kindness from the cafe’s member of staff still warms our reporter’s heart when she thinks about it.

While they aren’t commonly recognised outside of Europe, Moomins, Finland’s hippo-like fairy characters, are hugely popular here in Japan, with Moomin theme parks and Moomin-shaped traditional Japanese sweets. Then of course, there are the Moomin Cafés. The cafés are a great place for fans of the series to get some Scandinavian-style bread and soup with their favourite Moomin character (in stuffed toy form).

So when our resident Moomin fan Mariko Ohanabatake heard the news that both Tokyo branches of Moomin Café would be closing down in February 2023, she was understandably a little sad. The first Moomin Café opened way back in 2003, in the LaQua sauna area of Tokyo Dome, and was something of a pioneer for collaboration cafés. The first Moomin Cafés were run by Benelic, who are also in charge of Donguri Kyowakoku, the company responsible for Studio Ghibli merchandising.

Mariko has visited the LaQua branch several times, but something quite special happened to her on one visit in particular that she has held in her heart ever since. So she decided to share her story as a way of saying ‘goodbye, and thank you‘.

The story takes place around seven or eight years ago, when Mariko was working as an editorial producer for a ‘black company‘; a company with a toxic working culture. For Mariko, it involved being yelled at a lot, having her social insurance withheld, and working overnight was considered to be perfectly normal. After one such all-nighter, Mariko found herself in the LaQua sauna the next morning, taking a quick nap. As she awoke, she was filled with an overwhelming feeling of dread for the day ahead, and decided to get some breakfast at the nearby Moomin Café.

Even though she was there for some breakfast, the café was already half full. The other customers were happy, smiling groups taking pictures with Moomin stuffed toys and enjoying their morning. On the other hand, here was Mariko, wearing yesterday’s clothes and feeling utterly spent. She had come to the café to cheer herself up, but the fact that she was standing out like a sore thumb made her feel even worse, and she began to regret her decision to come.

But just then, a waitress came over to Mariko’s table with something in her arms. “Would you like to sit with Stinky?” she asked, seemingly feeling concerned that Mariko was there alone.

This wasn’t a reference to Mariko’s dishevelled appearance; rather, the waitress was holding a stuffed toy of the character from the Moomin series called Stinky.

▼ The rather unfortunately named Stinky

As Stinky sat next to Mariko, looking at her with that mischievous grin on its face, more and more members of the Moomin family were brought to her table. She even got to sit with Storkmaiden and Snufkin, which any Moomin fan worth their salt will know is a big deal.

To be able to sit and eat with so many Moomin characters is a dream come true for any Moomin fan, and as she sat surrounded by stuffed toys, Mariko could feel the envious stares from her fellow customers, which was a little embarrassing. But nonetheless, she was incredibly touched by the consideration shown by the café’s staff.

At that time, Mariko really felt like she’d somehow wandered into Moomin Valley and was surrounded by the delicious food prepared by Moominmamma. Although the staff were probably just doing their job and taking care of a customer who had come to the café alone, their kind actions had a great impact on Mariko, and she felt emotionally healed. Even thinking back on that day now, it warms her heart.

Although it’s a shame that the Moomin Café is closing, it isn’t goodbye forever. From February 2023, a new company will step in and develop Moomin-themed shops and cafés, so while Mariko is sad to see the current Moomin cafés, where she made such a special memory, close down, she has high hopes for what will come next.

Fingers crossed that the new Moomin Cafe will continue the same level of kindness as the previous one did.

Photos ©SoraNews24
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