Solo dining is an under-appreciated art in most parts of the world, but an innovative Japanese hot pot restaurant in Tokyo has decided to set its sights on parties of one. The creative new eatery, called Hokkaido Menkoi Nabe Kuma-chan Onsen, first opened its doors in December 2021 to serve up some hot pot. Even though hot pot is a dish that’s traditionally shared, this restaurant offers single-serving sizes—and that isn’t the only thing that make this cozy little spot so unique. What really sets the place apart is its quirky bear-themed decor and its adorable mascot, Kuma-chan.
In Japanese, Kuma-chan means little bear. And if you’re already imagining the most kawaii place you can think of, then the restaurant’s name will most likely complete that image for you. In the Hokkaido dialect of Japanese, the word menkoi means cute. Nabe is the Japanese word for hot pot, and onsen means hot springs. But don’t be fooled—there’s actually a rather sinister darkness lurking just beneath the bright kawaii aesthetic.
The most important part of any hot pot is choosing a flavor for the broth. And at Kuma-chan Onsen, once you pick your flavor, you’ll be joined by none other than Kuma-chan. The adorable little bear will be your dining companion for the duration of the meal as he takes a nice, relaxing dip in the “hot springs.” Never mind that the toasty spring is actually your bowl. Or the fact that as the heat from the stove brings the water to a low and steady boil, little by little the precious Kuma-chan will slowly dissolve into nothing.
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Yep, that’s right. Kuma-chan is actually a part of your meal. The lovable bear, made up of a blend of edible fibers and collagen, forms the delicious broth base for the hot pot. Why bears, you ask? “It’d feel vicious if we went with dogs or cats, right?” reasons the Japanese restaurant's staff. “Sometimes bears kill people…” And, well, that seems to sum it up. It's pretty solid logic to back up a rather clever concept. And judging by the restaurant's success, bears seem to make for pretty good broth.
Kuma-chan Onsen's menu has a variety of flavors to pick from, including a seasonal special that changes throughout the year. And the broth you choose determines the color of your Kuma-chan, which could range anywhere from a subtle white to bright green or blue. After that, you can select your other ingredients to cook in the broth, including different meats and vegetables. They also give you a choice between dumplings, ramen, or Korean Tteok-bokki to finish it off.
If you can ignore the fact that you’re boiling poor Kuma-chan alive, then the whole meal is actually just as visually pleasing as it is tasty. In fact, it probably makes things easier if you just lean into the whole “hot springs” storyline. That’s right, Kuma-chan is really enjoying that long, relaxing soak. The adorable bear is enjoying it so much that he decided to dip his shoulders in, then his neck, and now his head. Yeah, that’s it. He’s just enjoying the hot springs. Why did you never see him pop his head back up? He probably just slipped out while you weren’t looking.
This new Japanese hot pot restaurant in Tokyo is aimed at solo diners and has a cute mascot named Kuma-chan—Japanese for “little bear.”
The only downside is that the adorable bear is actually a part of the meal.
Or maybe he's just enjoying a nice, relaxing dip in the hot springs.
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