Kumanote Cafe

Amid growing mental health awareness globally, Japan has taken steps to encourage increased attentiveness to the emotional well-being of individuals

For instance, the TELL non-profit organisation holds a step-up challenge annually from September to October, to commemorate both World Suicide Prevention Day and World Mental Health Day. In 2021, the goal was for participants to clock steps equivalent to the number of Japanese people who took their own lives in 2020.

Joining the national mental health movement is Kumanote Cafe, an initiative in Osaka that aims to provide those in a poor mental state with therapy and a comfortable work environment.

Inclusive work policy

Kumanote Cafe first opened its doors – or in this case, walls – in September 2021. The cafe is run by Mental Support General School, which runs courses for those who aspire to be a counsellor and also offers therapy. The cafe derives its name from “kuma no te” (bear paw), which is fitting as their staff’s uniform incorporates a bear paw glove.

Kumanote Cafe - cafe exterior
Exterior of Kumanote Cafe.
Image adapted from: @cyuyume3

The cafe started out as a safe space for those who are currently undergoing therapy to work and earn a living without triggering any of their past trauma, for them to heal and slowly re-acclimate to society. However, those unaffiliated with the Mental Support General School are also free to apply for a part-time job there

Instead of a formal interview, job applicants have casual heart-to-heart talks with the shop manager, Yasuko Kawaida, who wishes to understand their current struggles. It is, after all, Kumanote Cafe’s purpose to help emotionally scarred individuals come to terms with their struggles.

Kumanote Cafe - shop manager Yasuko Kawaida
Cafe manager Yasuko Kawaida listening to a job applicant’s main anxiety.
Image adapted from: 関西テレビNEWS

Kumanote Cafe’s menu items include Bear Paw Parfait (¥980, ~USD6.81), Kind Bear Cookie (¥450, ~USD3.13), and Brown Bear Plushie (¥480, ~USD3.34). You can view the full menu via the official Instagram page.

Kumanote Cafe - collage of food items
(Left to right) Bear Paw Parfait, Kind Bear Cookie, and Brown Bear Plushie.
Image adapted from: @kumanote_cafe.osaka, @kumanote_cafe.osaka, and @kumanote_cafe.osaka

Since most of the staff members experience great social anxiety, they put on a bear paw and serve customers from behind a wall.  This cuts out face-to-face or skin-to-skin contact with customers, which could be a source of stress for the staff. These individuals who seek a safe space often find themselves smiling at the encouragement and laughter they hear from customers.

Kumanote Cafe - petting a bear paw
A customer receiving their order and petting the bear paw.
Image credit: @harupanda8

You can catch a wholesome moment of a staff member at Kumanote Cafe interacting with a customer here.

Customers’ reviews

Overcome with moe (萌え; spontaneous affection for something or someone because of their cuteness in the moment), visitors to the cafe have documented their experience there on social media platforms.

Some, perhaps still overwhelmed by the encounter, focused on describing nothing else but the bear paw’s cuteness.

Kumanote Cafe - customer review gushing about a bear paw's cuteness
“I went to Kumanote Cafe! Bear-san was really cute!”
Image adapted from: @35anninn102

Others gushed about being served by a bear paw for the first time, and how they are already looking forward to going back to try other food items.

Kumanote Cafe - customer review first time at the cafe and tried mixed juice
“I visited Kumanote Cafe. It was my first time there, so I was extremely excited. Just as my heart palpitated, an adorable bear paw served me my mixed juice. I want to try the parfait next time.
Image adapted from: @kiki4uu

There were also customers who wrote about how they felt comforted by the bear paw’s handshake and raved about the parfait.

Kumanote Cafe - customer review saying the bear handshake was very healing

“I also dropped by Kumanote Cafe. Bear-san’s paw was fluffy and cute. And they also gave me a very healing handshake~ The parfait was delicious, too.
Image adapted from: @io__iori

Getting to Kumanote Cafe

Kumanote Cafe is a 2-minute walk from Osaka Uehommachi Station. You can find a visual guide on the cafe’s official instagram page.

Just like how Rome was not built in a day, mental health conditions can’t be treated in a snap of a finger. But every step counts. Drop by the cafe to interact with the furry servers and contribute to breaking down their walls, emotionally, of course. Who knows, someday, you might be able to give them a hug in place of a simple handshake.

Kumanote Cafe - bear paw and hand forming a heart
Image credit: @kumanote_cafe.osaka

Address: 5 Chome-3-11 Uehonmachinishi, Chuo Ward, 542-0062 Osaka
Opening hours: Wed-Thurs & Sun 11am-6.30pm (Closed on Mondays and Tuesdays) | Fri & Sat 11am-7.30pm
Contact: 8093-95-4579 | Kumanote Cafe website

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Cover image adapted from: @cyuyume3, @harupanda8, @kumanote_cafe.osaka

Article written by Eunice Ng; additional reporting by Nicole Wee.

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