Teddy Bear Hot Pot Will Melt Your Heart

Hot pot is one of the most popular ways to enjoy food in Asia, regardless of the season. In Japan alone, Just One Cookbook lists at least 15 different ways to make hot pot including shabu shabu, nabeyaki, sukiyaki, and nabemono. But of the different types of hot pot, few are as striking — nor as Instagrammable — as the personalized hot pots available at Kumachan Onsen.

"Kumachan", which means little bear, and "onsen" which is Japanese for hot springs, is –as its name suggests — a hot pot restaurant that features a bear enjoying the benefits of a hot spring. Except that the bear becomes the broth that your meal is cooked in.

As with all hot pot restaurants, guests to Kumachan Onsen are invited to begin the meal by selecting a broth, and then deciding on the fillings that will go into the hot pot. But unlike most restaurants, which serve steaming containers of hot broth, you're given a teddy bear sitting in a shallow bath.

Kumachan Onsen's teddies turn into broth

Kumachan Onsen's teddies come in seven flavors including miso, soy milk, chicken, and tuna, as well as one that changes every season, per The Smart Local. They're all made with collagen so they can hold their shape, but these adorable brothy bears don't stay that way for long. Once they start their baths in warm water, the bears slowly begin to transform into steaming hot cooking liquid which is then used to poach your meat and veg. In case you're worried about watching a cute bear meet its end in a boiling pot of broth, diners have said the bear literally looks as if he is sinking into a comfy bath at a hot spring. 

Staff at Kumachan Onsen tell SoraNews24 that the restaurant's owner had originally planned to open his first space outside Japan, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he decided to stay at home instead. The restaurant opened its first restaurant in the northern Japanese city of Sapporo in Hokkaido in 2021, before making its way to Tokyo. The restaurant's second branch is currently located in the fashionable Shibuya district.

Kumachan Onsen bears are part of kawaii culture

While it might feel a bit macabre to watch a teddy bear disintegrate before your very eyes, its all par for the course to find delectable donuts shaped like irresistible forest creatures, rich cream puffs that look like Hayao Miyazaki's Totoro, as well as savory dishes shaped like stationery character Cinnamoroll everywhere in Japan. These are popular thanks to the country's embrace of kawaii or "cute" culture, which is typified by cartoonish looking characters with small bodies, large heads, huge eyes, and a button nose. 

While Kumachan Onsen hasn't expanded overseas yet, it is possible to enjoy a similarly-styled teddy bear hot pot dish in New York. The flavored broth bear you find at Xiang Hot Pot, isn't made with collagen, but instead shaped with mala soup stock and butter. If spicy hot pot isn't your thing but enjoying kawaii culture at a cafe could be, you'd probably enjoy a meal at one of two Hello Kitty cafés, which celebrates the most popular kawaii character of all.