The first time I went to Shirokuma Cafe (Polar Bear’s Cafe) in Tokyo’s Takadanobaba neighborhood, I was shaking. Shirokuma Cafe is one of my favorite shows, and after I learned there was a real cafe, it became my life’s mission to go. I’m happy to report that I went and had the best time ever. So much so, that I immediately went the next day. And the next. And then a couple days after that. My mission of going to the cafe has been replaced with the mission to try everything on the menu — not easy when it changes seasonally. Still, I’ve accomplished trying the main three dishes the cafe has to offer. And more!
The First Time
Shirokuma Cafe is in the trendy Takadanobaba neighborhood and served by the Takadanobaba JR and Fukutoshin Line stops. It comes up on the street suddenly, and its cutesy exterior sticks out like a sore thumb. The first time I saw it, I just stood outside and trembled for a while. I was so scared to go in. The cafe had a lot to live up to.
I go in, and am greeted with ようこそ (welcome!!) from the staff. Just like how Shirokuma greets his patrons! Those little details make the experience, guys. The place was completely empty, and I was told to sit anywhere. God, how do you even choose? In front of the TVs? Next to memorabilia? I chose a seat in front of the seiyuu autographs and mentally flipped out the entire time. My waitress asked, 大丈夫? (are you okay?) and I said “yes” in English before correcting myself. I was so out of it. It was sensory overload. Was that the theme song playing? It was. I couldn’t hear anything else.
She gave me the menu and explained to look at it and then go to the counter when I’m ready to order. I think I looked at it for about 20 minutes before finally having composed myself enough to talk to her at the register. I knew from the start I wanted Shirokuma’s signature dish, and got myself a soda to go along with it. I can’t remember whose soda I picked (they’re all based on characters), I think I just threw my finger at the menu at this point and hoped for the best.
Two coasters (group and Panda) and gawking at the giant Penguin-san and Panda-kun later, I sat back down, spammed my Twitter with all of my emotions, and waited for my food. When it arrived, it was the cutest thing I’ve ever seen! A riceball Shirokuma with chicken, salad, and meatloaf. It was hard to eat something so cute at first, until I realized it tasted phenomenal.
To commemorate my visit, I purchased a Shirokuma plush and some pens and stationery before leaving. I figured I wouldn’t be back, but…
The Second Time
I was. I came back two days later for dinner. The cafe was similarly empty, but I was much more calm having gone through this before. I ordered myself a Panda green tea and Panda’s signature dish, consisting of salad, chicken, egg salad, a macaroni cup, and a Panda riceball. It was delicious.
I also checked out the bathroom for the first time. Do you know that in Japan it’s totally chill to leave your stuff behind unattended? I knew this, but it really hit me when seeing a guy leave his Macbook Pro behind use the restroom. Anyway, the cast watches you pee, which is comforting.
I also got a Shirokuma parfait and scored my first Shirokuma coaster. Nice! By now, I have the group, Shirokuma, Panda, Penguin, and Grizzly. All I need is Llama!
The Third Time
The next day, I visited Shirokuma Cafe for dinner again after an outing with a friend. As they say, third time’s a charm, as this was when the staff started recognizing me. Unfortunately for my self-consciousness, the staff is quite small so I think all of them started to know me. This time, I wasn’t super hungry so I ordered the Shirokuma sandwich instead of going for the last signature dish. I also got Panda’s phenomenal parfait. Coasters acquired: two Penguins and a Panda.
The Fourth Time
My final trip to Shirokuma Cafe was the next morning for brunch before heading to the Ghibli Museum. It was a weekend, and holy cow, the place was packed. The last three times were empty! I sat at a wobbly table for one and ordered Penguin’s signature dish, a rice penguin with fish sticks and dipping sauce. It was pretty good! I also acquired a Panda and a Penguin coaster – no Llama. Funnily enough, that same day I tried my hand at the gachapon machines in the entrance and rolled two of the same Llama pin.
I don’t know that an official verdict is necessary if I went four times, BUT – if you enjoy the anime, you will absolutely love visiting Shirokuma Cafe. If you have never seen it, you’ll probably still like it a lot for the cute animals and delicious food. I’m already dying to go back, and I know that it’ll be my first stop once getting back to Japan. I hope the staff still recognizes me.