A unique cafe based in Uehonmachi City, Osaka became a social media hit and has been attracting a lot of attention, especially among young people.
Located near the Uehommachi Station, Osaka, Kumanote Cafe (くまの手カフェ (Bear Paw Cafe) was opened in September 2021 to provide a supportive working environment for people suffering from various mental health conditions.
It’s run by Mental Support, an academy that has been providing mental health help and counseling to struggling individuals for 12 years. Jobs at the cafe offer a low-stress working environment and help those trying to reintegrate into society.
The cafe is a room with only two openings in a concrete wall, one on the left for making orders and payments, and the other on the right for receiving.
When your order is ready, it is served by a big cuddly bear sticking its hand through the wall. A variety of drinks and aesthetically pleasing parfaits are available, all delivered via a bear paw through the hole.
In addition to being a fun, whimsical way to get your morning coffee, the business model also addresses a number of social issues.
Since face-to-face contact is a stress trigger for many of their clients, Mental Health decided to open a café where staff does not have to see or be seen by customers.
Staff members use fluffy bear gloves to hand out drinks and sweets through the small opening in the wall, which solves the problem of skin-to-skin contact, making it a true introvert's paradise.
Six staff members are listed on the cafe's website. One has been diagnosed with depression for five years and is under rehabilitation. Two others suffer from hypersensitivity. Another experiences adjustment disorders, while a different colleague withdraws. The last staff member is a mother whose son has a learning disability and whose daughter has a personality disorder.
The cafe is now taking in more part-time staff who similarly struggle with their mental health so as to assist them in earning a livelihood and in their recovery.
The school's graduates often serve as counselors and provide support for the students. In general, part-time employment lasts around six months. Meanwhile, more than 20 people are currently on a waiting list for a job opening.
The ultimate goal of the cafe is to teach the employees, who are also patients, to be self-sustaining and take care of their own mental health needs by using the opportunities to hone their skills available through school and shop work.
In a talk to the media, the founder, Yuichiro Hiramura, who runs the mental health and counseling school, noted that many of his students felt isolated during the pandemic. They had trouble finding jobs that provided enough support for their mental health and did not demand close contact, he explained.
Mental Health Issues In Japan
The Japanese government developed workplace guidelines for mental health in 2000.
The government has been promoting measures such as mandatory stress checks, but surveys have shown that smaller establishments are lagging behind in their efforts.
During a survey conducted by the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare in 2020, 54.2% of employees reported severe stress and anxiety at work, and 9.2% of businesses reported that some employees took a month or more off due to mental health issues.
The study shows that mental illness is no longer rare in Japan, as more than 10% of the population suffers from depression at some point during their lifetimes.
The ongoing pandemic appears to have affected people's mental health as well.
Japan Productivity Center (Tokyo) researchers conducted a survey from July to September 2021 that involved human resource managers of 144 companies nationwide. They discovered that about 40% of those companies had reported that Coronavirus negatively affected employee mental health.
According to a representative of the Japan Productivity Center, while online work and remote work are rational and efficient, they make it difficult to read facial expressions and changes in people’s reactions.
He said a reduction in real-time communication could lead to employee isolation, so people should take off their masks when talking online and take time to chit-chat in meetings.
A study conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found that depression rates in Japan have more than doubled since the pandemic spread. Western countries have also experienced a two-to-three-fold increase since the pandemic, and the OECD is urging more effective prevention methods.
If you are looking for help with depression or other mental health issues, TELL Lifeline 03-5774-0992 (English Support)- Depression is a real health issue that can be treated and It’s always OK to ask for help.
Author: Shaun Fernando