By Tiffany Quarry
Back in 1945, a little book called The Moomins and the Great Flood by Tove Jansson was published in Finland. Now, seventy-five years later, the Moomins are beloved characters that have gained popularity around the world. Adoration for the characters can be found right here in Fukushima Prefecture: in the Isobe area of Soma City, you can find a beautiful European-style house that’s home to a Moomin-themed cafe called Domani.
Some tables even had giant Moomin stuffed animals sitting in chairs, so customers could eat with the Moomins.
I visited Cafe Domani on a sunny Sunday afternoon. After rounding the final curve along the road there, I was met with the sight of the beautiful house surrounded by a massive garden. After parking on the side of the house in the designated gravel parking lot, I walked down the garden path leading to the cafe. Nestled in the middle of the garden was an outdoor table with bench seating and some vibrant hand-picked flowers in bowls of water. Walking in through the door of the cafe, I came to the genkan entryway (where customers remove their shoes), and Moomin characters everywhere!
Owners Noboru and Mitsuko Kawai instantly greeted me with cheery smiles and invited me to sit anywhere that was open. The cafe is small and it was pretty busy, so I took a seat at the large table in the middle of the space. While looking through their lunch menu, I was brought a Moomin cup for my water and was shown where the Moomin pitcher was to refill it. When it came time to order, I decided on trying the Moomin sandwich and the dessert・drink set. Mitsuko cautioned me that the dessert of the day was a chocolate gateau cake and wanted to make sure I was okay with that—of course I laughed and said “YES!”
While waiting for the food to be brought out to me, I sat, taking it all in. I could see Moomin-themed items in every direction—from the curtains to the table, and everywhere in between. Some tables even had giant Moomin stuffed animals sitting in chairs, so customers could eat with the Moomins. There were so many little details that I’m sure I will notice something new when I visit again.
After a few minutes’ wait, the dessert was brought out: a small wooden tray held a decadent-looking slice of chocolate gateau topped with cookies and fruit. Naturally, the dessert was garnished with a Moomin character. Shortly after, the hot sandwich was served. The bread was toasted with the imprints of Moomin and Little My. After letting the sandwich cool for a few moments, I dug in. The inside was filled with sausage, ham, egg, mayonnaise, cheese, and vegetables. All of the food was exceptionally delicious, and honestly the gateau cake was one of the best I’ve had since moving to Japan. It was creamy— almost like fudge—and oh so chocolaty.
Unlike the licensed Moomin Cafe chain shops that can be found in metropolises like Helsinki and Tokyo, this Moomin-themed cafe is an independent labor of love created by dedicated fans. Once Noboru had some time, I was able to sit down and speak with him about the cafe. I learned that the cafe houses more than five hundred Moomin items! Also, some fun facts: “domani” means “tomorrow” in Italian, and the Kawais’ favorite characters are Little My and Snufkin. Mitsuko has loved the Moomins ever since watching the show as a child.
Cafe Domani opened in January 2013, and the story behind it is one filled with sadness and love. The Isobe area had been devastated by the 2011 tsunami, during which time Mitsuko’s father was hospitalized. She bought a single Moomin stuffed animal for her father and brought it to him. When he passed away, she kept the stuffed animal. The Kawais gradually kept buying items, until eventually Mitsuko decided to give up her life as a housewife and open the cafe. Shortly after, her husband left his job as an elementary school teacher to assist her.
Nowadays, the Kawais have a successful and usually quite busy cafe. Noboru says that people from all over Japan come to visit Domani. The weekends are their busiest time because people take a weekend drive to come and visit. They have been able to meet many different Moomin fans in the time their cafe has been open, and hope to meet many more. So, if you have a free day and some time to take a short trip, I recommend having lunch with the adorable Moomins at Cafe Domani.
Hours: 11:00–16:00 (last order 15:15)
Closed days: Monday, Tuesday
Language: Simple English OK (The menu is in Japanese only, but includes photos.)
Phone number: 0244-26-8234
Official website: bb.soma.or.jp/~kawai-n/
Address: 256 Nakadai, Kashiwazaki, Soma City, Fukushima Prefecture (〒976-0034 福島県相馬市柏崎字中台２５６)
Access: 13 minutes by bus from Soma Station, followed by a 10-minute walk. At the Soma Eigyosho (相馬営業所) 170 meters from Soma Station, board bus bound for Isobe・Tatemae (磯部・館前). Alight at Kashiwazaki (柏崎) bus stop. Bus route map here, timetables here.