A sensation only just now gracing our United States shorelines, cat cafes have been widely popular in Japan for many years. The world’s first cafe actually opened in Taiwan in 1998, but the concept was quickly adopted by the feline-loving, pet-deprived, Japanese culture. Because of its popularity, the idea is commonly attributed to the latter (After all, they even have entire islands dedicated to the fuzz balls (a must on our return bucket list)!
Thus, upon deciding to go to Japan, first on my list of activities was a visit to a cat cafe or two.
The premise is simple: pay a cover to enter the establishment and play with, pet, snuggle, or just admire (read: photograph) the cats for your allotted time block. Some cafes additionally offer food and drink; some require you purchase a minimum in addition to the entry fee. Many also have cat treats for sale. Catnip mice and feather fishing toys abound, and the furry creatures are all too eager to have you entertain them. It’s wonderfully therapeutic, and for some, it’s their only means of getting a little furball healing.
We visited two cat cafes while in Japan, and I was surprised to find them vastly different.
The first was Cat Cafe Asakusa-Nekoen, a small room on the sixth floor, within view of Tokyo Tower and with the feel of a personally-owned business. This one was all about their 18 cats – no food or beverage – and the proprietor spoke English very well. Most of the visitors likewise spoke English, and we passed the time petting kitties and chatting with two gals from just north of Sydney. I set my lens case down on a chair, and Rin-chan was quick to fall in love with it; I was sad to have to take it away from her when we left.
Many of the cats had bent or much-shortened tails. I had never seen tails like this before; they looked so sad, but the cats appeared quite content. I feared this batch had been abused in some way (I hoped not while at the cafe), but my post-trip research revealed this is apparently a common genetic defect in Asian feral cats. They certainly seemed well-loved in that little room. I have since (virtually) met Ros the Traveling Cat, and this little guy has a tail just like the ones we saw (and he’s quite spoiled).
Our second cafe, Neko Jalala in Akihabara, felt more like a proper business, and the cats seemed happier. I loved the proud Abyssinian chilling in the basket guarding the beverage counter! Most of the patrons were Japanese, which was a good sign, and the many cats were playful and friendly. We spent a fair amount of time simply admiring the huge cats who dominated the love seat. They were pretty placid but stunningly beautiful.
I preferred the second cafe to the first, but I think I enjoy our own local cat cafe over those we visited in Japan. Perhaps it’s the meowmosas, the adoptable cats (over 200 of which have found furever homes), or the simple lack of language barrier, but I just feel at home surrounded by those kitties.
Have you ever visited a cat cafe? What was your experience like? Are you fortunate to have one near you?