05 June 2012

Cat Cafes in Japan

When i first heard of Cat Cafes, i admit, my initial thoughts were rather on the negative side. I doubted the welfare of the cats would be a priority. But I did want to see for myself what they were like and it so happened that in the first few days i was in Tokyo i stumbled across one in Shinjuku. Later in Kyoto i went to another with A-. I am happy to say that i was pleasantly surprised.

The Calico Cat Cafe is in a tall building on the 5th floor. Once i exited the lift and stepped into the entrance i could tell this was not going to be what i expected. Lockers lined the wall to my left and - in keeping with traditional Japanese custom - there was a raised section to my right along which more lockers could be seen. Two sinks sat at the end with bottles of liquid (anti-bacterial hand wash) and lint rollers. A lady in the small office in front of me handed me a laminated page that had general information, prices and rules in English. The rules were concerned mainly with not upsetting the cats, for example, you could pat them but could not pick them up. If they were sleeping you couldn't wake them up or be rough with them. I paid my entry fee (enough for an hour) and got ready to go in. Shoes off and stored in a locker i was directed to wash my hands before i could enter. Inside i stashed my bag in another locker to free my hands to play with the cats.

Calico cat cafe
What are you looking at? - Calico cat cafe
At Calico the cats had the run of two floors and they all got on well. They were different breeds but they all looked like they were well looked after. They didn't appear skittish or afraid of all these strange people roaming around on their turf. I approached several cats and they were all happy to give me a sniff and let me pat them before sauntering off elsewhere. Most people were happy to order a drink and sit watching the cats, others would find one cat and try to befriend it. You could buy a small container of treats for them but each person or group was limited to one per visit. The other thing they did was to "rotate" the cats, they were only allowed in there for 2 hours before being given a break from all the eager humans.

Calico cat cafe
Nap time - Calico cat cafe
The second Cat Cafe i went to was Nekokaigi in Kyoto. A- was as curious as me when i told him about my visit to one in Shinjuku and was keen to visit one himself. Nekokaigi was smaller than Calico and only had tabby cats but they too were well looked after - in fact all the cats had been there since they were kittens. Same as Calico, they had their set of rules, lockers and sinks.

Coffee time - Nekokaigi cat cafe
Sleepy cuddles - Nekokaigi cat cafe
Going to Nekokaigi and Calico, i didn't only pay attention to the cats, i tried to take note of who would go to such places. Was it only feline obsessed people? Maybe only younger girls? I saw one lady at Nekokaigi who was very emotional. Obviously it was difficult for her to be with the cats. I don't know what her story was but the lady running the cafe was very kind, handed her tissues and tried to comfort her. That visit for her must have been a huge thing, she had such sadness and yet so much love for these cats.

A pillow with a view - Nekokaigi cat cafe
Mmm laptop heater - Nekokaigi cat cafe
The thing is, these cafes provide a service and i know it might sound crass but hear me out. Japanese people who live in big cities have very tiny living spaces and often work very long hours so it is almost impossible for them to own a pet. Add to that they are ofter under a lot of work pressure and are not always known for their show of affection and you have an environment where the love of a pet can do wonders. I didn't just see young girls here, i saw a range of ages, male and female, even couples. You just need to look at their faces while they watch these cats to understand what I'm saying.

My human! Making friends with a regular at Nekokaigi cat cafe
Oooh! Treats! Nekokaigi cat cafe
I do not doubt that there may be cafes that do not treat their cats so well but i don't believe that the concept should be killed off for that. I think that if they are monitored and maintain a high-level of care for their cats there is no reason why the Japanese people cant continue to enjoy the affections of these temporary companions. In fact, i wish they had cat cafes back home!

A- makes a new friend - Nekokaigi cat cafe

Vanishing Point

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