Friday, January 14, 2011

Tokyo Cat Cafes Offer Feline Friendship for a Fee

By Julia Williams

Many things that originated in Japan have since become commonplace in America and other countries – origami, anime, martial arts, Pokémon, karaoke, teriyaki and sushi, to name just a few. In the animal arena, the Japanese have given us the Maneki Neko (Beckoning Cat), Hello Kitty, the Japanese Macaque (Snow Monkey), the Japanese Bobtail cat breed, and the Shiba Inu and Akita dog breeds. “Cat Cafes” are the latest Japanese craze. Although wildly popular in Tokyo and surrounding areas, it’s too early to tell if cat cafes will ever be found in America. I like the idea of cat cafes myself, but then I do have my reputation as Crazy Cat Lady to uphold.

What’s a cat cafe, you ask? It’s a quiet, cozy place where people can go to sip tea or a latte while enjoying the companionship of a room full of friendly cats. A “cat menu” introduces patrons to each of the different felines in the cafe, with photos and information on their name, breed, gender and age. The fee varies by establishment, but typically costs around $8 to $10 for an hour of feline friendship. The meticulously groomed resident cats are free to lounge wherever they please – on the sofas, chairs and tables, in cat trees and baskets, and even on your lap, if you’re lucky.

Most cat cafes have at least a dozen sociable felines that patrons can pet, talk to, photograph or play with – and just like the animals at the zoo, sometimes the cats sleep through visiting hours. Rules vary at the different cafes, but some won’t allow customers to wake the cats up, and some prohibit picking the cats up to hold them. Most do allow customers to pet the cats, but only if the cats are up for it. Because the cats’ welfare comes above all else, young children are not welcome at many cafes, and one who pulls on a cat’s tail will find themselves ushered quickly out the door.

Cat cafes must obtain a license and comply with strict regulations to ensure both the safety of the cats as well as cleanliness of the premises. Before interacting with the cats, customers must sanitize their hands and remove their shoes (a Japanese custom in homes but not typically in public places).

In Tokyo, where long work hours and tight housing regulations often prohibit pet ownership, the cat cafes fill a void. For many kitty lovers, a visit to a cat cafe is the only way they can get their feline fix. Though this cultural trend is only about five years old, it’s become all the rage. Tokyo proper boasts more than 50 cat cafes, with another 70 or so in the greater Tokyo area.

Cat cafes are not just the domain of elderly, childless ladies in frumpy sweaters either. The “catmosphere” appeals to all types of petless people, from young singles looking for a date to married couples who want to spend a quiet afternoon with some furry friends. Calico, one of Tokyo’s most popular cat cafes, advertises itself as a great “date spot,” a place to make friends — both human and feline — and a fun place to swing by after work. Calico has reportedly become so packed on weekends that reservations are recommended.

Paying money to hang out with felines doesn’t seem like a strange idea to a cat lover like me. I wouldn’t personally want to live without cats in my own home, but for those who can’t have a pet for one reason or another, a visit to a cat cafe would help quell that longing for feline friendship. What do you think? Could cat cafes ever become an American tradition?

Read more articles by Julia Williams


  1. Lori/windkitten1@aol.comJanuary 14, 2011 at 9:59 AM

    I Loved reading about the kittys cafes. I never would have thought about something like that . But its sounds like a wonderful place for those that are unable to to be blessed to live with a kitty of there own .. Thank you

  2. I saw this on TV and it looks like such a good idea. What fun if you cannot have cats of your own. And you can drink coffee or something at the same time and have a great hour.

  3. It's been a while back, but I remember hearing about a service here in the US that basically rented a person a dog for the weekend. I was unsure about that - the constantly changing atmosphere, people not knowing/remember what commands the dog was trained to obey, no set schedule for potty breaks, etc., would be hard on most dogs.

    But this sounds like a much better option for people to get a pet fix when they are unable to have a pet of their own. The cats would have a set surrounding and a known person caring for them all the time, which would make it easier on them then the dogs in the example I give above.

    Of course, in my mind the best way to get a pet fix for people that can't have one is to volunteer some time playing with and walking the animals at a local rescue.

  4. We've heard about these. A nice idea but we agree with Becky above, the best way to share time with a pet when you don't have one is to volunteer your time at a shelter or rescue or somewhere you can help the animals.

  5. I just read this post and I jumped on here to say, "Why pay?" As Becky has said volunteering at a shelter seems better on the wallet and the heart! The shelter cats need it more than the pamperd ones.

  6. There is a difference in helping at a rescue and a cat cafe and they both fulfill different needs. Not everyone can work at a rescue and having to see the starved and ill treated animals that hiss and scratch, not allowing anyone near, is often too emotionally traumatic for some people. Also, if you are working long hard hours you may not be available at the times that the rescue are open or too tired to do so. Personally, I think that this is a good idea for those unable to have cats. I like the idea of having a licence and ensuring the cats' welfare.


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