The Strange World of Tokyo’s Animal Cafes

I’ll be bidding farewell to Japan in March, leaving me with only short 2 months to enjoy delightfully strange only-in-Japan experiences. A tour of this quirky country couldn’t possibly be complete without exploring the ever-growing animal cafe trend.

The whole movement started with cats, so that’s where we decided to begin too. More specifically, we visited Calico Cat Cafe in Kichijoji, one of Tokyo’s largest cat cafes.

calico cat cafe tokyo

The cat cafe concept is exactly how it sounds: Drink the beverage of your choice in a room filled with cats.

cat cafe tokyo

We entered the small reception area, where the walls were covered with close-up photos of cat faces, and paid 1200 Yen ($12) each for 1 hour of cat time. We received ID tags marked with our starting time (as well as more cat face pictures), and were asked to swap our outdoor shoes for slippers and then wash our hands before entering the glass-walled cat room.

cat cafe id badge tokyo

The room looked a lot like any other coffee shop, but scattered among the usual comfy chairs, tables and bookshelves, were cat beds of all shapes and sizes, puffing air-freshening units, assorted cat toys, and the main attraction: dozens of sprawling cats. We were allowed to pet them, feed them, and just generally watch them do their cat thing.

cat cafe tokyo japan

The only rule was to let the cats behave naturally, which meant not waking them if they were asleep (and a lot were), picking them up, or doing anything else that might cause distress. We ordered coffees (which came topped with small, sanitary lids), and a 300 Yen ($3) box of cat food.  I thought we might receive an onslaught of cat affection when the food arrived…

….kind of like this:

feed monkeys in thailand

…but the reaction was more like this:

tokyo animal cafe

I’m not sure what exactly I was expecting from the cat cafe, but I definitely didn’t expect it to feel so peaceful. The combination of the mellow background music and the sloth-like behaviour of the cats made the experience feel like some kind of calming, pet therapy session.

cat cafe tokyo japan

After our clothes were thoroughly covered in cat hair, we decided to switch from fur to feathers and check out the latest trend in the animal cafe world: the bird cafe.

In Tori No Iru Café, we snacked on beers and owl-shaped cookies, under the shade of a big plastic tree and surrounded by owls, hawks, parrots, and cockatoos. Unlike the cat cafe, the birds were not roaming freely, with most kept in cages or glass enclosures. After finishing our drinks, we paid 500 yen ($5) to enter the owl enclosure, which housed about 10 different owls, including a huge, inky-eyed barn owl, and a few little palm-sized owls. Under the careful supervision of the staff, we petted the friendlier owls, and even tried on a falconry glove, which enabled us to safely hold the birds on our arms.

bird cafe tokyo japan

While there’s little doubt that cat cafe felines have a pretty good life – lying around being fed and stroked all day – some of the birds in this cafe were tethered to perches. For a moment I was pulled out of the overwhelming cuteness of the whole animal cafe concept, as I wondered how much exercise and freedom these birds had.

owl cafe tokyo japan

That said, the cafe staff seemed to genuinely care about the birds and there were rules in place to minimize the birds’ stress levels, including limits on how much time we could spend with them.

owl cafe tokyo

In the end, I like to think that these animals enjoy the cushy lifestyle of any household pet, and that the people who run these cafes are not all that different from the animal-lovers who visit them. With Tokyo’s tiny apartments and frenzied pace of life, these cafes seem like a sweet, innocent way to give people who don’t have pets the chance to experience the fun of being a pet-owner – if only for an hour or two.

 

Have you visited an animal café? What kind of animal would you most like to pet while sipping coffee? Do these cafés raise any ethical concerns for you?

 

18 Responses to The Strange World of Tokyo’s Animal Cafes

  1. Steph (@20YH) January 9, 2014 at 10:02 pm #

    I can't believe that you'll be leaving Japan in just a few months… it seems like you just got there!

    I have heard of cat & dog cafes before, but never owl cafes; that's definitely a Japan-only thing, I think! I worry a bit about it because owls aren't really meant to be kept as pets, but it does seem like the cafe you visited treats them well and is concerned about their welfare.
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    • waysofwanderers January 9, 2014 at 10:17 pm #

      I know! This year has gone by so quickly! And yeah, I had the same concerns about the owls – I don't think they're really the type of animal that enjoys a lot of noise and attention; but it did seem like the cafe staff cared about educating the customers, and showing us how to enjoy the owls without upsetting them.

  2. @Agnesstramp January 10, 2014 at 3:28 am #

    To be honest, I didn't even know that something like animals cafe ever existed. WOW! It's great to hear Japanese treat their cats and dogs with such respect. In China, dog is just a dog like any other animal.

    • waysofwanderers January 10, 2014 at 10:15 pm #

      Yep – same in Thailand – you definitely don't see the same kind of pet-culture in other parts of Asia.

  3. Vanessa January 10, 2014 at 8:42 am #

    Wow! Those owls’ faces are so cute! I had same thoughts as yours, but about the cat cafes… how can they get so many cats to live together peacefully? Hardly any cats who don’t grow up together will live together happily, but the cats at the Korean cafes were very sedated looking. I mean, cats are pretty sleepy creatures, but when my cat meets another cat, he won’t relax at all until it goes away. Just some thoughts I’ve wondered in cafes like this.

    Love that picture with all the monkeys! Now that would be a wild cafe… a monkey cafe! :D

    • waysofwanderers January 10, 2014 at 6:42 pm #

      Interesting point! I've never had a cat, so that didn't occur to me. These cats definitely didn't seem bothered by each other at least.

  4. cvail January 10, 2014 at 10:03 am #

    I think I went to that same Tokyo cat cafe and yes it was calming, cute, and we loved it. But birds? I haven't heard of that before…It does seem odder…hmmm.
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    • waysofwanderers January 10, 2014 at 6:43 pm #

      There are also a few rabbit cafes now too – the one we wanted to visit was closed the day we went, though.

  5. Heather January 10, 2014 at 11:13 am #

    Yet another quirky reason why I love Japan! The owls would freak me out, but I could spend all day chilling in that cat cafe. Did they offer lint rollers as you left to take care of the cat hair problem?
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    • waysofwanderers January 10, 2014 at 6:44 pm #

      I wish they had! My pants looked ridiculous for the rest of the day. The whole cafe was amazingly clean otherwise, though.

  6. cubiclethrowdown January 10, 2014 at 10:03 pm #

    Wow, you're leaving Japan so soon!! That was a fast year?? I went to a cat cafe in Tokyo, and it was just as sloth-like as the one you have here. I'm not so sure about those poor birds though, tethered inside like that. That's kinda mean. They sure are kawaii though!
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    • waysofwanderers January 10, 2014 at 10:14 pm #

      I can't believe how fast the time has gone. The birds were definitely kawaii, and it was a cool experience, so I really wanted to believe the animals were treated well – it's definitely difficult to say for sure, though.

  7. Cory January 12, 2014 at 10:29 pm #

    Wow. I have hear a lot about cat cafe's and when I get to Japan definitely want to go to one. I'm not the biggest cat person but it still seems so interesting to be immersed in a different culture where other things are so important.
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  8. Beth January 16, 2014 at 8:11 am #

    I had no idea about the bird cafes! That owl is super cute though, so maybe I'll check one out!
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  9. Mitch February 2, 2014 at 12:42 am #

    Love the cat cafe! Could this be my next business model? If only there were enough cat ladys in America…
    Thanks for the entertaining reads, I am just getting started and appreciate the inspiration!
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    • waysofwanderers February 2, 2014 at 4:40 am #

      I know right! If I had the means to start a cat cafe in North America, I would seriously be jumping on that gold mine.

  10. Pamela Evans February 10, 2014 at 4:24 pm #

    Tokyo is a fascinating place! And as an animal lover, I'm really happy that there are places like these that animal lovers can go to even when travelling.

    • waysofwanderers February 10, 2014 at 7:11 pm #

      So true! I miss having pets, so it's nice to able to visit a place like this for some pet-surrogacy.

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