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.
The cat cafe concept is exactly how it sounds: Drink the beverage of your choice in a room filled with cats.
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.
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.
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:
…but the reaction was more like this:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?