Japan's Cat Cafes: The Best in Pet Rentals
It's been a long week, but now it's the weekend - you're tired, you're bored, and just a little lonely. One thing you could really go for right now is a little feline companionship.
Alas, you live in Japan, where, even if you're lucky to live in an establishment that lets you keep cats, odds are you're too busy to properly care for any. Heartbroken, you resign yourself with the fact that at least there's cat videos on the internet.
But wait! Haven't you heard? Cat Cafes are all the rage in Japan. For just the equivalent of about ten American dollars an hour, you too can pet and play with a horde of cats!
In Japan, the "pet rental" business is booming even during a recession. In Nagoya alone you can rent the companionship of cats, dogs, rabbits, and even barnyard animals. But out of them all, perhaps the cat versions are the most famous and sought after.
Perhaps it is difficult for many foreigners to understand the appeal of a place where you pay by the hour to interact with cats. In the west we're a bit spoiled with more cat friendly residences and schedules that, even though they may seem hectic to us, still allow us ample time to feed, play with, clean up after, and otherwise take care of low-maintenance pets such as cats. But in Japan, matters are quite different: many apartments (and odds are, unless you have a family, you live in an apartment) don't allow pets of any kind, and even if they did, singles and couples are often too busy working to find time for a pet. This doesn't stop the love for animals, however, and in recent decades a niche was discovered that benefited both people and animals.
Cat cafes, such as Cat Street in downtown Nagoya, cater to cat lovers and likers who may otherwise not get to socialize with feline friends. In cafes you can see single women, businessmen, elderly couples, and even full families complete with small children playing with and just enjoying the company of cats.
Most of the cats at such cafes were once strays or living in shelters. It's also common to find handicapped, or otherwise "unadoptable", cats in cafes. It's a lovely deal that works out for both people and kitties alike in a country that faces cat overpopulation issues just like anywhere else.
Visiting a Cat Cafe
If you're looking to visit one of Japan's fine feline establishments, have no fear, for it's quite simple and a rewarding experience. Once you've decided on where you want to go, it's mostly just a matter of acquainting yourself of the rules beforehand, which can usually be found on a cafe's website (albeit usually in only Japanese).
When you arrive you will be greeted by a clerk behind a counter. Depending on the type of cafe (food and drink, or just a by the hour cover charge) you may be charged upfront or when you leave. In the case of Cat Street in Nagoya (of which I am most familiar), you confirm how many people are in your party (sometimes they may be full, in which case you can leave your cell number and they'll call you when there's a vacancy) and you are given a slip of paper stating your start time. Most places will want you to use some disinfectant before heading into the cafe proper.
A clerk will show you either up stairs if applicable or into another room - somewhere between here and there you'll be asked to remove your shoes, but if you've been in Japan for more than a day this is old hat. You'll be given a designated table or chairs to occupy (or at least, your stuff will occupy). If you didn't before, now is a time to order drinks and food if it's offered, or you may be shown to a free drink bar if that's the way the place rolls.
After that, it's kitty time!
It's easy to feel totally swarmed by cats when you first visit - they are literally everywhere. Cat Street in particular has about eleven cats in a room about the size of most American bedrooms. Cats will be in various states of sleep, eat, and play, and of course there are other customers either just relaxing or interacting with the cats. Usually at least one cat will come to check you out because new person = food, right?
You can usually purchase treats (such as tuna) to feed the cats, and this is the best way to get their attention. If you're not interested in clogging their arteries for a price, you can grab any assortment of toys and hope a few are in a cheerful mood. Of course, one of the biggest past times in any cat cafe is taking a copious amount of pictures and videos of every cute moment in store.
But what if you don't want to actually pet and otherwise interact with the cats? What if you just want to hang out in the relaxing atmosphere? That's okay too! Most cafes of this sort (not even just including pet rentals) have free magazines and books for you to read, and even TVs to watch. Particularly in Japan where stress is high in every day life, many people come to just sit and relax, and some even do paperwork while cats rub against their legs, making it all worth while.
Although many places have some differences, almost all cat cafes follow a set standard of rules that are heavily enforced for everyone's comfort and happiness.
- Cleanliness is a virtue: many places will ask you to sanitize your extremities before interacting with the animals.
- Most cafes have a "do not disturb" policy for sleeping cats, particularly those dozing within arm's reach. Of course, so long as you are not obviously bothering the cat, most employees don't mind. Some cats even love being pampered in their sleep.
- Following along the same lines, while touching and petting are of course allowed, picking up and holding are not encouraged unless the cat "asks" for such attention. This is mainly a rule in regards to children, but applies to everyone. Be gentle!
- Usually there is a room or section that is "off limits" to non-employees - this is where the cats can go if they don't want to be bothered at all, and it's expected that all customers respect that.
Otherwise, it's mostly just common sense!
Cat cafes have left a big indent in Japanese relaxation culture, and aren't going to be leaving any time soon. Next time you make a trip to Japan, consider finding the nearest cafe for a very unique experience!