Keeping a pet is quite a challenge in Japan. Living space is limited and the rules about keeping pets are very strict. But the Japanese wouldn’t be the Japanese if they hadn’t found a very interesting solution to that problem. I present to you: The Cat Café.
Cat cafés are places where one can go to spend time with cats. I use the term café loosely, because cat cafés do not always serve beverages. I had heard about cat cafés before coming to Japan and I was very excited at the prospect of finally visiting such a magical place myself. When I took a trip to Tokyo in the summer of 2012, I had my chance. My brother took me to Nekobukuro. Neko means cat and the name Nekobukuro is play on words referring to the district of Tokyo in which the café is located, which is Ikebukuro.
A substantial entrance fee of 1000 yen is charged, but they do have a couples discount for people who come on a date. Upon paying the fee, you are ushered into the magic kingdom that is Nekobukuro. I’d say there were about 20 cats inside, half of which were locked away behind glass. I imagine this is done to give the cats some relief from the ceaseless petting. All the cats have a name and the ones that are out on that particular day, are introduced at the entrance.
I will now take you on a journey through the sliding doors and into Nekobukuro.
Notice the little girl with the squeaky shoes at the one minute mark. Personally I would never ever buy my kid something that makes noise with every step they take, but in Japan these squeaky shoes seem popular for children. Of course the sound does make it easier to keep track of your child. Maybe that’s the reason?
Anyway, back to the cat café. As you can see, the entire cafe is full of colourful and cute stuff, to serve as a decor for the cats. Every word in which the terms ‘neko’ (cat), ‘nya’ (miaow) and ‘nyanko’ (kitty cat) can be inserted, is thus transformed into a feline version. Some examples:
As you can see in the video above, most of the cats are pretty lethargic. They do their best to ignore the people as best they can. Some of the cats even seemed to be in a downright foul mood, glaring at me as I tried to pet them. I guess I can’t really blame them. It must be tough living in a place like Nekobukuro where they are approached by strangers all day long. Or maybe they just don’t like gaijin? Every once in a while, an employee comes out and tries to bring the cats back to life by giving them some food or by luring them out with a toy.
If I’d have to sum up my experience at the cat café, I’d say that it was very interesting but I do not feel the need to repeat it. In terms of cat interaction, it was downright disappointing. I also had some trouble with the lingering smell of litter box in the café. But in terms of cultural phenomena, it was very rewarding. Maybe I was there to observe the people as much as the cats. (=^‥^=)