Japan’s Cat Cafés

A Chance to Cuddle for Those Who Can’t Keep Pets

What do you do if you’re a real pet lover, but your apartment doesn’t allow cats – or is just too small for them? If you’re in Tokyo, a cat cafe is your answer. After all, many people who want the companionship of animals are unable to have them at home. These cafes, and their cat “employees,” are able to improve the lives of their customers just like a pet would, even if it’s only for a few hours at a time.

Imagine a room devoted to the needs of cats – scratching posts, cat trees, and toys scattered over the carpet – with a few human chairs and couches, as well, and you’ve got a pretty good idea of what the interior of a cat café looks like. The cats who live in these cafes are, as you might imagine, quite sociable, and many patrons come for a visit after work to satisfy their need to cuddle with a feline friend.

Most cat cafés have rules to assure that the cats aren’t harassed – they can’t be woken up when sleeping or held against their will, and the lights are dimmed at night so they can nap in peace. The cafés close at 10 p.m., as well, so they get plenty of downtime before the late morning opening hour.

The customers of cat cafés are often young working people who don’t have the time or the space for a cat, but who still want to experience the joy of interacting with pets. “This place isn’t on my way from work, but even if I’m pretty tired, I’d still stop by,” one cat café regular, Kazunori Hamanaka, told Reuters. “It is really soothing.” Many customers come often, and have favorite cats that they spend time with, almost like their own pets. Taking photos of the cats is a popular pastime, and several customers have devoted blogs just to their cat café photography collections.

Cat cafés in Tokyo charge between 1000 and 1200 yen (between $13 and $15 dollars) an hour to spend time in the cat room. They often provide food and drink service, cameras, music, and even video games, though many customers simply bring books to read while they sit quietly with the cats.

The first café opened in Taiwan in 1998, but they have since spread to mainland China, and, of course, Japan. However, a cat café also opened recently in Vienna, so it’s possible that these establishments might be catching on in the West. With lots of people in America living in places where pets aren’t allowed or might be unhappy, it seems like there’s room here for a few cat cafés, too. Perhaps they’re on their way.