Yesterday I visited a cat cafe. I had heard plenty about such establishments and had never been to one, but I was doing one of my favourite things, showing someone around Tokyo, and thought that a cat cafe would make an interesting addition to our itinerary.
I had thought that this was a particularly Japanese idea, but apparently not; the first cat cafe was in Taiwan, but received so many Japanese visitors that it didn’t take long for someone to realise the potential and the first one opened in Japan in 2004. There are many in Tokyo and it isn’t hard to find one, all it takes is a search for ‘cat cafe’ and the area of Tokyo you are interested in.
While the idea of a cafe where you can have a cup of tea or coffee surrounded by cats may seem like a bizarre concept to people outside Japan, here it makes some kind of sense, particularly in a crowded city like Tokyo. People often live in very small apartments, many have tatami matting on the floors, and pets are just not allowed. Any cat could make short work of tatami; it’s probably excellent as a kind of horizontal scratching post. So people may find themselves living in a small space, alone, and wishing they could have a pet but unable to do so because of the terms of their lease. In such circumstances, the idea of going to a cafe, sitting for an hour or two with cats around the place, being able to pet them or just watch them play or sleep, is something that appeals to the lonely and petless of Tokyo.
The cafe we visited is called ‘Hapineko’ (ハピ猫), or Happy Cat. It’s in Shibuya and easy to find. Walk from Shibuya Crossing up to the 109 Building and take the left fork. Continue up the road on the same side as the 109 Building for a couple of minutes, and you will see a flashing orange sign on the wall saying ‘cat cafe’ and ‘猫カフェ’. Turn right into the building, walk down a short corridor, turn right up the stairs then take the elevator to the third floor. When you come out of the elevator, go up another short flight of stairs, then turn left and you’re at Hapineko.
Of course, since there are a number of cats in the cafe itself, there is a kind of entrance where you choose how long you want to stay, what you want to drink, and are shown information about how to behave in the cafe. This cafe lets you stay for multiples of thirty minutes, from half an hour up to whatever you’re prepared to pay for, and we decided to stay for the shortest time. Half an hour with one drink costs ¥1,050, so it could soon become quite expensive if you wanted to hang around for a couple of hours, or if you developed a serious cat cafe-visiting habit.
Having chosen the drinks and paid, and said we understood what to do (and not to do) we removed our shoes and entered the cafe. Before you get anywhere near the cats you are required to put on slippers, store all your bags behind the counter and wash your hands then use an alcohol rub to make sure you are no kind of biohazard to the cats. Finally you can sit down and look at and pet the cats.
There were probably about ten cats around the cafe, some awake and some asleep. Several were wearing pink or white collars, and we had been instructed that we must not touch these cats. No explanation was given, and at least one of these untouchable cats was wide awake and wandering around, apparently quite friendly and curious, but it was Not To Be Touched. Some people were sitting at one end of the room, just watching the cats, but we stroked some of the cats near us and they responded in true feline style by not caring a jot about us. Some were sleeping and didn’t even wake up.
While it is all right to pick up the cats and hold them on your lap, we were unclear about how you could achieve this. While it was clear that of course you should not pick up a cat by its front legs and swing it about (illustrated on a poster on the wall with a black cross over it), it was also unacceptable to pick up a cat from a height, which seemed to imply that you couldn’t perform such a manoeuvre standing up. This would indicate that really it’s better to wait for the cats to come to you, which probably requires patience and paying for more that thirty minutes.
When our thirty minutes were up, we collected our bags and were given a souvenir postcard of the cafe. It was an interesting experience, and I can see if you loved cats and were unable to keep one as a pet, being able to visit such a cafe might be quite relaxing. As a novelty for someone visiting Japan I’d recommend it (so if you come to visit me, beware!), and if you find yourself living in a tiny cramped apartment in Tokyo it might just be a good place to unwind one afternoon.