Category Archives: Tokyo

Rabbit And Grow Fat

About a fortnight ago I went to a cat cafe in Shibuya. It was fun but slightly disappointing that so many of the cats were asleep or just not doing much. Of course, they were cats, what was I expecting? I suppose disdain for the humans so obviously delighted to see them would be par for the course. However, in my efforts to find a cat cafe I also discovered that there were such things as rabbit cafes, and they appealed to me more. There are two in Tokyo; one in Harajuku and one in Jiyugaoka, run by the same people, and so both have the same name: Rabbit And Grow Fat. A stroke of genius, made even more brilliant by the decision to go by the acronym Ra.a.g.f. which can only be pronounced as some kind of roar, and perfected in the cafe’s logo, complete with cartoon rabbit droppings:

Ra.a.g.f. logoAs I have probably mentioned before, I love showing people around Tokyo and the surrounding area. Despite having lived here for more than twenty years I still find myself thrilled with life on a daily basis. I feel incredibly lucky to live in this amazing city, in this great country, and having opportunities to show people around lets me share that, and also to see familiar places through new eyes or just have an excuse to be a tourist myself! The visit to Hapineko (ハピ猫) in Shibuya was such a tourist opportunity, and of course then also a blogging opportunity, but where I was really wanting to go was Rabbit And Grow Fat.

Finally, yesterday, I made it to Ra.a.g.f. in the company of a friend visiting Tokyo. (The same friend who has indulged other odd requests of mine, most notably walking around the whole of the Yamanote Line in a day.) We decided to go to the cafe in Jiyugaoka, since that one is much closer to where I live, but I assume that the one in Harajuku is the same. We had made a failed attempt to go there on Sunday, not realising that you really need to make a reservation, since the cafe is quite small, and they only seem to be able to accommodate about a dozen people at a time. On Sunday we made a reservation for yesterday at 5:30pm, which gave us an extra twenty-four hours to look forward to our rabbity treat.

The procedure for gaining admission to Ra.a.g.f. is much simpler than what we had to do at Hapineko, but is really the same kind of thing; take your shoes off, put your bag somewhere out of reach, read and sign a disclaimer:

Ra.a.g.f.rules

choose a drink and then enjoy being with the rabbits. My favourite regulation is the one which states, ‘We won’t compensate you for injuries and stains inflicted on your clothes by our rabbits. (We will disinfect you by a simple means, though.)’ You have been warned!

There were two small rabbits hopping about in the cafe, and about twenty in cages at the end of the room.

Ra.a.g.f.2

The room itself is divided by a wall about a metre high, and there was someone sitting inside the smaller part, but I was unclear why he was there. Since it’s possible to bring your own rabbit with you I had thought that maybe that was what he had done, but it became clear that the rabbit hopping around him was one of Ra.a.g.f.’s own, so I have no idea. The young woman working there explained to us that we could open any of the cages and pet the rabbits inside, but we couldn’t take them out. The regulations stated that if we wanted to hold a specific rabbit we should ask the staff, but we were content to pet and feed them in their cages. Maybe next time!

It’s possible to buy a small dish of veggies for ¥100 and we did that. The two small rabbits were extremely lively and rushed around the room stopping for rabbity snacks whenever they were offered, but all the rabbits in the cages were friendly enough to be petted and lively enough and happy to be fed. There is a wide variety of rabbits, the largest being a magnificent specimen called Figaro:

Ra.a.g.f.Figarowho required a cage twice the size of any other rabbit. Other cute rabbits included this little fellow

Ra.a.g.f.6who was very keen to make a dash for freedom, and this one

Ra.a.g.f.7who ate more snacks then any of the others.

My favourite, though, was Donguri (団栗, Acorn) who was one of the small brown ones. He and his little friend

Ra.a.g.f.1looked just like all the rabbits you can see wild in the UK (I always look out for them when I take a train) but they bounded about and for the most part were happy to be held for a short time. Here is Donguri relaxing under a table

Ra.a.g.f.3and tolerating me holding him

Ra.a.g.f.4We only stayed for half an hour, which is the ‘trial course’, and costs ¥600, and includes one drink. The regular course is for one hour, and costs ¥1,000. The information says that they have a ‘free drink system’ so you may be able to order more than one drink in that case. If you want to spend longer than an hour, you can extend by thirty-minute increments, for ¥500.

I really enjoyed Rabbit And Grow Fat, and since it’s so close to home I’m tempted to go sometimes, and certainly anyone coming to visit me will be taken there. I’d also like to go to the branch in Harajuku and see how similar it is. If you’d like to go to Ra.a.g.f. Jiyugaoka, it’s very easy to find. From the main exit of the station, turn right and walk along the road beside the old (but recently renovated) Jiyugaoka Department Store. Ra.a.g.f. is on the corner at the second turning on the left. You can see the sign on the corner of the building:

Ra.a.g.f.outsideand the cafe itself is on the fifth floor.

I found the whole experience relaxing, and fun in a very only-in-Tokyo- kind of way. As a novelty for someone visiting Tokyo it’s perfect, but even if you’ve lived here for a long time, it’s worth a try. Let me know if you’d like company!

Hello, kitties!

hapineko postcardYesterday 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.

white catOf 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.

4 catsThere 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.

sleeping catsWhile 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.

hapineko

Sakura / 桜

Sakura 1The end of March and the beginning of April in Tokyo means cherry blossom time. Since April is also the start of the new school year, students’ memories are usually of the Entrance Ceremony under blossoms, and a lot of new 1st years take commemorative photos under the trees.

Not this year. The weather we had earlier in the year meant that the blossoms opened much earlier than usual; I saw the first sakura open in Shinagawa on March 17th. While ordinarily I would have been thrilled to see them this year I wasn’t, because I was flying back to the UK on the 18th, and wouldn’t be back in Japan until the 28th. To add insult to injury, the weather in the UK was foul, and for two days I couldn’t even leave the village:

Snowy garden               Peak District snow                       The photo on the left is the garden, where the snow was up to 30cm deep; the one on the right is the Peak District near Hathersage, where we finally managed to go just before I flew back to Japan. It may look beautiful but it was so cold, and watching all the photos of sakura popping up on Facebook was a frustrating experience. I just kept hoping that some blossoms would hang on until I got back.

I landed at Narita at about 10am on the 28th, and was home by about 1pm. Yes, it took 3 hours, mainly because ‘Tokyo New International Airport’, which is Narita’s official name, is misleading; it’s not even in Tokyo, but 60km away from the centre of the city, in Chiba prefecture. While I was waiting for the bus back into the city I was relieved to see some blossoms, and on the bus I received messages from friends telling me I would still be able to do o-hanami (お花見, or cherry blossom viewing) if I got my skates on.

So, back home and then into school to see the sakura there. We have quite a lot of old trees and the driveway and landscaped garden are beautiful. It’s a pity the new students won’t see them at all this year, but the students who have been coming to school for club activities have been able to enjoy them. I spent a happy time with a friend and colleague taking photos of our blossoms,

blossoms at schooland repeated a photo I had taken last year

reflection of sakuraof blossoms reflected in the stream in the landscaped garden. I have to confess that when I took a photo like this last year I was really trying to take one of all the tadpoles but ended up with the reflected blossoms instead. This year, it was on purpose!

Having successfully viewed the blossoms at school, I decided to leave early for church (the Maundy Thursday service started at 7pm) and stopped off in Naka Meguro (中目黒) where the sakura line the river.

Naka Meguro 2Since it’s not too far from where I live it’s my favourite place to go. I arrived there about 4pm so the light was fading a little and the blossoms were a little past their best, but it was still beautiful. The petals were already starting to fall into the water and some of the leaves were opening too.

Petals falling     Blossom with leavesThere were still quite a lot of people walking along the river, and there were some stalls selling snacks, but I imagine it was much more crowded the previous weekend when the sakura were considered ‘mankai’ (満開), or in full bloom. Still, I felt happy that I had managed to come back in time to enjoy them.

At the beginning of this new week the petals are falling fast and there are a lot of leaves on the trees now. I missed the sakuras’ full glory this year but at least I saw some. My favourite trees are just down the road from where I live, because there is a regular sakura and a weeping one side by side, and together their blossoms are beautiful.

cherry & weeping cherry

However, for sheer breath-taking, over-the-top frothy pinkness, it’s worth walking around the Imperial Palace, or going to Aoyama Cemetery, Naka Meguro or any other place where there are large numbers of trees.

I used to find it all a bit much, I thought it was annoying that any shop that could would create a pink or sakura version of their products. (Sakura tofu, anyone? Actually it’s very good.) I’m also not a fan of huge crowds (yes, I know I live in a crowded metropolis, but anyway . . .) so sitting on a blue tarpaulin with a generator (for that personal karaoke experience) or fighting my way through crowds didn’t appeal. But I have made my peace with the noise and the crush, I have found the places which are a little less crowded, chosen times when a lot of people will be at work, and now every year look forward to that short time when Tokyo goes pink, when we all go outside and wonder at the beauty of it all.