May 02, 2012

Paws for Thought: A Cat Cafe in Osaka

I'm going to be honest and say that I'm uncomfortable with the way some animals are treated in Japan. On our second night in Tokyo, we were walking around Basketball Street in Shibuya - one of the rowdiest, busiest areas in Tokyo - and right in the middle of it all was a pet store. The windows were lit up with bright lights, and from floor to ceiling were tiny glass tanks, containing tiny newborn puppies, kittens, meercats, and even a baby spider monkey for sale. Some of the animals were adorned with accessories - clip on earrings, hairbows, and decorative collars. Young women crowded around the store, tapping on the windows, taking photos on their cellphones and exclaiming 'kawaii' (cute)! It was cruel and heartbreaking.

Japan's 'kawaii culture' often sees animals treated as fashion accessories. I've already talked a bit about the popularity of animal 'clothing' here - there are boutiques dedicated to selling dog outfits in every style. I've even seen a dog kimono. It's also not uncommon to see little dogs being taken along to department stores and game centres in their owners' handbags. At the other end of the spectrum, some animals are treated like humans - childless Japanese women will dress their dogs up in baby outfits and push them around in prams. To me, this culture seems unhealthy to say the least - for both the pet and the owner. And probably also for Japan's declining birth rate.

Which is why I was both curious and skeptical to experience one of Japan's famous cat cafes, where cat lovers go to get their furry fix in the middle of the city. I went to Neko no Jikan (Cat Time) in Amerika Mura, Osaka. It cost 1050 Yen for an hour of cat companionship and a drink.

'Cafe With Many Cats'
Tea time? More like cat time.
Before entering the cafe, there were a few rules to take note of. No flash photography, no loud voices, no feeding the cats, and no disturbing the sleeping cats. Then we removed our shoes, got our hands sprayed with sanitizer, and our 'Cat Time' began.

Inside the cat cafe - a jungle gym for cats
As we arrived right on opening time, most of the cats were still asleep. However, a young couple on a date came in shortly after us, and the woman instantly proceeded to break all the rules, loudly squealing 'kawaii', poking the sleeping cats on their noses and shoving her camera in their faces. Unsurprisingly, some of the cats' reactions were to try and claw her, resulting in her squeals changing to 'hidoi!' and 'kowai!' ('mean' and 'scary'). I have a suspicion that some of the cats at the cafe have had their claws surgically removed, to make them 'safer', but I hope I'm wrong.

This cat had one eye

And this cat had deformed ears
The cats themselves were a strange mix of luxury breeds, such as Maine Coons and Persians, and strays. Quite a few had something wrong with them - a missing eye, a stunted tail, or cut off ears. Apparently one of the functions of the cat cafes is to rescue cats off the streets, domesticate them, and provide them with a safe home for the rest of their lives. Which is nice. And you can tell they are well loved at the cafe - there were little albums around the place containing profiles of each cat, describing their individual personalities and histories.

Cat Profile Album
An example of a profile page - this cat is shy, apparently.
Cat names and profiles are posted on the wall, too - so you know who you're playing with.
There is no denying their novelty value - I have to admit, I enjoyed myself. But at the same time, I couldn't help but think that these cafes are there first and foremost to serve the customers, and not the cats. Already, there is debate being raised about whether or not the cafes are an exploitative environment for the animals. This article talks about a new law coming into effect this year, which will ban the display of animals in the evening. It will force some of Japan's cat cafes to close earlier at night, probably affecting the peak time patronage - most of the cat cafe regular are businessmen who come in the evening, after work.

Cat in the cafe looking down at the outside world.
Seeing one of Japan's famous cat cafes was certainly an interesting experience, but I don't know. I'm used to watching my cat play outside.


  1. Hey there! I didn't know Japan treated its animals so cruely. But I've heard a lot of good things about the cat cafes, how they actually treat the cats very well. Also, I've read ( that the cat cafes (at least in Tokyo) will be exempt from this law since the loss of business would mean having to shut down and the cats not having a good home anymore. So I guess in the long run the cat cafes do more good for the cats than anywhere else.

  2. Unsurprisingly, some of the cats' reactions were to try and claw her, resulting in her squeals changing to 'hidoi!' and 'kowai!' ('mean' and 'scary').

    I laughed too much at this.

  3. I have to say i swing both ways on this one. Great for the cats to be rescued and live in a warm and loving environment but they're also kinda on display and maybe stuck inside, lesser of two evils maybe? Shy cat is cute, i would take him home :)

  4. I'm stuck between 'awwww cute' and going all animals rights activist on there asses. Funny that I read this now when just last night I watched a debate here about having Cat Curfews, shutting all cats in at night. Apparently they are becoming pests to our native wildlife. Even going as far as to propose a ban on cats in some areas. It's the catpocalypse 2012, New Zealand is over-run by cats. I'm with you though, cats should be roaming the backyard.