What are cat cafes?
Cat Cafes are just what the name implies; places to drink tea, eat cake and relax, all the in the company of adorable, furry felines!
Depending on you this concept may sound like a dream come true or completely bonkers! But much like maid cafes and comic book stores, cat cafes are now an intrinsic part of Japan’s colourful and eccentric culture.
While Japan may be particularly famous for its cat cafes, it may surprise you to learn that the idea’s Taiwanese in origin. The first Japanese cat café didn’t open it’s doors until 2004, but the concept quickly caught on with cat-lovers and café goers alike! In a society where most people are unable to keep pets due to strict apartment rules, cat cafes have filled a surprising but highly profitable niche. And are rapidly gaining the attention of curious tourists too!
What’s it like to visit a cat café?
Experiences will always vary, but usually begins with you paying a flat entrance fee which covers a set period of time. At an average of 1000 yen per hour these fees are often remarkably cheap, and may also entitle you to a free drink or snack during your visit.
Once inside you will usually find a jumble of tables, comfy seating and the long-awaited stars: the cats! Typically dozing, getting up to mischief or just generally basking in the attention of the cafe’s smitten punters.
The number of resident moggies once again differs from place to place, but on average you’ll find yourself in the company of 10-15 cats. Some cafes boast even higher numbers, though this can be a worrying sign that I’ll discuss in more detail later.
There are usually strict rules in place for visitors (e.g. no picking up the cats, no flash photography), but otherwise you’re free to wander around getting acquainted with the cats, taking photos or simply chilling quietly with your coffee. Many cafes also encourage customers to play with their cats, and will even provide toys with which to do so!
Are all cat cafes ‘good’ places?
There’s a simple answer to this question; no.
Unfortunately not all cat cafes treat their animals well. Overcrowding is not uncommon, as are cramped living conditions and neglect. It’s also fairly common practice for cafes to restrict their cat’s food to encourage them to accept treats from customers. Being surrounded by a pack of mewing kitties begging for treats may seem impossibly cute, but in reality could mean they haven’t really been fed that day. Which is an awful thought.
And some places are just crappy. ‘Depressing’, ‘dirty’ and ‘smelly’ are among the words I’ve seen used by visitors in the past. Which seems a grim way to waste money you could put to good use elsewhere. We’re all animal lovers here, and no one wants to waste their hard-earned cash funding a place that exploits its animals!
But here’s the good news: superb cat cafes do exist, and are very easy to find! So how do you find one? Read on to find out.
How do I find a good cat café?
Here I’m going to give the same advice I’ve given so many times before: research.
Research, research and research some more! There’s seriously no better guide than the accounts of other travellers. Sites like Tripadvisor are especially great for checking out visitor reviews, and will provide you with a good, honest picture of what you can expect.
To give you an example of why doing your homework is so important, I’ll mention a certain (nameless) cat café I’d considered visiting before I went Japan last year. I’d seen it featured on YouTube; it looked cute, cheery and very relaxing! I was jealous of the vlogger who tried it out, and couldn’t wait to go there myself!
And then I looked up the reviews. They were awful. ‘Miserable’, ‘dirty’, ‘a waste of money’ – the list went on and on. It was nothing like how it seemed in the video, and goes to show appearances can be very deceiving!
Do other kinds of animal cafes exist?
You’ll probably be delighted to learn that yes, they do! Bunny cafes, owl cafes and hedgehog cafes are among those become popular in recent years. Parrot, dog and even goat cafes are now a thing, and it seems there will soon be as many kinds of cafes in Japan as there are animals!
I visited a lovely bird café during a trip to Mitaka, and have got to admit that I sorely regret not checking out the Hedgehog café in Roppongi. There’s a ton of cafes out there, so make sure to do your research and you’re bound to find a place you’ll love!
Have you ever visited a cat café in Japan? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!
And if you’d like to learn about a café a little closer to home, why not read about my trip to Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium?
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