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Japan’s Cat Cafes

on September 11, 2009
Posted in News

A new type of cafe is springing up all around Japan – Cat Cafes. One such cafe is Neko JaLaLa, meaning ‘Cat Time’ in Japanese. Here there are 8 cats on permanent staff who mingle with the customers whilst they sip tea.

Neko JaLaLa was started when Mr. Osamu Maeda, an architect, along with his neighbor, came up with a way to educate the public about stray cats. Mr. Maeda hopes that his cafe will help to raise awareness of cats across Japan, which has a euthanasia rate of 240,000 cats per year.

Mr. Maeda believes that the concept of the cat cafe is working, even though many other cat cafe’s are opening every month:

“Everything here is based on the idea of getting people to love cats. When it comes to the business of cat cafes, you can grow by opening more branches or expanding the scale of existing stores,” he says. “But there is a limit to that – what happens to the cats once this isn’t so popular anymore? That’s why I’m looking for cats that I want to live with for the rest of my life. I’m not getting any extra cats.”

Neko JaLaLa, like Japan’s other cat cafe’s, is kept spotless at all times. Not only is the vacuum cleaner used every ten minutes or so and air purifiers are on in all corners of the cafe at all times, but the customers also have to be clean. Before being allowed entry, customers have to remove their shoes and wash and sanitize their hands.

The Rules

There are, of course, a few rules which apply. Namely, no children under the age of ten – this is because most children have a tendency to play rough and pull on a cat’s tail. Another rule is to always let sleeping cats lie. Kittens who are too young to be held usually have a scarf around their neck. Outside food is not allowed inside the cafe and customers are asked not to pet or pick up a cat if it initially resists them.

Mr. Maeda warns: “I don’t hesitate to scold people who treat cats in a bad way.”

However, only the customers have rules at these cafe’s. The cats can do as they please. One cat in particular at Neko JaLaLa loves to run away with a customer’s handkerchief, whilst another sneaky cat will try to drink a customer’s tea when they are not looking. For the most part, the customers do not seem to mind at all.

One such customer is Mr. Tetsunori Oda, a system engineer, who believes that visiting the cafe is “a way to relax and let go of my stress.”

Mr. Oda goes on to say, “When it comes to having cats, it’s a burden. I work and I don’t have the time to take care of them in a responsible manner.”

This is the reason that the majority of the customers frequent the cafe.

For most Japanese their day consists of working up to 10 – 12 hour shifts and going home to an expensive complex that doesn’t allow pets. Stopping by one of the seven cat cafe’s in Tokyo after work enables them to relax and get their ‘cat fix’, at an affordable price too: $8 – $12 per hour with reservations recommend on Saturdays.

Japan’s Cat History

Japan has a long romance with its Feline inhabitants. For instance, Japan’s oldest novel, “The Tale of Genji”, a prince’s love story, has a resident cat that strolls through its pages. Another Japanese classic, “I am a Cat,” which was written by Soseki Natsume, one of Japan’s most famous novelists, in 1905, is narrated by a nameless cat who ponders about the peculiar habits of the people he comes in to contact with as he comes and goes from the social salon that is run by his owner, a high school teacher.

Visit any modern bookstore and you will find shelves of books, posters, comics, and magazines all devoted to cats.

College student, Yuka Sato, visits another of Japan’s cat cafe’s, Neko no Mise, and states how much she loves being there:

“I always used to play with cats back home, but now I can’t, since I live on my own. I wish I could live together with cats like this.”

This cafe, opened its doors in 2005 and has 12 resident cats, most of which were adopted by the owner Norimasa Hanada, after visitors abandoned them at the cafe.

“Basically, the visitors of this cafe are stressed,” explains Mr. Hanada.

An added bonus of the cat cafe is the human interaction that it offers as well. Cafe patrons usually strike up conversations as they share notes on the different habits of all the cats.

Photo Credit: fletchy182

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Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan

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