Sitting on a sofa with a hot cup of tea and a biscuit, patting a cat…sounds just like a Sunday afternoon at home, right?
Wrong. To do what we could do at home for free, we paid the equivalent of AUD$12 each….just so we could find out a bit more about Tokyo’s cat cafe phenomenon.
I have to admit, one of the highlights of travel for me is getting a break from our two Badly Behaved Bengals. Don’t get me wrong, we love our cats…but man, they’re high maintenance. And noisy…no-one ever warned us how vocal Bengals can be.
So, you’d think the last thing I’d want to do when we’re on holiday is to pay for the privilege of spending time in a room with some cats! However, cat (or neko) cafes are such a particularly Japanese phenomenon that we just HAD to check one out. (The first cat cafes were, in fact in Taiwan and the idea was taken home by Japanese tourists where it was embraced with gusto. Now the concept of cat cafes has spread across the world, including here in Melbourne.)
The idea of a cat cafe is that patrons pay an amount per hour (or half hour) to enter a room which is often set up like a living room, and is home to a number of cats. A drink (e.g. tea/coffee/soda) and a sweet snack may be included in the entry fee, or at some places, you pay extra for for these. Once inside, patrons relax on the sofas or stools, and play with or pat the cats.
With many Japanese apartment buildings banning pet ownership (or their homes being simply too small to accommodate animals) pet cafes offer somewhere for Japanese people to go to experience some animal contact. In addition to cat cafes, we also saw a number of rabbit cafes…and apparently there are goat, bird and owl cafes in Tokyo too.
You can also find dog cafes, but they are quite different in that they are cafes FOR dogs (i.e. dog owners take their pooches along to be served food and drinks) rather than places to play with dogs.
The cat cafe we chose to go to was Hepineko in Shibuya. It is located on the third floor of a small building on Dogenzaka Street, and judging by the signage on the staircase, which started at about the second floor landing, you sometimes have to queue to get in.
We got there about 2.00pm on a Sunday afternoon and as the entry to the cafe is extremely small, we had to wait on the stairs for about five minutes while the group ahead of us sorted themselves out with removing shoes, storing bags and paying etc.
Once inside, we paid for half an hour with the kitties (JPY 1,080 per person) as we thought that would be long enough to get a feel for the feline action. This fee included one drink (we all chose varieties of tea) plus a wrapped biscuit (cookie) and chocolate each. Toys to play with the cats (fox tail, cat string) and cat food could be purchased, as could additional drinks.
We were shown a list of rules in English before we were allowed through the door to the area where the cats were. Essentially, the rules were:
- Shoes had to be removed and replaced with slippers, and all belongings put into a large drawstring bag which is kept at the main desk area
- Hands had to be washed with hand sanitizer before touching any cats
- No flash photography
- No picking up cats while you’re standing: you have to be sitting down, and you have to use both hands
- No moving a cat off a high place
- No feeding the cats human food
Plus, we were told that we could only pick up and/or pat cats that were NOT wearing collars. If they had a collar on, it meant that they had had enough of humans for the day.
Once inside, we discovered a lovely, open, light-filled room with a full wall of glass overlooking Dogenzaka. It was set out a bit like a living room, but scattered with cat climbing frames and cat toys. The room was warm, and had a large section of heated flooring in the centre which proved very attractive to the kitties roaming the room.
Straight away, we spotted that MOST of the cats in the room were wearing collars, which (if you recall from the rules) meant they were off limits for patting and holding. I swear, those cats in collars strutted right past us, with a look of ‘Nah-nah-nah…you can’t touch me…” Given that the cafe is open until 11pm, I do wonder how many cats are left collarless by the end of the day? Or perhaps, after a bit of time out, the collars are removed and the cats put back into active play?
Our drinks and snacks were swiftly served.
This little kitten was wearing a collar, which meant we couldn’t pat or cuddle her, but she was desperate for some attention and happy to chase a bit of string. We weren’t sure if that broke the rules, but she didn’t seem to mind.
The cats all seemed very healthy, well-cared for and content (but a little docile compared with our Badly Behaved Bengals…). The room did not have a ‘cat smell’ at all, and there was no cat fur on the furniture or the floors. (How do they manage that?) There was another room that the cats could get to, where their litter trays etc must have been.
The other patrons were a mix of tourists and Japanese people. There was a middle-aged man on his own, who seemed very familiar with the cats and had one asleep on his lap, one sitting beside him, and was approached by another in the time we were there… and then I spotted the cat food container in his hand. I think he was dishing out cat biscuits to entice them over. A couple of younger Japanese women spent their time taking selfies with the cats – which, given they couldn’t pick most of them up, meant contorting themselves to floor level. Apparently, going to a cat cafe is a favoured date activity for Japanese couples, but we didn’t see any who fitted that description among our fellow cat-patters.
Playing with cats is not that big a novelty for us, so when our half-hour was up (the staff come and tell you when you’ve reached your allocated time limit) we were ready to go.
It was only as we were walking away along Dogenzaka Street that it sank in how truly bizarre the whole experience had been…we’d just paid the equivalent of AUD$48 for the four of us to have a cup of tea and pat some cats – things we can do any day at home for practically nothing!
The details:Hapineko – Shibuya (ハピ猫)
Fee: 1,080 yen for 30 minutes, 1,620 yen for 1 hour.
Hours: 11：00 – 23：00 (last entrance 22:00)
Website in English: http://hapineko.com/eigoindex.html
Getting there: It’s about 5 mins walk from the Hachiko exit of Shibuya Station. Head towards Shibuya 109. Walk up the street to the left of Shibuya 109 and continue uphill to the fifth shop on Dogenzaka. Hapineko is on the 3rd floor of the Kuratosu building (look out for the Hapineko sign).
Japanese address: 東京都渋谷区道玄坂2-28-3 道玄坂クラトスビル3階
Does the idea of cat cafes appeal to you?
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