Hello kitties

tokyo cat cafe, cats in japan, weird japanese cafe, tokyo

Hello kitties

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This is the website of travel writer, Michael Turtle. After working in broadcast journalism for a decade in Australia, Michael left Sydney to travel the world indefinitely and write about his discoveries.

Tokyo cat cafe

Humans seem to have always needed the comfort of animal companionship. That warm furry body lying next to you on the couch; the smiling innocent face at the door when you get home; the non-judgemental excitement of play.

So it’s often hard for people who are forbidden from having pets their whole life. In much of the greater Tokyo area, where more than 30 million Japanese people are piled on top of each other in one of the world’s best examples of urban tetris, there simply isn’t room for many animals. Residents live in tiny apartments that often hardly provide space for them – let along a pet. So these people go through their days without any animals to enrich their lives.

tokyo cat cafe, cats in japan, weird japanese cafe, tokyo

tokyo cat cafe, cats in japan, weird japanese cafe, tokyo

It is from this problem that the Tokyo cat cafes were born. They are small apartments or shopfronts where people can go and spend time with cats. They can get their daily or weekly dose of feline affection without having to own one themselves. They keep these people sane.

It seems like a very weird idea to a Westerner like me – and perhaps it is a bit strange. But in Tokyo, there are so many oddities that it all starts to seem normal by association. Still, I couldn’t resist and so one afternoon I headed along to a cat cafe on the sixth floor of a building near the Ueno train station.

tokyo cat cafe, cats in japan, weird japanese cafe, tokyo

tokyo cat cafe, cats in japan, weird japanese cafe, tokyo

“You can touch,” the friendly young woman at the front desk tells me. “But please don’t pick up.”

It’s my introduction to the cat cafe. Well, that and having to disinfect my hands with some sanitiser. But the woman at the counter isn’t quite finished, I realise. She has one last warning for me.

She holds up a piece of paper with a photo of a fat white furry cat on it. There’s something not quite comforting about its eyes. “This is Milky,” she tells me. “It’s danger cat.” She then does some actions for the next part of the explanation.

“Bite, bite, bite…. don’t touch please!”

Suitably warned about the ferocious Milky, I find a spot on the carpet to sit down, before realising I’ve sat right next to Milky. Those evil eyes look up at me through the mess of fluffy white fur and I look back, warning the cat with my gaze to leave me alone… which it does.

tokyo cat cafe, cats in japan, weird japanese cafe, tokyo

Going to a cat cafe

The cat cafe is about the size of a large studio apartment and, despite the name, isn’t serving any food or drink. There are some in Tokyo which do actually have tea and coffee but the emphasis here is on the animals. There are 25 cats in this cafe of a variety of ages, sizes, breeds and friendliness.

A ‘menu’ and a booklet in both Japanese and English tell you a bit more about the animals. It has their photo, name, birthday and a bit of personality information. I like the sound of Marl who is a Short-haired Scottish Fold who “seems to be confident of being so cool and is in charge of blog on our website”… apparently.

tokyo cat cafe, cats in japan, weird japanese cafe, tokyo

There are about a dozen people here in the cafe. It’s mainly women who I would guess are about 30 years old, but there’s also a young boy and a man (both of whom seem to have been brought along by someone else). They are each interacting with the animals in their own way. One woman runs around the room with a stick, trying to get the cats to chase her; two women sit at a table and chat while they stroke cats on their laps; another woman crouches on the floor and just watches the cats as they walk around her; and the young boy sits in the corner rather timidly and just stares.

tokyo cat cafe, cats in japan, weird japanese cafe, tokyo

tokyo cat cafe, cats in japan, weird japanese cafe, tokyo

“Do you have a favourite?” I ask the women who are sitting at the table. One of them with slightly better English answers me.

“Yukinojou is my favourite,” she tells me as she points to a grey and white Ragdoll with an incredible amount of hair. It’s sitting up on the top of a cupboard looking suitably unimpressed with everything going on around it.

“Maybe you should get a cat at your home,” I suggest.

“No, no animals,” she tells me, as I expected. “Not allowed.”

“And why do you come here?”

“I want to touch some cats,” she says, slightly giggling both at the answer and at hearing herself say it in English.

tokyo cat cafe, cats in japan, weird japanese cafe, tokyo

tokyo cat cafe, cats in japan, weird japanese cafe, tokyo

I’m not sure how long the average person would stay here. I notice a bit of a turnover during my hour although clearly some of the people are in for the long haul. I make small talk with a few of the other customers (occasionally with my broken Japanese) and find out that on woman is just passing time before she gets a train home. Another woman just wants to tell me the names of all the cats.

“Brittany. She Brittany.”

It’s the same woman who has been running around with a stick, the cats chasing her across the floor.

tokyo cat cafe, cats in japan, weird japanese cafe, tokyo

When my time is up I realise that the hour has gone extremely quickly. Between chatting with the customers, taking some photos and trying to move between each of the cats, there was plenty of amusement to fill the time. I could easily have stayed for a bit longer and I understand why some of the others were planning to do just that. Although at about $12 an hour, it could prove to be an expensive afternoon.

tokyo cat cafe, cats in japan, weird japanese cafe, tokyo

It’s not simply about the animals, I realise. Up on the sixth floor, away from the traffic noise and hectic Tokyo, this was a little bit of calm. For those who are pushed against thousands of others every day on the commute from home to work, I can appreciate they like the serenity of a quiet room with a couple of dozen cats and some like-minded friends.

Humans seem to have always needed the comfort of animal companionship but I think it’s the emotional tranquility that they crave the most. For the residents of Tokyo, this can sometimes be hard to find.

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36 Comments
  • Oceana | Barefoot Beach Blonde | Apr 11, 2013 at 9:54 am

    That is so interesting! I’ve never heard of anything like a ‘cat cafe’ before and I can’t even imagine the situation. When I was a kid we had a veritable zoo of animals sharing our home with us. But then again, I lived in one of Australia’s most sparsely populated areas. Out house would have been a very empty space without our pets, but no doubt a much bigger space than some people in Japan are lucky to have.
    Great photos too :)
    Oceana | Barefoot Beach Blonde recently posted..Why I’m Not Going To South East Asia… YetMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 16, 2013 at 11:04 pm

      Yeah, I think for people with pets and big houses, this would seem like a really odd thing. But the Japanese people I spoke to just accepted it as normal in a city like Tokyo. I’ve got say, it was pretty fun and I think I would visit one even if I did have pets at home. It was a cool way to spend an hour or so.

  • Samuel | Apr 11, 2013 at 11:34 am

    We got hooked on these cat cafes while in Korea.
    Samuel recently posted..Thailand Slideshow Travel Video Series Part 41My Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 16, 2013 at 11:06 pm

      Oh, I didn’t know they had them in Korea as well. Do people go regularly there? Did you see the same people all the time and become friends with them? How awesome would a romantic comedy set in a cat cafe be?

  • zoomingjapan | Apr 11, 2013 at 12:57 pm

    I like cat cafés as I can’t have a cat here in my Japanese apartment. A lot of apartments here don’t allow pets, that’s why the cat cafés are so popular.

    There are good cat cafés but also bad ones. In some the cats seem to be very disturbed and I doubt they’re happy.

    I suppose the cats in Tokyo can be quite annoyed as so many people come to visit!

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 16, 2013 at 11:07 pm

      I would get annoyed too… but, then again, cats like to be patted and played with, don’t they? What else would they do all day? Thankfully these ones all seemed pretty happy… other than Milky, of course. Such a danger cat!

  • Stephen | Apr 11, 2013 at 6:26 pm

    I love it! I knew I should have gone to Tokyo. Thanks Turtle for bringing us one of the many quirky aspects of life in Japan!
    Stephen recently posted..10 Cool Offices I’ve had as a Digital NomadMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 16, 2013 at 11:10 pm

      One of the ‘many’ is the best way to put it. After a couple of weeks in Tokyo I can’t work out what is normal and what is weird anymore!

  • Nat | Apr 11, 2013 at 6:37 pm

    What a weird concept. Maybe Milky is grumpy because he doesn’t like all the strangers constantly interrupting his mid day naps!
    Nat recently posted..The Gaziantep Mevlevi MuseumMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 16, 2013 at 11:11 pm

      I think Milky has just got a bad attitude! He needs to lighten up, man!

  • Laura @Travelocafe | Apr 11, 2013 at 7:07 pm

    Nice pics! I found the cats to be pretty bored when we visited. It made me wonder if they were sedated or something. It was like they didn’t even see me in front of them, let alone play…
    Laura @Travelocafe recently posted..Nara, Japan. A Day Trip in PhotosMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 16, 2013 at 11:12 pm

      Oh, these ones were up for anything! They seemed to love playing the games and chasing the stick. Well.. most of them. There were some others that just found somewhere comfortable to lie down and watched everything go on around them. I think if I was a cat, I would be one of those ones!

  • Laurence | Apr 11, 2013 at 8:17 pm

    I must never take Vera here. We’d never leave.
    Laurence recently posted..What to do in StockholmMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 16, 2013 at 11:13 pm

      I won’t tell her about it if you don’t! :)

  • Kristin Repsher | Apr 11, 2013 at 11:17 pm

    I’d heard of these but not actually seen what they were like inside. After having been to Tokyo for a day and not even experiencing peak hour, I can see how people would want to get away and have some time with animals. I know I would if I lived in that crush of humanity! I find it interesting that there are so many cats in such close quarters though. Do they get along or did you see them fighting? God knows the cats I know would not cope well with not having their own territory.
    Kristin Repsher recently posted..Snowmobiling into a Whiteout in the Lyngen AlpsMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 16, 2013 at 11:21 pm

      The cats all seemed to get along OK, although there were the occasional little altercations. Just the kind of thing you would expect with any group of animals. It was actually a little bit of excitement when one of them would go dashing away from another. I was more worried about tripping over one than having them fight, though.

  • Andrew | Apr 12, 2013 at 5:35 am

    Such an interesting idea. I definitely see how it is appealing in such a crush of humanity. But as Kristen mentions, 25 cats seems like a lot for such a small place. I had friends at home with 7 cats in a house and it was almost too much. Cats being territorial not just with each other, but with humans too. Every time you left your seat there would be a cat in it when you got back.
    Was it pretty clean? I can imagine the fur during shedding season and just the smell of animals as well. Could be overwhelming if the cleaning wasnt so good. But really if they are desanitizing YOU, they hopefully take care of their cats.
    Andrew recently posted..The Schmarrn IncidentMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 16, 2013 at 11:28 pm

      It was really clean – how, I don’t know! Although one of the women who worked there would work around occasionally and brush their fur. I thought she was just being cute but then I realised it’s probably to stop it falling all over the floor an then being spread around the room.

  • Arjen - On My Way To Freedomland | Apr 12, 2013 at 9:57 pm

    Hehe, everytime I hear a story about Japan I think: ‘this can’t get any weirder’. Yet, the country keeps surprising me ;). Then again, what is weird.
    Arjen – On My Way To Freedomland recently posted..A Photographic Walk Through a Dutch ForestMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 16, 2013 at 11:30 pm

      He he… there are plenty of ‘weird’ things in Japan. I think even the Japanese would accept that some of them are unusual – they love that kind of stuff!

  • JoAnna | Apr 13, 2013 at 4:21 am

    I’d be right at home here. :)
    JoAnna recently posted..A Night on the Train: Sleeping at Canyon Motel & RV Park | Williams, ArizonaMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 16, 2013 at 11:35 pm

      It probably is a bit like some people’s homes… you know, those old crazy cat ladies :)

  • Jarmo | Apr 14, 2013 at 1:01 am

    I really wish I would’ve visited one when I was in Tokyo, they do seem a bit bizarre, but I think it’s a great idea. I’ve heard of rumours that there might be few starting also in Europe.
    Jarmo recently posted..Spring Time in Finland – as Told by PhotosMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 16, 2013 at 11:43 pm

      They would be popular in Europe, I imagine… but probably for the novelty value more than anything else.

  • Tokyo cat cafe: weird cafes in Japan – Time Travel Turtle « Tokyo – Wanna go there! | Apr 14, 2013 at 3:39 pm

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  • Stephanie - The Travel Chica | Apr 16, 2013 at 10:44 am

    So weird, yet I love it.
    Stephanie – The Travel Chica recently posted..A unique outdoor art projectMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 16, 2013 at 11:48 pm

      I think you love it partly because it is weird! Although, that’s why I initially went along but then I ended up really enjoying myself.

  • Cam @ Traveling Canucks | Apr 22, 2013 at 8:13 am

    Oh Tokyo! I’m a big cat person, so I’d enjoy a place like this. It makes sense, especially because the city is so dense and most people live in 300 sq feet!
    Cam @ Traveling Canucks recently posted..Our First Impressions of MolokaiMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 24, 2013 at 3:14 pm

      You should check it out if you get back to Tokyo sometime. I don’t think you even have to be a cat lover to enjoy it. It’s a pretty fun place regardless… (unless you had an allergy, I guess).

  • Jade Johnston - OurOyster.com | Apr 25, 2013 at 3:59 pm

    I love this! What a good way for people who are not allowed to have animals to get some time interacting with them
    Jade Johnston – OurOyster.com recently posted..Streets Of Amsterdam – Photo EssayMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | May 10, 2013 at 1:03 am

      I think perhaps they should expand and do the same thing with babies. You know, you can go in and play with one for an hour and then when it gets smelly or starts crying you can just pay for your hour and leave! :)

  • Tokyo cat cafe: weird cafes in Japan – Time Travel Turtle « I wanna go there! | May 9, 2013 at 6:20 pm

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  • danny simion | Oct 17, 2013 at 11:49 am

    When I heard of the term cat-cafe, i immediately knew this is something popular in Japan, a land like you said has some oddities in their normal daily living. I find the idea pretty cool and makes sense since people can’t own pets in those apartments they are crammed in. Nevertheless, good article and it shows just how much the people of Japan crave for peace and tranquility in a world that is too fast paced and busy.

    • Michael Turtle | Oct 29, 2013 at 12:40 am

      It seems odd to outsiders but, you’re right, it makes sense in Japan. I guess humans have a natural need to connect with other people and with animals. This lets them do it in an easy way that fit in with the culture.

  • TravMonkey | Dec 10, 2013 at 8:47 pm

    I’ve seen this before somewhere and always wanted to check it out. There are certainly some interesting and quirky places in Toyko.

    Milky looks like a bit of a legend.

    I’m a little bit disappointed that there are no selfies here though! :D

    • Michael Turtle | Jan 19, 2014 at 3:39 pm

      Of course you would like Milky. Why am I not surprised by that! And I bet you would have tried to touch him too, just to see him try to bite you!
      Sorry there were no selfies. I’m sure the Japanese were a bit disappointed by that too – they love them!

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