Cat Cafe: Tokyo haven for catlovers
Folded inside the streets surrounding the train station in the Tokyo region of Machida is Neko no Mise, which can be translated as “Cat Store.” The store is a cat café, which charges customers 800 yen (roughly US$7.20) an hour to play with cats.
On one Saturday afternoon there were several Japanese women in their early twenties already at play with the twelve cats housed there. People drifted out, replaced by a constant flow of others: more young women, a middle-aged couple, two elderly men, and a young man who quickly busied himself taking pictures of the various cats lazying around the store.
The owners of the café, the Hanadas, visited a cat and dog café in Taipei, and decided to open the first Tokyo cat café in the summer of 2005. The Japanese pet industry brings in about $10 billion a year, and Neko no Mise is one of about twenty stores in Tokyo that have opened in the last few years, capitalizing on this growing interest in cats and dogs.
The small room is littered with couches, chairs, and tables as well as a well-used massage chair and varying sorts of cat scratching posts and cat-homes. Cats drape themselves around the store, sniffing customers’ cups (one of the cats is apparently a milk thief), lounging on top of the drink machine, napping, and playing with customers. A large bookcase filled with Japanese comics and toys for the cats are also available for customers.
For a city that is populated by workers who average about 2 hours of unpaid overtime per day, Tokyo is famous for its zealous workdays. Many workers, often facing an hour commute on the train, leave the house as early as 7 AM and work well into the night, arriving home on the last train at 12 or 1 AM. In the 1980s the Japanese phenomenon of _karoshi_, which is sudden death due to overwork, captured media attention. In 2007, the Japanese Ministry of Health announced that 147 workers died, and 208 fell severely ill from overwork. For this overworked and overstressed city, a cat café is a relaxing haven for catlovers.
One man confessed that although he loves cats, his busy work schedule does not allow him the freedom to responsibly care for a cat and thus the café allows him to indulge in the simple relaxing pleasures of playing with a cat. One Tokyo cat café claims to have about 160 visitors a day on Sundays and holidays.
Although there are rules (wash hands before touching cats, cats should not be harassed, no flash cameras, walk carefully), they are at a minimum. Neko no Mise played relaxing music in the background and many customers alternated between playing with the cats, taking pictures of the cats with their cell phones, reading comic books, and chatting.
Yuki and Haruka, Tokyo shopgirls, were first-time visitors to Neko no Mise. They explained that they were standing on the train platform when they saw the café, and decided to make their way over. Haruka explained that, like many Tokyo landlords, her apartment owner does not allow pets, and being a catlover, the store was a definite must-see.
She spent most of her time petting Porte, a cat that waddled around the room with her very very short legs. A cat menu placed on the table explained that Porte is one of the most popular cats with may fans, despite her small flat ears. Some of the other cat residents include Chataro, the first cat picked up from the wild, who is described as “smart and aloof toward humans,” Pocky, who is “very nice and loves people,” and Shirodame, who is “usually calm but can turn violent in competition for food.”