Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Animal cafes continue to thrive in Japan

By: Joshua Lim
Edited by: Erica King

In Japan’s capital of Tokyo, Kasumi Ogawa has plenty of options on where to get a cup of coffee: Starbucks, a popular American coffeehouse chain; or perhaps a maid café, where girls are dressed in petticoats, pinafores and stockings like French maids.

But Ogawa wanted a different type of experience, so she chose a café where humans and animals can interact and dine side by side: a cat café.

In the café, Ogawa was surrounded by furry felines. She petted different types of cats – some were rare breeds, others were really fluffy.

“I was really enjoying petting them,” said Ogawa, an office clerk from Tokyo.

Five years ago, maid cafes were the craze in Japan, but the trend has shifted to animal cafes, said Nami Ueda, a temporary employee for Google in Japan.

The first cat café in Japan opened its doors in 2004 in Osaka. Since then, at least 150 cat cafes have popped up as of 2012. A majority of cat cafes are located in Tokyo.

Animal cafes are growing in number, Ueda said.

Many people can’t afford to have pets at home, Ogawa said. The limited living space and busy work schedules are some of the reasons why many Japanese households do not have pets.

These animals in cafes serve as substitutes – rental pets – to those seeking animal company.But animal cafes in Japan aren’t limited to four-legged felines, nor are they limited to the cute and cuddly.

Tokyo Snake Center, a café in the Shibuya Ward that opened in August, offers customers a selection of 36 “non-venomous” snakes to accompany them while they enjoy teatime. The café calls its snakes “attendants” and charges customers 540 yen (approximately $4.50) to pet the reptiles.

In Osaka and Hakata, two cafes with the name “Fukuro no mise” offer customers an opportunity to pet owls.
Three customers posing for the camera with an owl.
Photo provided by Fukuro no Mise - Owl Family
“Fukuro no mise” typically serves about 200 customers on a busy day, said Maruoka Yuka, the president of the owl café franchise. Most customers who frequent the owl café are females between ages 20 and 30, but Yuka said she has seen customers as old as 70 visiting her cafes.

Despite the popularity of animal cafes, not all Japanese people enjoy the thought of having animals as teatime mates.

“It’s kind of filthy,” said Kenta Watanabe, a student studying in Musashi University, Tokyo.

Watanabe said his friends, who have been to an animal café, would often say, “That was so fun, so great, you should go there!”

“But I was like, ‘no, I don’t like it,’” Watanabe said.

Moe Miyamoto, a student living in Akishima city, agrees with Watanabe. Miyamoto has never visited an animal café, but the thought of being in a place filled with cats while drinking tea or coffee makes her uncomfortable.

“I feel it’s unclean as well,” Miyamoto said. “I don’t want to touch them.”

Yuka said many customers find the experience of petting and watching owls to be therapeutic and comforting, especially after a long day at work.

“They were able to go back out again and smile more,” Yuka said.

There are about 25 owls in each “Fukuro no mise.” The owls are treated like part-time workers. If an owl works for an hour, it will later rest for three hours before working again.

“Each owl does that for one to three hours (per day), depending on health or condition,” Yuka said.

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