Monday, December 20, 2010

The Cat’s Meow

A common sight in Japan is the coffee shop. Unlike the shared and almost predictable commonality of coffee shops in many American cities, those in Japan come in a funhouse of types and themes. If you’re looking for a simple cup of coffee the choices are myriad and if you’re in a Starbucks mood walk twenty yards and look around—you’ll probably see two of them. Want to be waited on by a young girl in a French maid’s costume? Easy to find. How about boys in French maid’s costumes pouring tea and coffee? Yep, that too. Coffee shops in Tokyo come in all guises.

One increasingly popular type of coffee shop is the cat café. There are anywhere from fifty to sixty coffee shops in Tokyo catering to cat lovers, cozy shops where you can sip your coffee with a cat on your lap. The Calico Café in Shinjuku has about twenty cats in a wide variety of breeds.

What kind of customer goes to these cafés? First thought is probably of odd old ladies who live alone and moderate lonely afternoons petting and nuzzling cats. But in fact, the cat cafés attract all kinds of people. You’ll find singles, couples in their 20s and 30s, and lots of people who simply like cats and for one reason or another can’t keep one at home.

In most of the cat cafés, walking in, finding a table and ordering a cup of coffee is not the way it’s done. Rates vary, but the average is $9.00 or $10.00 for an hour of cat company, with coffee extra. There are also rules and picking up just any nearby cat may not be the thing. At the Calico Cat Café there are six rules: (1) Customers must wear a ‘cat-access’ pass around their neck. (2) Cats wearing a scarf are too young to be handled or picked up. (3) Customers must not force themselves on any cat that resists. (4) Napping cats must not be disturbed. (5) No catnip or cat treats allowed, and (6) children under eleven are not allowed in the café.

I probably know at least ten Japanese people who would consider relaxing in a comfy chair, sipping a cup of cappuccino, flipping through a comic book while scratching the ears of a purring cat the ultimate in relaxation. On the other hand, I probably know a good many who view the whole thing as just a little screwy. Think I might be more comfortable if there were just one cat instead of several, and him or her dozing on the sill of a sun-splashed window across the room.

Note on the bottom photo: A cat I used to have, a red point Siamese dozing on the veranda. Her name was Husselbud.


  1. The Japanese are so far ahead of us in so many ways--usually in some personal area like relaxation. 'Course I flashed on something similar in south Louisiana, something like a Nutria Coffee Shoppe, where those beaver-like marsh vegetation-destroying animals come barreling through and the customers can take pot-shots at them as they sip their brew. Would get ride of a few nuisance varmits and the ricochets would raise the populace IQ by eliminating a few good ole boys.

  2. And I thought Tokyo was fascinating when I was there 25 years ago. I keep my Himalayan away from my drinks because her fur is always floating around!

  3. Fabulous blog today. I do love cats and have owned many, but some years ago decided that I would stay with having dogs. We had a Siamese once that used the fact, we have a picture of her on the toilet. I had forgotten about Husselbud, so was happy to see her picture. Beverly


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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America