“What greater gift than the love of a cat.” ~ Charles Dickens
“Cats are intended to teach us that not everything in nature has a purpose.” ~ Garrison Keillor
“Of all God’s creatures, there is only one that cannot be made slave of the leash. That one is the cat. If man could be crossed with the cat it would improve the man, but it would deteriorate the cat.” ~ Mark Twain
How ‘bout this idea for a business plan: the public paying for the opportunity to just sit in a room full of cats, while hazarding cat hair in their “catpuccino”??
Probably seems like a non-starter to most of us in the West, but “Cat Cafés” are actually quite popular in Japan. In short, most apartments and condos in Japan do not allow such mousers, and many young Japanese adults continue to live with their parents until late in the twenties, where there may not be a family feline. The Japanese people love cats no less than anyone else in the world, and thus, cat lovers here need places to go to visit temporary tabbies, all the while enjoying a favorite drink or two. Hence, the birth and popularity of Cat Cafés in Japan.
“The cuteness of cats is common to the whole world!” ~ from the Nekokaigi website
Nekokaigi (neko translates as cat 猫), located in Kyoto, is one of the more famous Japanese Cat Cafés, having been featured in many TV programs and newspapers since opening. Although I swear that I had mentioned Cat Cafes to Jody sometime a few months ago, for some reason, I happened to mention it again during our recent winter holiday in Kyoto, Japan. Probably as a joke. However, when I merely touched on the concept, Jody quickly became utterly consumed with the idea. Like in searching the internet, reading various articles, and finally, localizing Nekokaigi in Kyoto over the course of about three hours. Of course we had to go! Or at least one of us did. I had to admit though, that after almost a week of walking the many tourist attractions throughout Kyoto and the surrounding areas, all the while missing our own personal feline friend back home in Okinawa, we were in need of just this kind of respite from our vacation.
The concept behind a Cat Café is deceptively simple: found only in Asia, it is a space designed primarily for the creature comfort and amusement of cats, but which also can serve to host humans, so that both can touch and play with each other at will…while only one side enjoys a beverage or two. Is it you playing with the cat, or the cat playing with you?
Nekokaigi, located in the center of Kyoto, would be a great place to cool off during a hot and humid summer’s day, and we can attest that it’s a wonderfully warm abode to reinvigorate oneself on a cold winter’s day. In either case, it’s ideally situated and serves as a pleasant spot to rest your feet during a breather from the day’s trek through the city’s many temples, shrines, and parks. It has even become a popular spot for first dates and dating in the city, allowing the cats to help break the ice and facilitate displays of emotion and affection for the traditionally shy Japanese. In our case, it afforded Jody her feline fix to help makeup for her time away from Cleo back home.
After literally an afternoon of researching and reading aloud about each non-human resident of Nekokaigi, we were ready to head out and make some new furry friends.
However, be forewarned: this cat café is fairly hard to find. The café is not easy to spot so make sure to check the website if you do not read any Japanese. While there is a sign on the sidewalk, it is small and non-descript. Oh, and it’s in Japanese. According to the maps on the web and their Facebook site, we knew we were in the right area, within even a block (or two). We initially couldn’t find the café, and searched for a good while, to the point where I began to question if there really was a cat café…while we were walking right by the place! Only by looking at some of the photos posted from inside the café in the previous 30 minutes could we confirm that indeed they were open…and nearby. And upon viewing the photos taken from within the café looking out of their storefront, we could then triangulate its position by finding the objects (in this case some uniquely Asian inspired rooflines) visible in their view shed by looking across the street. We required multiple passes in front of the café before actually finding it. Oh, and it’s on the 2nd floor as well.
After finally finding the cat cafe, we did notice a cat drawn on their small portable sign along the sidewalk, but it’s just too easy to miss. Admission for one hour is 900 yen (it has increased this spring) and 30 minutes extensions are 450 yen; drink purchases are not required, but are extra. The website calls attention to just how busy the café can be on the weekends and holidays, and the proprietors therefore endorse visiting on the weekdays. There is a list of “rules,” but they are nothing awkward or unreasonable, except they don’t allow guests under 13 years of age.
Although the staff – called “submanagers” in Japanese – at Nekokaigi don’t speak much English, they certainly try their best to communicate. There are English guides available, and they attempt to corral the cats in your direction if you remain embarrassing lonely for an extended period, and make sure that your refreshment needs are well attended. When we were there on a Friday afternoon, there was a staff of two, two young Japanese girls, a Japanese woman (who seemed to be working and totally ignored the cats), and then only one other male-female (human) couple. There was plenty of room for all of us – human and cats, and, in fact, the cats outnumbered the humans during our entire stay.
We arrived in the afternoon, which if you know anything about cats, is probably not the best time to expect any meaningful interaction. Rather, it was lazy afternoon nap time. Still, we had our share of friends for the afternoon, or at least one of us did. For someone who was so taken by this idea, let’s just say Jody was lucky to have me there to be her friend. Even though catnaps seemed to be the rule, we paid for two extensions of our stay anyway, enjoying our hot tea along with matching up the online cat characterizations (posted throughout this blog) with the actual citizenry.
If you find yourself with some idle time in a major Japanese city, and want to experience something truly different and totally Asian, check if there is a local cat café at your particular destination. It’s well worth the few dollars you’ll spend for a coffee or tea…but the new friends you will make remain priceless.
The details on the Nekokaigi are below:
Phone: 075-212-0577 (Japanese only)
Hours: 11:00～20:00 (Last admission 19:00）
Closed on Tuesdays
*** No children under 13 years old ***