What a Hoot:  Owl Cafes in Japan

 “Don’t count your owls before they are delivered.”  ~J.K. Rowling


But count them when you see them!  It seems that animal cafes are becoming much more deeply ingrained in Japanese culture.  While still rare on Okinawa, it’s not hard to find a “Cat Café” in most any major city one can visit in the main islands of Japan.  But that’s only where the idea just began.  Snakes, lizards, goats, penguins, rabbits and squirrels all have their places now at cafes where animal lovers can call.


kobe-2016-owl-cafe-owls-head-wmkobe-2016-owl-cafe-owl-pet-carrier-wmHowever, what is NEW, at least to Jody and I, is the idea of an “Owl Cafe.”  Many say the popularity of the Harry Potter series has helped in creating this new expansion.  The Japanese, undeniable leaders in the strange and novel (see Kawaii Monster Café and Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto for more of Japan’s cutting edge culture), have managed another kawaii-cute breakthrough featuring owls!


The BiBi & GeorGe Kobe Fukurou (Japanese for “owl”) Café is a small establishment located just outside Chinatown in Kobe, Japan, and offers a number of different types of owls from around the world.


kobe-2016-owl-cafe-bibi-george-owl-cafe-automated-ticket-venderkobe-2016-owl-cafe-bibi-george-owl-cafe-signageThe experience of one’s visit begins with attempting to operate a ticket vending machine outside on the ground, street floor.  Here you can purchase tickets and prepay for drinks ahead, but you’ll need help, to which the staff is only too eagerly and happy.  I believe the minimum amount of time is 1 hour, which costs 1,000 yen (about $10 USD), perfectly reasonable for a chance to see rare birds up close and personal.


kobe-2016-owl-cafe-owls-purr-wmkobe-2016-owl-cafe-owls-perch-wmThe cafe has three floors.  Entering the narrow shop, you’ll meet Sakura, apparently the café’s greeter…who is apparently unimpressed with the guests and all passers-by.  The first floor seems to be just an entrance lobby for the café, but does include a varied and eclectic selection of owl-related goods that has to been seen to be appreciated.


kobe-2016-owl-cafe-petting-a-petite-owl-wmkobe-2016-owl-cafe-petting-a-new-feathered-friend-wmAfter climbing a very narrow stairway, the second floor is attained.  Here there are no owls, only seats for guests to enjoy any beverages they may have bought with their entrance.  The prime attraction – owls, await you on the third floor, and after leaving your bags on the second, another narrow set of stairs offers access.  The main aviary is there where about 15 or so resident birds are located.


kobe-2016-owl-cafe-petting-owls-wmkobe-2016-owl-cafe-petting-an-owl-3-wmKobe‘s first owl cafe boasts a wide array of owls, including Western Screech, Eagle, Snowy, Barn and Tawny owls.  The room was long and very narrow, but clean and tidy, and numerous staff were on hand to help with and discuss the various owls, but only in very broken English.  Bright sunlight was streaming unchecked through the room’s windows, and the overhead fluorescent lights seems to be unnecessarily too bright for nocturnal animals with such sensitive eyes.


kobe-2016-owl-cafe-proud-tall-owl-wmkobe-2016-owl-cafe-proud-owl-wmBehind each owl is a montage of kawaii-cute pictures of that particular bird, along with some basic information, like name, weight, and type of owl and their habitat.  Most of the information is in Japanese, but there is some basic English offered.  Each owl is featured on the café’s website, where English can be selected as your language, but most of the detailed information remains untranslated.


kobe-2016-owl-cafe-small-gray-owl-wmkobe-2016-owl-cafe-sleepy-owl-2-wmWe received some quick instructions on how to properly interact with the owls, like only gently pet them on the top of their heads, and leave them alone if they don’t wished to be touched.  The guidance is provided via a handout, in English.  One of the owls was “on break,” and was not to be touched for his/her hour off the clock; still others were sleeping.


kobe-2016-owl-cafe-unlikely-owl-house-wmkobe-2016-owl-cafe-squat-owl-wmThe assorted owls have beautiful feathers of all colors and patterns, and are much softer to the touch than I would have imagined.  Although at first you may be timid about their long talons and sharp beaks, there really was no issue of potential harm from either.  While each owl has their own unique personality and responds to touch and attention in different fashion, they all seemed perfectly unaggressive.  A flapping of large and strong wings was all it took for guests to prudently withdrawal their hands!


kobe-2016-owl-cafe-jody-holds-an-owl-friendkobe-2016-owl-cafe-jody-holding-a-new-feathered-friendA staff member will offer you an aviary glove and place an owl on your arm for photos.  Such animals seem to offer an almost universal mystique, and some are adorable while others are downright beautiful.  With their haughty attitude, they really are cats, but with wings.


kobe-2016-owl-cafe-momo-chan-princess-owlkobe-2016-owl-cafe-petting-an-owl-3-wmIt certainly is a unique opportunity to see and touch all these beautiful creatures.  But unlike a cat café, these animals are not domesticated and probably not tame, and it is not normal for them to be kept inside as, well, prisoners, chained at their ankles to bars, negating not only their getaways, but even their movement about the space.  I feel bad enough about keeping my cats indoors (and they are all indoor/outdoor cats), but for these wild animals, it seems, in a sense, juts wrong.  Especially since they are such nocturnal creatures who are forced awake and on display primarily during daylight hours.


The owls seem to be well-fed and well-care for, however, something that can be quite challenging from what I’ve read.  The fact, though, that they can’t fly free, seems so repressive (see Whale of a Time for more on a similar situation).


But the chance to get up close and personal with these magnificent creatures is a novel opportunity that shouldn’t be missed…at least once!


Bibi and George Owl Cafe

Phone:  078-391-2960

Opening:  Tues-Sunday 11am-7pm (last entry 7pm)

Cover charge is Y1000 for one hour

Chuo-ku, Kobe, Sakaemachi-dori 1-2-14, Umifuku Bldg 1-3F, located in Motomachi

Reservations are accepted via the shop’s website or by phone, or you can just show up.

Vienna (Sausage) of Truk Lagoon

“A kitten is in the animal world what a rosebud is in the garden.”  ~Robert Southey

I love cats.  And it’s just not that like “there, I said it…” as I had over my man-card to the manly authorities.  I state it proudly and openly.  And on my diving excursion to Truk Lagoon earlier this year, I meet a rosebud of a kitten which I came to affectionately call Vienna.


Me and My Feline Friend Vienna

I don’t have many pictures of this little boy cat.  He didn’t pose well, struggling as he was to just survive.  But he was a looker.  Obviously too lean due to a restricted diet, he had a very long snout on a very triangular head, making him appear much more “wild” than the average domesticated short-hair.  And he was part of a pack of three or four strays that seem to inhabit the Blue Lagoon Resort, the “resort” (I use that word loosely) where we were staying before and after our liveaboard scuba diving cruise aboard the dive boat Odyssey.


I’m a sucker for cats, wherever I go.  I’ve made many cat friends over the years, and in many countries – most places I’ve spent any amount of time, in fact.  This skinny boy cat scurrying about the resort caught my attention.  And making my patented “pssssst-psssst” cat-call (which works pretty much every time), this little boy of about 4-6 months came trotting up like a best friend.  Unshyly rubbing my leg and looking up to bellow a meow too voluminous for his body, I immediately knew he’d be my feline friend for my stay.


Knowing he was hungry, I started to brainstorm about how to help this little guy out.  Taking food from our normal meals taken at the resort’s only restaurant was easy, but that was hours away (the cats actually would congregate around dinner time in the area).  So instead, I headed to the small shop the resort had where various souvenirs and snacks were sold, nothing really to suite a cat’s taste, or a kitten’s nutritional needs.

Then I noticed the cans and cans and cans of Vienna Sausage in the glass display case found at the cashier’s.  PURRR-FECT I thought, right?!

I’m not sure what’s in those tiny little minced-meat formed tubes of soft flesh (or muscle, or fat, or various animal parts unmentioned!), but I know that my ex-wife fed them to my son when he was a little toddler and could handle his own finger food.  Oddly enough, I don’t remember my daughter getting any as a child – maybe a reflection of our increased socioeconomic status perhaps….  Me, well, I’m sure I’ve tasted them(??), but I sure don’t remember that taste-test.  And before you say, “…how can you feed something to your child that you won’t eat,” I ask how many dads out there have actually tasted all those mushy, slimly and smelly baby foods we gleefully shovel down our offspring’s throats?!


Hence this kitten’s newfound name.  Of course he loved the sausages.  And he loved me for the chance to love those sausages.  Literally.  After filling his belly with a can (or two) of that fatty, moist goodness, he would be ready for a nap after expressing his thanks as only a cat can.  And nap we did together – in the resorts various hammocks found along the beaches of the property.  And once I was sure he was relatively clean from parasites (definitely no fleas or ticks at least), he was invited into the room with me.


Vienna would purr and purr, and when I would stop rubbing him, he would bat at my hand with his head, a cat’s demand for more.  But only for a few minutes, because then he was crashed into his cat nap.  I’m sure the dual security of having had a full meal AND a human to cling with made for some much-needed deep, restful sleep.  I’ve had many cats in my life, and I have two right now.  But I’ll tell you that Vienna was more trusting, more loving and more affectionate than most – including those two at home right now (hear that, Cleo and Naka??).  I will forever be amazed at how much peace and tranquility can come from the sound of a cat’s simple purr as their warm, soft fur brushes up against your skin.  It was the perfect counterpoint to the week’s focus on war, destruction and death which any trip to diving the WWII wrecks of Truk Lagoon involves.  And I remain convinced that some of the very best, irrefutable proof of a god is found in the dedicated and unconditional love of an animal….


I said my hard and saddened goodbyes to Vienna when it was time to leave, and I swear that if I could have in any easy fashion, I would’ve taken him home with me.  From Chuuk (part of the Federated States of Micronesia), it is, however, a 3-plane-ride trip home, including an overnight stay in Guam, ending up in Japan, which has some of the strictest animal importation rules I’ve ever dealt with.  It simply was not possible, and sadly so.

But I was also able to smile, having had the opportunity of knowing this small creature, if only for a very little time.  I only hope that Vienna was able to continue to thrive living on the grounds and gardens of the Blue Lagoon Resort in Chuuk.  If you happen to visit BLR, be on the lookout for a sleek, wildish but friendly grey male short-haired tabby of sorts, frisky and playful, and with a purr to melt your heart.  If you do see him, do me a favor and buy a can of Vienna Sausages from the shop and leave them out for him.  He’ll be your BFF, and perhaps, just perhaps, he’ll remember me and the short time we had together.


“Dear Cat-Sitter”


Cat sitter (black text) and cat owner (blue text) correspondence (both raw and unedited), along with a few musings of the cats (green text) left behind during our recent 9 day vacation to Cambodia….

Day 1

Hello, Kevin san, how are you? I could enter into your house, so I was relieved! ^^; Kurio chan & Mayonaka san are fine. Kurio chan is ok but Naka san is so cautious. But he ate his wet food for me, hide now but he will be better day by day. Kurio chan looks sad but plays fine! So don’t worry! Takeyo


Takeyo-San, thank you so much! We are in our hotel in Cambodia. Naka will warm to you; Cleo is friendly but aloof. I’m glad she played! Thanks for the pics and update. Cheers, Kevin


Dear Cat-Sitter, Who the hell is this “Kurio” of which you speak?? Sad? Sad?!? I’ll tell you about sad: the doors to this prison never open and the windows stay closed. I take only the mildest of pleasure in playing “fine,” which serves to mask my own feeble attempts at gaining access to your jugular…and the keys to my freedom. The Little Black One appears so strong as he hides, in stark contrast to my lack of will power when confronted with those damned new toys. I vow to join the kitten in his clear acts of civil disobedience during your next visit. Cleo

Day 2

Dear Kevin san, Cleo chan and Naka san are very fine. Naka san also starts to play. I’m so happy (^_^o) Have a nice trip! Takeyo


Great! Thanks so much!


Dear Cat-Sitter, Finally, you got my name right. And as my captor, I must object to you continuing to taunt me with the damaging psychological torture of the little red dot that’s impossible to catch. At least the Little Black One has lowered himself to our level now, giving up his campaign of civil disobedience, so I’m no longer alone. I’m glad someone is “so happy”…. Cleo


Kevin san, Hi, how are you? We are doing well! Cleo & Naka san are getting used to the situation, and the amount to eat dry food increased. They are very fine! Have a nice day! Takeyo. PS I give to a plant every day, don’t worry about that!


Dear Cat-Sitter, I object, once again, to the forced rations of tasteless dry cereal, and surely we are to starve with only two rationed meals a day. “The Situation?” No, sorry, “The Situation” is some jack-ass from New Jersey on reality TV. What is happening here is just plain sad. Hey, here’s an idea: let me outside and I’ll take care of the plants for you! Cleo



Day 3

Hello, Kevin san, They are very fine this morning too! They ate all dry food for me last night, and all wet food this morning too. They are interested in a new toy that I have and excited very much. I wonder whether I can park in the parking #501 while the sitting. Is the # 501 yours? The street is very is crowded very much during the G,W holiday. Thank you. Have a nice day!


Takeyo, Of course park in 501!! I’m sorry we didn’t talk about parking. Please leave a little more food out for the cats. We always leave a bowl of dry food put in the kitchen. Naka is still growing and very hungry! And thank you for bringing new tots to share with the cats! Thanks, Kevin and Jody


Dear Cat Sitter, With only two choices of food we starve. This is the only reason we eat for you And the Little Black One is…just plain gluttonous. I continue to regret the mildest of pleasure which I cannot resist given your harassing new playthings. Holiday? It must be “Take Great Pleasure in Cat Confinement” week. Enjoy your rock-star parking in our Beloved Warden’s spot while it lasts. Cleo.



Day 4

Kevin san, Thank you for an answer about parking. I’m just in your house. Yes, I will add dry food for them when I go out. They are just eating wet food now. Have a good night! Takeyo


Dear Cat Sitter, Thanks be to our Beloved Warden who cares enough to see that our basic food needs are adequately met. We may survive this week after all. Cleo



Day 5

Kevin san, Hello, How are you? It was a pretty day today, I think Cleo chan & Naka san spent very comfortable. But they looks miss you, so sweet day by day. Cleo loves brushing and Naka san loves play with a new toy everyday!


Thank you so much! We miss them back. Keep the updates coming!! Cheers, Kevin and Jody


Dear Cat Sitter, Pretty day? Oh, the Little Black One and I wouldn’t know anything about that since we remain confined with even our exercise yard privileges revoked. Yes, the Little Black One is much too easily amused. I continue to search for his missing feline pride and integrity…while you brush me. Cleo



Day 6

Hello! How are you ? We are doing well! They are relaxed very much. Naka san is not shy boy anymore. They love CIAO treat and Sheba, eat well. But I worry that the main food does not decrease very well. Their box (toilet)has no problem. Have a good night! Takeyo.


Takeyo, Many thanks for the update! They are mainly wet food eaters. As long as they are eating the normal wet food we are okay with that. If you cut back on treats they will eat more dry, but it’s okay to spoil them while we are away! We will be home soon now. Thanks for watching over our furry friends! Cheers, Kevin


Dear Cat Sitter, As much as I long to lodge prolonged protest with a hunger strike, the Little Black One lacks the will power and intestinal fortitude to see it through. Thanks be again to our Beloved Warden for demanding additional treat rations be distributed! We may be lost and locked away, but not forgotten. Cleo



Day 7

Kevin san, Thank you for the advices about the food for them. If it is so, they are normal and they are eating the dry food little by little. They have no problem! Naka san attacks to Cleo, then he is scolded by her. He looks like a near state for daily life. It’s a fine day this morning, but a rainy season seems to start Okinawa.


Takeyo, Hello! Yes Naka wants to play fight, but Cleo has never been like that, even with her brother before he went missing. We tried to stop him, but there’s no way. There is no harm and they get along okay! Thanks, Kevin and Jody


Dear Cat Sitter, If cats could cry tears the rainy season would’ve started seven days ago. And as far as this “state of daily life,” I remain mystified as to why I am continually subjected to the Little Black One’s bullying and harassment with proper intervention by the authorities. If I wasn’t such a proper and proud maternal dignitary, my scolding would involve a lot more blood. Cleo



Day 8

Kevin san, How are you? Cleo chan & Naka san are very good! They eat food well and their box has no problem, I’m so happy. Naka san looks for his fevorit toy in my bag and waits it out. Cleo chan also play with toy, goes around, watches outside, and request me to drain the tap water of bathroom. She looks very relaxed. A typhoon aproches to Okinawa, I hope that it go away and you have no problem coming back. If you have any problem please let me know to extend to visit. Cleo chan miss you. She is waiting for you and crying. She is so cute!


Dear Cat Sitter, Yes, I fear drinking from the same stale stagnant water that the Little Black One enjoys with open abandon. For me, I demand clean fresh untainted liquid nourishment, a basic animal right, confined or not. Cute is a relative term. Cute is me biting off the Little Black One’s ears. Or brining home fresh gecko-meat from the exercise yard. And my crying: crocodile tears. Cleo



Day 9

Hello Kevin san & Jody san, Cleo chan & Naka san are very fine! They will meet you well tomorrow. The typhoon will come here on 12th or 13th, so I believe you are safe. I am glad that we got used very good friends for these 9 days and they are doing very well. So I miss to say them Good bye tomorrow, but they will be so Happy to see you again! Please be careful on your way to home. Takeyo.


Takeyo-San, We are at the airport in Cambodia and will be home in just about 14 hours. Thanks so much for taking such good care of our family! Please leave the key where you found it after the morning visit. Thanks again!! Regards, Kevin


Dear Cat Sitter, Yes, very good friends aside (and this characterization is more than debatable), we will be equally has happy to say goodbye to you and finally be paroled by our Beloved Warden from this infernal confinement, storm or no storm. Cleo



Day 10

Dear Kevin san, How are you doing? I finished my work just now. I left a key in pacage on the point where you left before, please make sure it. Cleo chan and Naka chan are very fine, so don’t worry! Thank you for the everything! Takeyo


Dear Cat Sitter, All my bitching (and scolding) aside, on behalf of me and the Little Black One, THANK YOU for everything. Until we meet again. Cleo


For a truly wonderful pet-sitter on Okinawa, please contact Takeyo Yamamoto at (cell) 080-6495-9365, email at Okinawa-chatan@petsitter.co.jp.  See her company “Pet Sitter SOS” website at http://pet-Okinawa.jp


Catppucino? Cat Cafés in Japan

“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”??

Nekokaigi in Kyoto

Nekokaigi in Kyoto

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.

If the cats don't like you, you can buy treats and bribe them....

If the cats don’t like you, you can buy treats and bribe them….

“The cuteness of cats is common to the whole world!”  ~ from the Nekokaigi website


Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Cat Cafe Nekokaigi, Kevin making new cat friendsKyoto Japan Winter 2014, Cat Cafe Nekokaigi, high perched catNekokaigi (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.


Uh, she might look sad ’cause she has to wear clothes!

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?


Foxy Lady. Who wouldn’t like to rest on a cat??


Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Cat Cafe Nekokaigi, cat staring contest go! 2Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Cat Cafe Nekokaigi, cat mommaNekokaigi, 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.


Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Cat Cafe Nekokaigi, sleepy cats and Japanese visitor

Where’s the furniture for the humans??

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.


Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Cat Cafe Nekokaigi, Jody finds the sign!Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Cat Cafe Nekokaigi, sleepy clothed catHowever, 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.

Tortoiseshell Cat

As advertised, she was asleep the whole time.


Not my scrawl mind you. A professional produced graphic from the shop’s own website. This photo WILL help you locate the café!

nk2Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Cat Cafe Nekokaigi, peakaboo with new feline friendsAfter 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.


Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Cat Cafe Nekokaigi, sleepy crotch cat friend

There aren’t many pictures of Jody with the cats…(wink).

Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Cat Cafe Nekokaigi, Japanese bath bathing cat 5

Japanese Bath

Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Cat Cafe Nekokaigi, Japanese bath bathing cat 2Although 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.


Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Cat Cafe Nekokaigi, Kevin playing ball with his new feline friends

Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Cat Cafe Nekokaigi, Kevin making new cat friends 2Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Cat Cafe Nekokaigi, sleepy clothed catWe 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.


Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Cat Cafe Nekokaigi, my new cat friend is a crotch snuggler

Cleo didn’t meow at me for a WEEK after seeing this photo, the cat-equivalent of lipstick on the collar….

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.

Saying "Sayonara" at Nekokaigi

Sadly Saying “Sayonara” at Nekokaigi

The details on the Nekokaigi are below:

MapOikekano bldg 2F, 590, Oikedaitocho, Nakagyo-ku Kyoto, Japan

(京都市中京区御池通麩屋町西入ル 御池大東町590御池加納ビル2F)

Phone:  075-212-0577 (Japanese only)

Email:  kyoto@nekokaigi.com

Hours:  11:00~20:00 (Last admission 19:00)

Closed on Tuesdays


*** No children under 13 years old ***

Castillo Condo de Gato

“One small cat changes coming home to an empty house to coming home.” ~Pam Brown

“When I play with my cat, who knows whether she is not amusing herself with me more than I with her.” ~Michel de Montaigne

“Curiosity killed the cat, but for a while I was a suspect.” ~Steven Wright

Cleo does not find Cat Sushi very funny.  I do.

Cleo does not find Cat Sushi very funny. I do.

Today is the day that our furniture is finally “supposed” to arrive in Okinawa.


You see, we live here in Okinawa in the future…depending on where you are.  Thus, the ship could actually be arriving tomorrow contingent on the time zone associated with its arrival date.  But what’s one more day when we’ve had to wait an extra seven weeks (see Castaway for the full sad story on the contracted shipping company simply forgetting to ship our household goods).  As of today it’s been exactly 16 weeks since the total of our “stuff” was packed up….

The women in my life.

The women in my life.  I’m thankful one of them shaves.

BUT, let’s assume the furniture IS arriving.  Given that we may only have a week or so to wait for actual delivery (unloading, customs, movement, more government waste and inefficiency surely has to be expended), and since I’ve covered some of the more important of our possessions that we’ve been missing since packing out our home back in the first week in August (see Do Sweat the Small Stuff and Easy Chair), I felt it was high time to give the third member of our home a voice about the same.  Of sorts.  She’s a cat, you see.  And she only speaks Spanish.

That book is in English.  Cleo only pretends to read....  I think.

That book is in English, which Cleo only pretends to read…. I think.

Sammy-Boy was a talker.  And spoke English.

Sammy-Boy was a talker. And spoke English.

I got Cleo – short for Cleopatra (of course), and her brother Alex  – short for Alexander the Great (of course), about six months after my former cat Sammy (the coolest cat on the planet) went missing in very early 2010.  Alex and Cleo, siblings, were very dissimilar from the very start; Cleo much more demure, light on her feet, and with rather odd leopard-like markings; and Alex, a somewhat blundering lover-boy of a more typical gray short-haired tabby tomcat.  Cleo has always been a smaller cat, and her size has allowed her the ability to jump extraordinarily high and better assume risks that most cats would instead take a nap over.  She has always been a climber, and always has immediately looked for the highest place she could attain in any given situation, and when that perch is attained, she promptly awards herself with a safe, quiet, and undisturbed catnap.

Cleo's nap spot as a kitten.

Cleo’s nap spot as a kitten, high in my office.  I bet she was reading my email….

What’s funny about this is that Alex has always tried to follow Cleo.  You see, he’s not nearly as interested in climbing, or heights for that matter.  As a fit and small kitten, Alex could climb and jump to the places his sister was able to easily navigate to, places that were usually not large and were rather isolated.  And once there, Alex would simply be too damn big for both of them to be comfortable.  And being more of a sumo wrestling build than his sleeker sister, as he got older (read:  BIGGER), he eventually gave up climbing in the same way and to the same places, and Cleo assumed her highness as Queen of the Household, wherever that home may be.

Cleo shared her perch, but the boy's ass became just too big.

Cleo (standing) shared her perch, but the boy’s ass became just too big.

There weren’t that many high places in my old condo in Pensacola (above), but there were plenty of high places for Cleo to explore and call her own in the house I shared with Jody there (below).

Cleo supervises food-service operations from on top of the kitchen cabinets.

Cleo supervises food-service operations from on top of the kitchen cabinets.

Cleo supervising Christmas Decorations.

Cleo supervising Christmas Decorations from our rooftop.

Not a step?  Cleo supervises DIY projects from on-high.

Not a step? Cleo supervises DIY projects from the top of a ladder.

Sleeping on the 8' plant ledge.

Cleo “sleeper-vising” on the 8′ high plant ledge.

However, moving to Okinawa initially really shook up her entire world.  It was bad enough she had to adjust to the loss of her brother in our lives; she literally became a different cat the very day he went missing.  Not only did the hotel in Pensacola suck for her prior to our flights to Japan, the journey across the continental United States and the Pacific Ocean was unfortunately somewhat eventful for our wee feline friend.  I mean if you count me almost killing her (see 9 Lives and Hard Travels)….

Cleo's thoughts on moving overseas are best summed up in this expression....

Cleo’s thoughts on moving overseas are best summed up in this expression….  The audio was something akin to “¡Vete a la mierda!”

In our “pet-friendly” room upon arrival in Okinawa – which simply means that the room was only friendly to pets exactly because it reeked of dirty, wet dog – Cleo immediately found the high spots.  But they weren’t very high, nor were they overly accessible…or apparently comfortable enough to nap.  Being locked in those two tiny rooms day after day for an indoor-outdoor cat is bad enough, but not having the space to climb and the security of her high perches I’m sure no doubt contributed to her rising stress.

Cleo scoffs at the elevation in the TLF.

Cleo scoffs at the lower elevations in the TLF.  Who puts a fan on a throne?

So, as we shopped around for a place to live here on the island, we always kept Cleo’s needs, and dare I say “wants” in mind.  We fully intended to rent a home, where Cleo could explore these foreign and far eastern shores easily from our windows and doors.  However, as we realized that what homes were left after the summer moving crush were much too expensive, too small, or poorly located, and as we shifted to looking at apartments and condos, we still looked at each location for what it could bring to and do for Cleo.  And what it might take away.  She’s family, after all.

Cleo's monster-smashing fantasies.  Tough to achieve from the 5th floor.

Cleo’s Asian monster-smashing fantasies. Tough to achieve from the 5th floor.  Tougher lost on the 3rd….

Living on the 5th floor of condominium building is tough on a cat.  There are a number of buildings all along the seawall here that look the same.  Further, every floor of the buildings and the exterior of every condo on every floor all look exactly alike.  So even though Cleo has these little windows in our place that we leave open where she can come and go as she pleases, no doubt she finds navigating the outside world quite daunting.

She also may be afraid of the urban traffic.  Or more so perhaps this...thing.

She also may be afraid of the urban traffic. Or more so perhaps this…thing.

Especially daunting, it seems, are the stairs!  Or more appropriately, the idea of multiple floors.  As much of a climber as Cleo may be, she turns out to be vertically challenged!!  For an animal that had a very extensive and detailed mental map of our neighborhood back in Pensacola, Cleo can’t seem to grasp the notion – or difference – between, say, the 3rd floor and our own!  We often have to go remind her, after hearing her cries for help, that “…we live up here silly, not down there.”  It seems her maps are one-dimensional only.  I’m pretty sure she hasn’t ventured past the 3rd floor, even though there is absolutely nothing stopping her.

She pleaded to keep the hutch.  It had to go....

She pleaded to keep the hutch. It had to go…back to help decorate a Cracker Barrel.

All this means that she really can’t – and doesn’t explore much here.  She likes the balconies at the front of our place and side where she can watch the goings-on along the seawall.  She most likes to hike down the breezeway and check out other peoples’ side balconies, where she’s been rescued more than a couple of times.  Jody and I have always felt bad for her because of this, and since our condo has relatively low ceilings (eight feet or so), we knew we had to do something.

Cat Castillo; Cleo rules from her Throne(s) on High.

Castillo de Gato; Cleo rules from her Throne(s) on High.

Thank goodness the Japanese have a robust love affair with their cats!  A trip to Pet Box and roughly $200+ later, we’re home building what has become Cleo’s new home away from her home, her very own high-rise Catland Condo.  In the little Spanish I do know, I heard her instantaneously correct our labels by quite clearly saying, “CASTILLO!!”  There’s no point in arguing with her.

"See, it says right here, "Cat Castillo"!'

“See, it says right here, “Castillo Condominio de Gato”!’

Okinawa Sep 2013, cat condo, Cleo takes the stairsCleo’s Castillo is truly her place, err, PALACE.  Here again she has those high places to jump and climb to, but more so, the corner post perches all supply those high, relatively inaccessible places that make her feel so secure.  She sleeps, err, rules from her perches most of the day after her breakfast and morning forays outside.  She lounges, err, holds court up there (when not demanding from her servant Jody to drink from Jody’s bathroom sink) during the evenings when not playing or otherwise interacting with us, or the outdoors.  She even has a $100,000 (basically the expense of renting our place over three years) view of the East China Sea and some truly magical sunsets from her cathedra….

Sometimes I wonder if here Cleo thinks of herself more as Chairman Meow....

Sometimes I wonder if here Cleo thinks of herself more as Chairman Meow….

There’s little doubt that every dollar spent on this giant cat toy is completely worth the cost; it is a small price we pay for the upheaval we have caused in Cleo’s life.  And there’s even less doubt that Cleo appreciates this act of caring kindness, as every night after the lights are out and things have quieted down, she meanders into our bedroom, jumps up on the bed with a small meow, and chooses to sleep with us, her lowly subjects, in our low and lowly bed, quite removed from her highness.

Okinawa Sep 2013, cat condo, Cleo in her new home

9 Lives and Hard Travels

Cleo Contemplates her Lives

Cleo Contemplates her Lives

“The cat has nine lives:  three for playing, three for straying, and three for staying….” ~Ancient Proverb

Japanese Maneki Neko

Japanese Maneki Neko

The maneki-neko (招き猫?, literally ‘beckoning cat’) is an ubiquitous Japanese figurine akin to a lucky charm or good fortune talisman, usually made of ceramic, which is often believed to bring good luck to the owner.  It is NOT of Chinese origin, as some believe, although it has become increasingly popular there among Chinese merchants.  The figurine depicts a cat, traditionally a calico Japanese Bobtail often highly stylized, beckoning with an upright paw, and is usually displayed at the entrance in shops, restaurants, pachinko parlors, and other businesses.  Some are electric or battery-powered and have a slow-moving paw beckoning one from a distance.  The maneki-neko is sometimes also called the welcoming cat, lucky cat, money cat, happy cat, or fortune cat, but usually only in English.  In my mind, although I can find no evidence to support this conclusion, clearly the idea of having multiple lives is connected directly to this strong notion of “luck.”

It seems my cat may have used one for staying with us on our journey to Okinawa, purely to my own lament after accidentally trying to kill her!

The story starts long before the actual, shall we say, “troubles.”  And while this story is really about our journey across the pond to Japan, it uses as a hook and centerpiece cats, in particular, my cat named Cleo.

Short for Cleopatra mind you.  She wanted that to be made perfectly clear.  I imagine she views herself akin to the image below (Nine Lives ~Hanyafuda Suru Nyan!~ – Hanafuda card game with cat girls).

Cat Girls - and Cleo's Alter Ego - from a Japanese Card Game

Cat Girls – and Cleo’s Alter Ego – from a Japanese Card Game

Over the last two weeks we have been busy at work (and some measure of play) getting ready for our move.  This involved, not in the least, three separate moves of our household goods over five days; riding my motorcycle three hours to Montgomery to be placed into storage, and then riding back to put a truck to the same modality of hibernation; cleaning & fixing the home to the last second to get ready for renters; moving into a pet-friendly hotel for a week, and finally, making sure our furry little friend could go along with us, in as much comfort as possible.

Ready to Go?  Probably Not....

Ready to Go? Probably Not….

I’ve already written extensively about the cat-astrophic requirements for importing an animal into Japan (see my blog entitled “Feline Fiasco”).  Part of this process, however, involved getting Cleo acclimatized to her hard crate and soft carrier (yes, we had to lug both 8,000 miles), which, for a grown cat, is next to impossible.  But we had to try….

Cleo's Traveling Confinement

Cleo’s Traveling Confinement

Cleo went back and forth with us to and from the house our last week in Pensacola while we were in our hotel.  Partly because of the above-mentioned reasoning (acclimatization), a little more to let her roam freely in and around our house where she is a very independent indoor-outdoor cat (with her own cat-door), but mostly because we KNEW she would try and make an escape when housekeeping opened our hotel room door.  After numerous car rides she continued to serenade us with her growing displeasure.

A genuine test came, however, when she had to make the long trek to the vet at Eglin Air Force Base, at least an hour (each way) in her hard crate.  Just our luck that Pensacola was in the process of changing military vets, and due to USDA and Japanese government requirements, Cleo needed a special “international health certificate” to go along with her medical record that is now as thick as most teenagers’ are.  Yep, she’s clean, micro-chipped, vaccinated, dewormed, de-mited, anally probed, titer-tested, and generally roughly handled by the veterinary establishment.  Never mind that I or you could be carrying any host of deadly disease….  The more you stop and really think about this – the contrasting way we treat the migration (and immigration) of animals versus people – the more it really stops to make much sense.

But Okinawa is rabies-free – and kudos to the Japanese.  Really.  That’s pretty cool.

Now about its problems with HIV, tuberculosis, malaria, polio, and a whole “host” of parasitic diseases (Get it!?!  There’s a pun there.)….  It’s not that Okinawa is any different than other countries in this respect; quite the contrary.  However, it helps highlight my point about, to some not insignificant degree, as to a poorly-placed focus on disease transmission and control.

A Kabuki-Stylized Bakeneko

A Kabuki-Stylized Bakeneko

The Maneki Neko described above, is also a type of bakeneko, the characteristics of which Cleo sometimes adopts.  Bakeneko (化け猫?, “monster-cat”), in Japanese folklore, refers to cat yōkai (spiritual beings) with supernatural abilities akin to those of the kitsune (fox) or tanuki (raccoon dog).  There are a number of superstitions that detail how ordinary cats may transform into a bakeneko;  bakeneko then haunt and menace their household.  A bakeneko with a forked tail is referred to as a nekomata (猫又?, or 猫股 “forked-cat”).

In our case, the pre-traveling trials and foresighted feline forays did not appear to be paying dividends.  Since Cleo is so bad at carrying a “CAR-aoke tune” (Jody’s joke, not mine), we decided to let her roam freely in the vehicle, which I can assure you is NOT a good idea.  Of all the places Cleo could wander, she continually wound up lodged behind and/or around the brake pedal at Jody’s feet.

I’m convinced it was by pre-mediated design as a bakeneko.  After all, she has more lives to survive vehicle “mishaps.”  Anything to get out of that car.  I salute her resolution and commitment.

Anger Kitty

So, the big travel day comes, and we are off to the airport with our 5 carry-ons (includes the cat, but please don’t repeat that that to her, you know, because of the bakeneko problem), 6 pieces of luggage (5 of which were pretty damn near our limit of 70 pounds), and our smiling faces at 4 am last Thursday.  Based on our conversations with the vet, we “medicated” Cleo with about 8mg of Benadryl earlier that morning, which in the past has worked exceedingly well with my other cats.

Luggage.  Can you Spot the Cat?

Luggage. Can you Spot the Cat?

“Medicating” a cat is not in any way analogous to one having to take, say, a large abhorred pill that tastes really badly.  It is in some ways similar to trying to give a toddler some of that really thick, nasty, refrigerated oral liquid antibiotic that everyone around my age (mid 40s) should remember with a fair amount of visible disgust on their faces.

If Only Cats Had Thumbs - and Dressed Better

If Only Cats Had Thumbs – and Dressed Better

Except add claws.  And very sharp teeth.  And the uncanny bakeneko-inspired ability to wiggle away from just about anything but a fierce choke-hold.

Okay, that’s a wee-tad over-dramatized.  All you really have to do be is not afraid to grab and hold a cat’s scruf….

Cleo does well during our wait in Pensacola and our first leg to Houston.  As well as can be expected for a caged-animal used to her near-complete freedom.  And most likely better than her owners, both stressed with her displeasure and quite possibly a few irrational conclusions of possible discomfort and notions of suffering.

The Benadryl did, if anything, turn her healthy and vocal meow into a more pathetic, low and slow drawl of complaint.  More stressful to us, certainly, than the former!

However, we do decide once safely in Houston to try and medicate her again.  Mainly because there were times when she would rather violently rock and struggle in her carrier while meowing quite loudly and alarmingly.  It’s difficult to read your cat; they are not like your own children.  With babies and toddlers, astute parents learn quickly how to properly evaluate an annoyance cry from a distressed shriek.  It’s all too easy to misinterpret a different species….

The Girls in Houston

The Girls in Houston

We find a family-friendly restroom in the airport.  Note that the signage on and around these areas say nothing about being furry-friendly!  And there’s certainly no rest involved, not for a cat.  We let her out, auspiciously to give her water and “a break” from her confinement, but unlike a human prisoner, there is no equating this momentary freedom with any conception of thanks.  Or any curtailment of her stress.

[This leads to an interesting tangent – and possible business prospect if not a grandiose idea for (multiple) patent(s) – about truly pet-friendly spaces at airports.]

Cleo vigorously explores these new surroundings, reacting to all the outlandish sounds and abnormal smells with extreme caution and high alert.  Jody and I ready the next does of meds, and although Jody points out how jagged the 1/3 of a Benadryl pill piece is, I casually blow off this alarm.

A decision I will come to regret.

That's a 7,000 Mile Line....

That’s a 7,000 Mile Line….

Jody does the holding, prying, and prepping for dosing.  I hold firm in a totally unfounded belief that as a highly trained and certified perioperative nurse, somehow she knows how to handle my cat’s airway in with both the greatest effect and with least intrusion.  My role in this endeavor is as the “dose-er” to the dosed.  And unlike in execution by lethal injection, where a few people push buttons so theoretically no one knows who is ultimately responsible for administering any deadly drugs (doesn’t that make ALL of them equally responsible – an even worse ethical outcome), I know exactly who is to blame….

The pill goes in.  Not far enough down Cleo’s throat.  Jody tries in vain to get her to swallow.  Cleo either can’t, but in any case, certainly won’t.

Anything is better than Medicine

Anything is better than Medicine

I’m not sure how many cat owners get to see what happens when their cats taste a flavor that they detest in absolute terms.  Like as in an involuntary biological, physiological reaction.  From all my reading online, cats taste (and smell) quite differently than we do.  In fact, in the bitter and sweet ranges (to us), their experiences are radically different than ours.  Most meds we take are on the bitter to extremely bitter end of the spectrum, a place that quote, “cats detest.”  If any part of the pill gets on their tongue or near their specialized olfactory organ (in the roof of their mouth), they begin to violently wrench, salivate excessively, and literally foam at the mouth in attempts to rid themselves of their displeasure.  These effects are rather immediate and severe, and look deadly.

And it’s scary as shit.  But, experts always say that “foaming looks terrible but it is not dangerous or painful….”

Tell that to my cat.

This foaming went on for what seemed like 30 minutes, but in actuality was probably more like five; all-the-while I’m literally concerned whether she’s breathing, and just as literally, I’m sick to my stomach over the whole morbid affair.  I’m not sure what I would do if I was responsible for my cat’s death en route to Okinawa.


In retrospect, the funniest thought that rattle around my head, then full of racing fears, was that although I was recently re-certified as an Emergency First Responder (EFR) as a scuba diving divemaster (and for emergencies in general), the stupid course didn’t include CPR for animals!  In my life, I am more apt to have to do CPR on my cat than an infant, the latter of which I have very little contact.  Remember the conversation above about misplaced focus (wink)??

Cleo starts to recover, after spitting out the pill mind you.  And what started out as a quick measure to ease her longer-term suffering on the lengthy flight over the Pacific, turned into ten minutes of far worse suffering for Cleo.  You know it’s bad – really bad – when your cat voluntarily returns to her carrier without protest or sound, and peacefully lays down in complete defeat and surrender.


Exhausted and beaten, all of us make the journey to Japan.  Cleo spends another 19 hours or so in her carrier and crate, and what does she do when she is finally free in our lodge on Okinawa?

She loves us just the same.

Cleo Closeup

I feel as though I cost Cleo a life in Houston, a life for staying with us, for traveling unknowingly across the globe.  Welcome to Okinawa, Cleo, my once-again Maneki Neko.  Here’s good fortune to us all, and prayers for no more lost lives during the next three years.