Cat-tastrophie: My Trip To A Cat Cafe
January 27, 2010
In retrospect, the idea of a cat cafe isn’t remotely insane enough for Japan. When I told one of my supervisors at work where I’d gone the past weekend, he immediately assumed I’d visited a cafe where women dressed up as cats and served you. He dropped this idea (and most likely his respect for my masculinity) when I showed him the pictures. Still, the idea seemed really out their this past Saturday as I rode the train out to Osaka to visit a cat cafe.
I imagined this feline-centric cafe to be a major landmark, surrounded by billboards trumpeting its existence and hordes of tourists anxious to see kitties. Much to my surprise, the cafe wasn’t located in the bustling center of Osaka, but a slightly-less frantic area outside of the city center. The establishment didn’t puff it’s chest out, the only indicators in the area being a few signs outside covered in photos of cats. Step inside of a white business building and head up to the third floor. Switch out your regular shoes for cat-friendly kicks and you are ready to go in.
The cafe might have been lacking in placement, but it certainly delivered on the promise of lots of cats. The moment my group slid open the door, a cat burst out running. Probably a knock against the establishments treatment of felines if they make a break for it whenever the front door opens, but I was to excited by the prospect of “KITTIES!” to worry about that. We stepped into the main room, which looked like a quaint little coffee shop, complete with tables and a serving counter – one that happened to be decorated by a crazy cat lady who also owned a small army of cats.
The system works like this – you pay for an amount of time that you wish to hang around a bunch of cats, in my case one hour. You also have the option of buying a drink or a dessert item like cake. If you do this, you receive a Sour Patch Kid colored bracelet you can exchange for a coffee or juice sometime during your stay. After you store all valuables inside a claw-protected room and take off any coats you might be wearing, you are free to pet cats, drink coffee and pet cats while drinking coffee.
We proceeded out of the cafe area into the main cat room. Blanketed in all sorts of perches and boxes (and smelling slightly of pee), this is where most of a trip to the cat cafe takes place. The walls are covered in cat-related decorations – except one wall devoted to a chart giving the info of every cat at the cafe – and the occasional kitty scampers by you. For the most part, though, the cats at this cafe were more than OK living up to the feline stereotypes laid out by Garfield and just snoozed.
The cats’ decision to sleep didn’t stop anyone in the room from petting them and mumbling things like crazy people (me very much included in this). You find a particularly adorable cat (and there are many), sit down next to it and just start petting it. I’ll take this moment to note these cats were especially fluffy. Most people also go around the room snapping photos of the kitties, and for a small fee you can rent out a cat toy to play with. I skipped this, as the majority of animals were in deep sleep.
The experience is bizarre. Besides the obvious “me and a bunch of other people paid money to hang around sleeping cats point, it’s weird for a few other reasons. As one friend noted, this was basically a cat brothel; we paid yen to bum around with cats for an hour while the cats, surely sick of this pampered treatment by now, sat back and endured it. They didn’t seem to be getting any enjoyment out of this. I heard nary a purr. And I won’t even dwell on the health concerns, especially when you see the drink-maker rubbing his face against a cat which is inches away from where the coffee is brewed.
Still, as I waited for my coffee and watched various cats mosey on by me, I see why such a place would be popular. Of course, the chance to pet cute, fluffy cats stands out. But it’s also a relaxing little escape, one where they play cutesy J-Pop and leave out books for you to draw pictures of cats in. And to top it all off…the cream at the top of the coffee is shaped like a cat face. Now that’s a winner.
(Japanese Fun Fact #38 – Spongebob Squarepants airs every week here, and besides being a TV drug trip it’s also really popular. It’s an international phenomenon, and as a result I’ve had elementary school students refer to me as “Patrick Star” a.k.a. the loveable but braindead starfish from the cartoon. It’s a similarity Japanese students share with American students, as both groups have done this. The only drawback…besides being considered slow just because that damn starfish is…is the Japanese version of Patrick has a really high pitched, feminine voice. In America he was a dum dum, but he at least sounded like a man.)