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FOOD & DRINKS | Specialty


Article | Dayna Hannah

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Visiting a neko (cat) cafe or an animal cafe in Japan is the purrfect way to add some fun to your trip. Many look like coffee shops with cats roaming around, and they’ve become so popular that cat cafes are opening in places outside of Asia. In Japan, you can find them almost everywhere in the country. However, just like the fur babies that they host, cat cafes aren’t always easy to find.

The first cat cafe opened in Taiwan in 1998, but the concept blossomed in Japan. At first, the idea might seem a bit unusual to Westerners, but when you consider the typical lifestyle in urban Japan, it starts to make sense. Many apartments in big cities don’t have very much space, and landlords aren’t keen on letting their tenants keep pets. Cat cafes give animal lovers the chance to snuggle up with a little buddy without the added responsibility.

There are many types of cat cafes in Japan, including those that have specific breeds, colors, or even only fat kitties. All of them, though, follow strict rules to ensure safety for the animals and the customers. The specific shop will shape your overall experience, but there are some things you can expect no matter where you go.


For the most part, you don’t need to make a reservation at a cat cafe, but many have a limit on how many patrons they allow at one time. If you plan on going to a particularly high-rated one, it might be prudent to call ahead and check if they’re already at capacity. Note that some also have age restrictions, and don’t allow children under the age of thirteen.

When you first enter, the staff will ask you to register and explain the rules and the billing system. In general, cat cafes charge by the amount of time you spend and have options for several minutes or an hour. You’ll also need to remove your shoes and wash or sanitize your hands before you can go to the area where the cats are.

For the cat’s safety and comfort, a lot of shops won’t allow you to pick them up. They might also request that you wait for a cat to approach you before you try to pet it. To help coax them out, you can use the provided toys or try giving them treats that are available for purchase. Many cat cafes have drinks and snacks for humans too, but the main draw is the interaction.

If you’ve chosen a place to go but are having trouble finding it, look up! Most cat and animal cafes are on the upper floors of buildings rather than at street level. This strategy keeps the noise inside the cafe at a minimum, which helps the animals feel more at home.


Cat cafes and other animal cafes must adhere to strict regulations laid out by the Japanese government to keep their doors open. However, there have been some cases of cafes slipping under the radar and not providing the best facilities. Animal rights activists also question the ethics of some of these establishments.

For dogs, cats, and other domesticated animals, cafes can be life-saving alternatives and opportunities for them to get adopted. They’re also places where the public can learn more about animal welfare issues, and where unsocialized strays can learn how to be around humans. However, activists put doubt on whether wild animals can thrive in these environments. Recently, owl cafes and hedgehog cafes in Japan have come under the most fire because they’re nocturnal creatures, but customers see them during the day.

Be vigilant and do your research before you go to an animal cafe. Look out for animal cafes that work with local rescue shelters, sanctuaries, or offer adoptions. Also, check and see if the cafe gives the animals downtime or has alcoves or doors they can use to get into a private room. If your cafe meets these standards—and most do—it’s a safe bet that it's a cruelty-free establishment.

If you walk into an animal cafe on a whim, there are a few signs that will tell you if something isn’t quite right. A proper cafe should be very clean, and particularly with cat and dog cafes, if you see that they’re shaking, panting, or exhibiting signs of stress, turn around and don’t give your patronage to these places.


Visiting an animal or a cat cafe in Tokyo and other major cities to play with cute furry friends is a great way to spend an hour. However, if you’re an avid animal lover, don’t miss these other opportunities to see wildlife in Japan!

Nara Deer Park

Nara City’s central park is home to ancient attractions such as Todaiji Temple, Isuien Garden, and Kofukuji Temple. It’s also where hundreds of wild Japanese domestic sika deer spend their days roaming around and begging for food.

Considered to be messengers from the gods, Nara’s deer are a symbol of the city and treated with care and respect by the citizen. They even enjoy the status of being designated national treasures. They’re surprisingly tame, and you can purchase specially-made crackers to feed them by hand.

Jigokudani Monkey Park

Jigokudani Monkey Park is an open-air facility located in a natural Japanese macaque habitat. It features a hot spring where monkeys flock to bathe in, especially in winter. The park prohibits visitors from feeding or touching them, but the monkeys have grown accustomed to humans and will let you get very close.

The nearest parking lot is a fifteen to twenty-minute hike away from the park’s entrance. As you approach, you’re very likely to see monkeys making their way to the bath. When you arrive, you’ll not only have an opportunity to observe them but also learn about their dynamic social group structures.

Akan International Crane Center

At the beginning of the 20th century, there were only around forty red-crowned cranes in the Kushiro Marshlands. Verging on the edge of extinction, several of these rare birds suddenly appeared on a farmer’s land in 1950. The farmer and the local citizens began to feed the cranes, and further conservation efforts allowed the species to start to recover. Now, you can see and learn more about them at the Akan International Crane Center.

In the main building of the AICC, you can learn about their biology through audio-visual exhibits as well as see captive ones in semi-natural wetlands. In this way, researchers and visitors can study and observe the endangered cranes without disturbing the hundreds of wild ones. Many cranes gather here in winter when they come to the feeding grounds, and they’re particularly spectacular when they perform their mating dance.

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