On the third floor of a rather plain looking building in Ikebukuro, there is a small but busy cafe called Nekorobi. Customers do not come here for the food but for the staff, a sophisticated crew of 12 that are as varied as they are beautiful.
After disinfecting their hands and donning a specially provided pair of slippers, customers can talk to and play with Sugar, Aisha, Anko and the others for as long as they like, if they are willing to pay.
Nekorobi (http://www.nekorobi.jp/english/) is one of Tokyo’s ever-growing numbers of cat cafes. Faced with a high cost of living, long working hours and the realities of life in cramped apartments, many Japanese people are unable to keep pets of their own. In a population that is increasingly single and childless, loneliness is also a rising problem, and cat cafes have flourished to fill this void.
The world’s first cat cafe opened in Taiwan in 1998, but after it became popular with Japanese tourists, Japan’s first cat cafe, Neko no Jikan (or “Cat Time”), opened in Osaka in 2004. There are now at least 39 cat cafes in Tokyo alone, and some are so popular that reservations are required. In order to stand out from the crowd, some cafes specialize in the types of cats on offer. Whether you’re interested in spending time with fat cats, rare breeds or ex-strays and shelter cats, there is certain to be a cat cafe in Tokyo to cater to your preferences.
With the ability to appeal to anyone who loves animals, cat cafes attract a wide range of customers, including elderly individuals and businessmen, young couples on a first date and groups of friends looking for a cute afternoon out. Despite the “cafe” name, many do not offer food or drinks for customers to buy. Instead, they operate on a pay-as-you-stay system: customers pay by the hour to spend time with the cats and use the cafe’s other facilities freely, including taking as much as they like from hot and cold drinks machines and baskets of snacks.
Usually, there are upwards of 10 cats “working” in each cafe, enjoying a range of comfy chairs and climbing frames and a steady supply of humans willing to do their bidding. Customers, in turn, can interact with the cats using toys and brushes provided by the cafe’s human staff, and can sometimes purchase treats to reward their new friends (within moderation, of course). Some cafes even allow customers to bring their own toys for the cats to play with, allowing them to develop a more personal bond with their cat of choice.
Most places also allow customers to take photos of their favorite cats, and visitors’ books are strewn about the place telling customers about each cat’s history and temperament, and giving customers the chance to record their own adventures.
Cat cafes have become so popular that their feline staff members have become mini-celebrities, starring in specialist magazines and coffee table books.
Although the cats are the main attraction, most cafes also offer other activities for customers to enjoy while playing with and watching their feline hosts, including laptops, video games, and manga. In fact, ignoring the presence of strangers, many cafes aim to create as homely a feeling as possible, so that customers can snuggle up with the cats and relax or work for hours, away from the stresses of the outside world.© http://moderntokyotimes.com