Cat Café / 猫カフェ

Recently I decided it was time for me to go check out a Tokyo Cat Café, or "Neko Café" (猫カフェ) to be correct. I was a bit surprised to learn how many of these cafés have opened in Japan. There are 23 wards, or "cities" in Tokyo and pretty much every ward has multiple cat cafés, so I estimate that there must be a minimum of 50 such cafés just in Tokyo alone (and there's probably quite a few more than that)! This makes choosing a bit difficult of course, but with a little help from Google, and more recently Yelp, it's easy to find the ones that have a good reputation.

Taking into consideration both reputation and proximity to home, I chose "Neko JaLaLa" on the edge of Akihabara in Chiyoda City (千代田区) to be my initiation into the world of cat cafés. Since this was my first time, I don't have any basis for comparison, but I really enjoyed my time there!

Here's how it works. There is a max number of possible customers, and the popular places are busy all day. The cafe was full when I arrived so I had to write down my name and come back in 30 minutes (keep in mind that it was fully booked even though I went early on a weekday afternoon when I had taken a day off work). The adventure begins by choosing from a "menu," the length of time for your visit. Visits start from 30 minutes and go from there; the cost increases proportionally to the length of the visit. At JaLaLa, each visit comes with a beverage included (I chose Brazilian blend coffee). I recommend 1 hour for new-comers because you'll probably be inclined to choose 30 minutes, but if you're a cat person, trust me - this is not long enough. I ended up extending my stay for another 30 min when my first 30 minutes was up.

First the staff explains the rules, which are basically a bunch of obvious points such as no rough-housing with the cats, respecting the cats' boundaries and moods, and not using flash photography. Second, you wash your hands. Finally, you pick up your drink from a window counter that opens to the kitchen, at which point customers have the opinion of buying some cat treats to give out. I decided on some roasted bonito fish which was homemade and placed in a small Tupperware container.

Starting from this point, customers are free to relax and enjoy the café. The interior guest-space is relatively small, but not at all crowded. The entire café is also very clean and comfortable which I guess should be a given, but I figured there would be more cat hair and clawed-up furniture? No, not the case! I also found that JaLaLa has quite a decent-sized population of cats living there, and each seems to have their favourite hang-out spot. The staff members are very knowledgeable, friendly and eager to introduce the cats and talk about them to customers who seem interested in listening. They also have photo books that they made so customers can read about each feline resident.

This is Jijī. This is actually not his real name, but he gradually came to have the name Jijī due to his facial features-- because "Jijī" means "grandpa." (^_^)
The cats living at JaLaLa span a wide range of varieties and personality types. Some were sleeping, and some were inquisitive; some were playful and some were standoffish, as it is with cats in general. I found that buying the treats was a wise choice as the cats are eager to make friends with customers who have them.

As I said earlier, I had a really great time! I am pretty sure I'll venture out to explore other cat cafés, and perhaps I'll go back to JaLaLa again some time.

So why are there so many of these cafés in Tokyo? Very simply, humans love pets! Unfortunately, however, landlords in Tokyo who allow pets are extremely rare. Apartment-renting residents of Tokyo who want their pet-keeping time, therefore, need to patronize establishments such as these to get it. Luckily, although cat cafés are the most popular kind, there are other types of pet cafés as well, catering to people who like dogs, reptiles, birds and other animals.

Also of note is that at JaLaLa, I was surprised to be greeted initially in well-spoken English (my face is a dead giveaway of course). The staff switched back to Japanese after chatting with me for a minute, but during my time there I also noticed that the menus and photo books are available in English as well. It's possible that they speak other languages, too, being so close to a major tourist destination like Akihabara. But anyway, guests from overseas can definitely relax and enjoy their time there.

Nice work JaLaLa! You have a very nice business! Thanks for your warm welcome! I definitely recommend this café to all my readers!

Please forgive me for the blurry photos!

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