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Tokyo's cat cafes

Customers coo, crawl around floor and snap photos at increasingly popular cat cafes.

A bored husband slept, mouth gaping and fingers loosened around the cat toy in his lap. Men and women jockeyed for prime positions near the waking cats and took photos on cellphone cameras of cats snoozing in baskets and lapping at water bowls.

A waiter handed me a laminated page of rules: wear your cat-access pass around your neck at all times; no one under 5th grade may enter; cats too young to be held have scarves around their necks; do not hold or stroke a cat if it resists you; never wake a napping cat; bringing cat nip or cat food to the cafe is strictly forbidden.

“Is this a rare breed, this one that looks like a poodle?” a woman asked a waitress while her husband snapped a photo of the sour-faced cat.

“Oh yes, Kukuru is very rare. She’s one of around only 20 in all of Japan,” the waitress replied. The husband grunted, impressed, and stroked the sleeping cat.

A few yards away, two young women waged a near silent and very polite battle over a complimentary plastic bag of six pieces of dried cat food. (Customers were permitted to use the food to try to lure cats to come closer.)

All but three of the cats were asleep when I left the room full of adults vying for their attention, crawling on the floor with cat toys shaped like miniature fishing rods and brandishing their cellphone cameras. As I paid up, the cashier bowed and offered me a complimentary postcard-sized photograph of cats that had been made into a sticker.

It had been a bargain, albeit a strange one: An hour of commitment-free cat stroking cost me only $9.

Editor's note: This story was corrected to reflect that the Japanese have more pets now than they used to have.

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