Taiken Japan

Autumn Leaves 2016

Animal Cafes

Photo: Takashi Hososhima on Flickr

Animal Cafes

James Morton

Surprisingly, animal cafes, or the concept of a café or restaurant where you dine with a feathered or furry friend, isn’t originally from Japan but Taiwan. The first of its kind, a cat café called Cat Flower Garden, opened its doors in 1998 in Taipei. On the back of that café’s success sprang a range of additional copycat cafés (no pun intended) and other countries have been quick to follow suit. Still, there’s no denying it’s the Japanese that launched the idea into the mainstream, and we can thank the popularity of cat/reptile/bird cafés in Tokyo for the range of popup animal cafés across Europe, America and beyond. Here are four of the best that Tokyo has to offer.

“Neko no Kanzume,” Cat Café, Nakano

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Come out at Nakano Station’s North Exit, head past the famous Sun Plaza building, work your way up the main road and before long you’ll spot it: Neko no Kanzume, on the right just a little way past the Marukawa clothing store. You’re guided up the staircase by a series of laminated yellow and orange pawprints until you reach the third floor. There’s no need to book in advance, even on Saturdays – there’s plenty of space for everyone, cats included.

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The décor is simple, with scratching posts and climbing frames spread about, and posters on the walls that tell you the cats’ names and dates of birth. It’s worth nothing that Neko no Kanzume is part animal shelter, meaning the cats are all up for adoption, so if you end up getting too attached, the option’s there to take one home with you. Cats by nature are, of course, temperamental, so honestly, not all of them will show much interest in your being there – but they’ll likely pay some attention if you bring out one of the boxes of toys positioned around the room, which are packed with cuddly dolls and plastic fishing lines free for the taking. There’s also an appliance available in the doorway on your way out, to remove any stray hairs from your clothing – very useful if you’re stopping in for lunch on a workday.

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There’s no real food to speak of so calling it a café is a push, but a canned drink from the fridge (a choice of coffee, orange jucie and tea) is included in the entry fee (1000 yen for 1 hour, 1200 yen on weekends). As far as Tokyo’s cat cafés go, it’s certainly one of the better ones around, and worth a visit.

Penguin Bar, Ikebukuro

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Perhaps not the most inventive title for a bar with penguins in it, nevertheless, Penguin Bar is a quirky treat for Tokyo residents and visitors alike. With an entrance fee of 800 yen, some might deem it a bit pricey, but you go for an experience and that’s what you’ll get, and dining with penguins is nothing if not unique! The décor is distinctly penguin-themed: each table includes a black towelette moulded into the shape of a penguin: very kawaii. Photographs of wild penguins in frames adorn the walls and TV screens are suspended from the ceiling, broadcasting footage of the feathered beasts in their natural habitat.

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The drinks menu is reasonable, and features a wide variety of cocktails from mojitos to Moscow mules. The food menu hosts a fairly diverse range too, including fried squid, roast beef, sausages, steaks and salads. There are special deals on offer for women and students so if you fit that category, be sure to check out their website before you go.

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The penguins’ tank itself is situated in the corner of the bar, where clientele have easy view of them swimming. Although petting the penguins isn’t permitted, each customer is given the chance at one point in their visit to feed the penguins a fish with a pair of tweezers. Only one fish per customer though, so make it count!

Goat café, “Sakuragaoka Café”

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If the words “goat café” conjure ideas of a café mixed with a petting zoo, think again: there’s actually only one goat, and it’s outside in a pen. There are chairs and tables outside too, so you can sit alongside the goat if you like, though it might be tough to stake out a seat as the outdoor section proves quite popular. You can purchase a bowl of carrot sticks from the staff and feed the goat for no additional fee.

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However, whilst the goat is most likely the main feature that lures in the café’s clientele, the Sakuragaoka differs from your average animal café in that the animals aren’t actually its prime selling point. Sakuragaoka would be a decent enough eatery even without the added novelty of dining with wildlife. Situated in the heart of Shibuya, just a short stroll from the station, the café offers a spacious interior with an eclectic range of furniture styles. The menu is reasonably inexpensive, with meals as varied as beef tongue, curry and gnocchi. House wine is only 1600 yen for a decanter, and you’re welcome to stay late until 4am every day except Sunday.

Note that smoking is permitted in all areas, so it can get a little foggy in there from time to time. Also, be forewarned: it’s up a rather steep incline from Shibuya station, so if your leg muscles aren’t up to the walk, it might be best avoided!

An ideal place for a coffee and a catch-up with friends, whether you’re a fan of goats or not.

Rabbit café, “Ra.a.g.f”

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Tucked away in the sidestreets of Harajuku, you might not spot this café without being alerted to it by a tourist map. Ra.a.gf (a sort-of acronym for “Rabbit and grow fat”) is a particularly charming dining experience. It’s up on the third floor of what looks like an apartment block, so at first glance it might feel like you’re arriving at somebody’s house. Inside, however, the café is homey, the staff friendly and accommodating. Shoes off at the door, of course (that’s mandatory) and if it happens to be full, you can schedule a return trip, usually only an hour or so later. Upon arrival, you’ll be escorted to your seats – a row of cushions on the carpeted floor alongside a pint-sized table, and given a contract to sign, just to assure you’ll adhere to the café’s rules: e.g. No flash photography, no bringing in outside food. Then you pick a rabbit of your choice from the selection (only one allowed out every 15 minutes, in case they fight or mate) and sip your coffee with a rabbit in tow.

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A 30 minute coffee session costs 700 yen, whereas 60 minutes costs 1,100 yen. You can also purchase snacks for the rabbits for just 150 yen extra. Each rabbit has a name, and most are available to purchase too. If you only go to one animal café during your trip to Tokyo, this is the one I’d recommend the most.

If that’s not enough, there are owl cafes, reptile cafes and many more to explore in and around Japan. The concept’s catching on abroad, but it’s still limited compared to Japan’s smorgasbord of animal eateries, so why not spend some time dining with animals in one of Tokyo’s broad selection? There’s nothing quite like it.