In the bleak Japanese summer, wandering through the bustling Amerikamura area of Osaka, we became aware of an incessant meowing. To a fan of felines, the lure is irresistible. So my sister and I followed the sound to its source. The meows were being played on a loop and came from a small speaker, beckoning us up a narrow flight of steps to Neko No Jikan: a cat cafe.
We were ushered into a small entrance way. There were cute hand written notices in English telling us the fees and letting us know we needed to take our shoes off. A young woman behind a glass pane motioned to the shelves containing brown guest slippers and we undid our laces unobligingly. As we cautiously opened the sliding door (careful of any whiskered would-be jailbreakers), there was the familiar unpleasantly pleasant smell of disinfectant and fur - the hallmark scent of a cleanly pet owner. And it was cool.
Is there any greater pleasure than stepping inside a cosy room filled with cats after hours of trekking through the biting heat? I doubt it.
Neko No Jikan is an establishment which appears to attract more foreigners than it does Japanese natives. The con is that you have to sit in a room full of tourists and be reminded that you are a tourist. The pro is that its staff are proficient in English and there are signs directing you as to what the rules are.
First, pay your entry fee of ¥1,500 at the counter. The price allows you to stay in the cafe for an hour and includes one drink. You give your name so that the staff can keep track of the time you have been there and then are given a bead bracelet (this is your drink coupon for later on). You are reminded to turn off your camera's flash. Second, your hands are sprayed with disinfectant. Third, put your bags/coat/others away in the boxes at the far end of the room–you are told to use either a green or a white box (another way for the staff to keep tabs on your time, I presume). Finally, go and play with the kitties!
The room is brimming with cats and yet does not have the overcrowded feel that some cat cafes can have. I always have a sense of foreboding entering an animal cafe because it is very hit and miss as to whether the inhabitants are treated as products or are respected as living things. Neko No Jikan fortunately falls into the second category. Its residents are well-groomed and relaxed, basking under heat lamps. Those that are feeling less sociable have adequate hiding places to retire to, away from their paparazzi visitors.
There is a wall which introduces each cat. There is a little description (only in Japanese) which describes their personality and breed. You can buy treats to give you the edge over other customers, as you vie for the cats' affections. Litter boxes are discretely hidden away.
My sister and I were lucky on the day that we arrived. The last batch of customers left about five minutes after we arrived and we had the room to ourselves. We were in for a real treat too. A new arrival, the three month old Manjuu, had been in a cage labelled with 'do not open' sign. Once the staff deemed we were respectful enough to the cats, they let her out to play with us.
We then traded in our bracelets for a drink. These are very basic, nothing to write home about (or even take a picture of!), but we weren't there for the beverages. The cafe does not serve food. Then our names were called, a gentle indicator that our hour was up.
Back out in the entrance hall, we noticed that the cafe had a small bathroom and a row of lint rollers. So we had a chance to neaten up before stepping back out into the fashionable Amerikamura.
A brochure informed me that Neko No Jikan has two other branches. One of these is apparently 'Japanese style', although this is by appointment only.
I would recommend Neko No Jikan as a quiet space to sit and relax for an hour, a place to rest your paws as it were. It is a refuge for a tired tourist to rejuvinate whilst also ticking off cat cafe on the 'Must Do in Japan' list. It might be worth bearing in mind, however, that its ambience could be different during a peak tourist season. If the room had been packed full of other customers, the cafe would have lost its appeal. Jostling to stroke a cat which is being mildly (even though well-intentionally) harassed does not have the same draw. I suggest looking through the glass to see how busy it is before committing to a stay. My favourite aspect was definitely its calming atmosphere - the combined healing powers of purrs and kawaii.