The very first cat cafe was opened in Taipei Taiwan in 1998 it was named “cat flower garden”. This cafe was visited a lot by tourists. Since then it has blossomed to very large proportions in Japan. resulting in the opening of the first cat cafe in Osaka in 2004, Neko no Jikan (Cats time). A year later the second cafe opened in Tokyo. After this the concept boomed across Japan and up until 2010 seventy nine cat cafes have opened and up until 2017 it has grown to 150 active cafe’s.
After having picked a cafe (of stumbled across it as I usually do) and have entered you will usually be greeted warmly, you can chose how long you want to stay, usually it’s about half an hour minimum and you pay for it. You get a lanyard/card with a customer number and a locker or space to put your shoes and put on a pair of slippers, and you get to enter the room.
Usually you’re instructed to not force a cat or grab it in any way because the cats get their own pick if they want to be pet or played with and well… the chance of being scratched is much larger if you force a cat to do something you don’t want to do. Both your safety and the cats safety is first.
Around the place are usually a lot of toys, beds and places to hide in. I’ve been to a few where you can also simple plug in your laptop and play games or read one of the books or manga they have stored around in the shop, you can also buy cat treats if you want to be sure of attracting a horde of cats. Usually you have to buy at least one beverage as well which you get to drink there. Most places also provide food, cakes or sandwiches but bigger cat cafes like the famous Calico cat cafe in Shinjuku also sell full meal sets. (Omurice or curry, sometimes also ramen. ) this however is divided from the cats area by a window. You can still sit and watch the cats who are usually quite interested in what you have to eat and will watch you while you eat the delicious food. When the time is up you can either pay for longer, tell them to pay afterwards is also a thing or take your stuff and begrudgingly leave and leave the glorious balls of fur behind.
The reason these cafes are so big is because a lot of the patrons coming there aren’t allowed by their apartment complex to have pets, the place is too small or they don’t have money or time to own a pet other than maybe a fish. Though it’s becoming more and more common to have pets in (the big cities in) Japan still the popularity of these cafes seem endless. I think because also allergies play a big part in this, it’s better to not own a pet even though you’re crazy about it and going to a place for a short while to play with them.
Other animal cafes have been opening up all over Japan as well; there are dogs, hedgehogs, owls, snakes, rabbits, birds and goats cafes. ( in Seoul, Korea there is also a raccoon cafe).
Along Europe, America and Oceania there has also been multiple cafe’s opened.
In the Netherlands you can find 7 different cafes and I’m sure it’s worth to check them out.
In the United Kingdom animal charities disagree on whether or not cat cafes are a suitable environment for cats. They criticise them for keeping a large number of cats in a confined space with a revolving population of people. It would create stress and health issues for the cats. But that’s why there are rooms and hiding places throughout most cat cafes where visitors can not come. There are specific cat ladies/men who do the cleanings for litter boxes, the caring of the cats and also people who generally watch if everything goes well.
Most of the places also have security systems/cameras everywhere keeping eye on the people and the cats for both of their safety.
I absolutely love cat cafes, I’ve never been to anything else than a cat cafe but while I was living both in China and Japan and felt stressed or lonely/homesick I would go and play with the cats, have them nap on my lap or hung out with a couple of friends while I was there and always felt much better after leaving a cat cafe.
I haven’t been to a cat in the Netherlands though because I own two cats and a dog myself and they give me all the love and companionship I need. but if I wouldn’t I’d spend a lot of times at these types of places.
Sources: video is by The Guardian, header picture, Cat eaten by snake and cat cafe view in Shibuya picture made by me.