I really like cats. Dogs are awesome too (apart from chiahuahuas, which are not so much ‘dogs’ as they are ‘things’) but I really, really like cats. They’re cute and expressive and go meow and generally just do lovely things. Yes they’re demanding, lazy and totally self-obsessed, but then so am I so it’s all good. But while I adore cats I have, for various reasons, none to call my own. It is lost souls like me, then, that cat cafes were created for.
Cat cafes are a concept pioneered in the Far East which allow people to enjoy all the benefits of having a feline friend but with none of the drawbacks (emptying litter trays, everything smelling of cat piss, pigeon corpses left in the garden, etc). The first one ever opened in Taiwan in 1998 and Japan got its first outlet via its second biggest city, Osaka, in 2004. The Japanese love cats, or ‘neko’, so much so that they are recognised nationally as a symbol of good luck and there are now nekokaigi scattered about the land. Last Monday, I paid one a visit.
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This particular joint, Neko Jalala, was located in Akihabara, Tokyo’s famous electronics district. I speak no Japanese apart from “hello”, “beer please” and “thank you” so I wasn’t sure how easy it would be to find the place. But then I saw this door and had a tiny inkling that maybe, just maybe, I might have found it. Don’t ask me how I knew this, I just had a hunch;
Cat cafes are essentially sanitised cat brothels. You decide beforehand how much time you want to spend there and pay a fee for your slot, plus the cost of a mandatory drink. There were four packages to choose from, from 30 minutes to a cat-tastic two hours, but being that this was my first time and I wanted them to be gentle with me, I opted for the ‘basic’: half an hour plus a delightful ice cold Asahi to lubricate the happy cat vibes.
As soon as I got in there I had to take my shoes off while a nice Japanese lady gave me a list of do’s and don’ts (one of the instructions actually said: “Please do not violently do cats”) and directed me to the bathroom so I could wash my hands while she took my drinks order. Hands washed, I took a seat, sipped my beer and prepared to get up to my neck in pussy.
It should be pointed out that Neko Jalala wasn’t terribly big. Being that Tokyo is the largest metropolitan area in the world, space is a bit hard to come by and cat cafes are no exception, so the place itself was more like a small, cosy lounge than an actual cafe. There were already a handful of cat lovers in the place and as a result, we all had to perform our cat adoration in close proximity to each other. A few couples were there, and the girls would delightfully coo: “Neko-chan! Kawaii!” in Japanese while raining affection down upon the cafe’s residents.
While enjoying the cat ambience, I was also handed a book with pictures and short character bios for each of the cats in residence. I particularly liked the last line of the bio for ‘Anne’;
Because cats, however furry and adorable, are essentially complete wankers, it wasn’t easy trying to cuddle up to some of the specimens at Neko Jalala. Even with their every whim catered to, some of the cats still projected that “Why on earth would I want to be cuddled by YOU?” vibe. This one in particular was a right stuck-up little shit;
Others, however, were far more genial. This little dude was super-chill and even though I disturbed his mid-afternoon nap he was quite happy to soak up some ear-tickling and chin-scratching. Note to cats: be more like this guy;
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There were a few amusing moments while I was there; seconds after this pic was taken these two, having been visibly hating each other’s guts for a good couple of minutes, got into a cat fight that involved them clumsily rolling over each other and meowing a lot. The girl that showed me in had to break it up, tut-tutting before planting them at opposite ends of the cafe while they scowled at each other.
There was also this one, who kept trying to steal people’s drinks. I don’t care how cute you are, stay away from my Asahi you furry little bastard!
Of all the cats on display, one of them was absolutely huge and amazing, like that world’s-longest-cat who died earlier this year. I wanted to give him a cuddle but some guy had paid for the longest time slot available and was plonked next to him so I didn’t stand a chance. It was at times like this that the cat brothel ennui felt particularly strong.
Thirty minutes later, my beer was drunk and my time was up so I thanked the staff (who were all lovely and gave me a free sticker) and made my exit. I enjoyed the cat cafe, but it wasn’t quite what I had been expecting. The size of the surroundings almost made it feel like the wing of a mental health facility where myself and several other patients were all having our daily cat therapy.
Also, I was reminded that even though cats are awesome they are also difficult and contrary so not owning one isn’t such a tragedy after all. London will have its very own cat cafe later so I might pay it a visit just so I can compare my experience. Hopefully it won’t be a CATastrophe. Oh Christ.
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