“Where’s the best place in Tokyo to play with rabbits?”
“Where can I drink herbal tea with noisy birds squawking in the background?”
“How many cats can you possibly fit into one small room?”
These are questions we’ve undoubtedly all asked ourselves at one point or another, and we will be addressing them shortly, along with some tips for getting the best value for money from your animal cafe experience. But first, a bit of background.
What are Tokyo animal cafes?
Animal cafes are commercial establishments where you can enjoy the company of resident cats, rabbits, birds or other animals while you lounge around and drink coffee. Cat cafes are the most numerous and well-known type, with a history in Japan going back to 2004, while cafes featuring owls and hawks have been gaining in popularity over the past year or so.
Cat cafes are generally set up with one or two playrooms where you can observe and interact with the cats and also drink coffee and tea or have a snack. Many playrooms are furnished like apartment living rooms, but with lots of extra perches, shelves and boxes for the cats to hang out in, while others feel more like kindergarten classrooms, with brightly colored furnishings and toys strewn across the floor. Soft drinks, and sometimes beer and cocktails, are available for human consumption, and many cafes also provide kitty treats for you to dispense.
Rabbit cafes, unlike cat cafes, are usually set up with separate cafe and playroom areas. Generally only a small number of rabbits are allowed to run around loose at one time, while the other rabbits nibble on hay in their cages. Often you can pick a particular rabbit to feed and pet, and you can exchange rabbits when you want, although some rabbits may be “off-duty” when they get tired.
Rabbits seem to always be hungry, so feeding them little treats is the most effective way to keep their interest. A few rabbit cafes are nothing more than pet shops that have set up a few floor cushions in a corner, while others are more comfortably furnished and equipped.
Large-bird cafes—those featuring owls, hawks and falcons—come in different styles. Some let you hold the birds on your arm like a falconer would do, while others are hands-off—you can take photographs and engage in staring contests, but you’re not allowed to touch the birds. The hands-on cafes usually provide an initial safety lecture where they teach you how to hold the birds, and which birds are off-limits.
Small-bird cafes are less common, and usually these are set up like regular cafes where parakeets and other birds provide a colorful and noisy backdrop to your coffee and cake. Other less-common types of animal cafe feature resident dogs, reptiles, goats, meerkats and chinchillas.
Optimizing your Tokyo cat cafe experience
A visitor’s experience at a cat cafe can vary quite a bit depending on the time of day and day of the week. Weekday mornings when a cafe first opens are generally the best time to encounter playful, friendly cats, whereas late on Saturday and Sunday evenings you’re more likely to encounter cats that are tired and bored with visitors.
Feeding times, which are sometimes listed on a cafe’s website, are another good time to arrive. Cats sleep a lot, and it’s not unusual to find two-thirds of the residents napping at any given time, but they all wake up for lunch or dinner. Early evenings on weekdays can also be a good time to drop in, as cats are generally more active around sunset. As a general rule, cafes with spacious, comfortable playrooms and a large number of resident cats tend to be the most fun for visitors.
Temari no Ouchi cafe in the Kichijoji neighborhood is a good example—they have seventeen cats in a large playroom, and visitors can order snacks or full meals in addition to coffee and herbal tea. They offer discounted admission after 6:00 pm on weekdays, just in time for their 6:30 pm feeding time.
Nyankoto in Takadanobaba is another very well-run cafe, where the staff go out of their way to keep the cats and kittens entertained and active. Cat treats are 100 yen and well worth the investment, while soft drinks are free from the self-service vending machine.
Just north of Ikebukuro, Nekoya in Omiya (Saitama) is one of the most spacious cafes in the Tokyo area, with comfortable massage chairs, free WiFi and a big selection of 100 yen drinks for the benefit of visitors, and a room full of contented cats.
Recommendations for big birds, small birds and rabbits
When it comes to large-bird cafes, recommendations depend on how adventurous you’re feeling. Cafe Baron in Koenji is a very relaxed spot where the owner’s pet birds and snakes just provide a pleasant backdrop to your visit. The coffee and desserts are very good, and the owner (who speaks English) also specializes in curry rice. There’s no cover charge—you just pay for whatever you order from the cafe menu.
Hawkeye, located around the corner from Tokyo Skytree, tends to be more interactive. Cover charge is just 1,000 yen for one hour, and includes free soft drinks and some time in the bird rooms where you’ll meet the owner’s flock of well-loved and well-cared-for owls, hawks and falcons, all raised from hatchlings. You may get lucky and have one friendly bird on your arm and another perched on your head, as we did, but bird wrangling opportunities may vary depending on how crowded it is.
Kotori Cafe in Omotesando is our favorite small-bird cafe because after you’re done with your coffee and cake you can opt for a five-minute bird session for an extra Y500 (there’s no other cover charge—just the price of your coffee). During your time in the bird room you’ll learn how to hold a bird (they seem to enjoy it when you move your finger up and down like it’s a branch in the wind) and how to avoid getting pecked too badly.
The newly opened Mimi rabbit cafe in Ikebukuro seems to have the friendliest rabbits in town, and as a consequence is set up more like a cat cafe, in that several rabbits can run loose outside their cages and romp around together. A small cup of rabbit kibble is included in your admission fee, which is helpful in making friends, and you can choose from fifty varieties of coffee and tea.
Tokyo animal cafes offer differing levels of support for non-Japanese speakers—there’s usually (but not always) some sort of instruction sheet in English, but often that’s as far as it goes. Nevertheless the rules tend to be pretty straightforward—be gentle and respectful with the animals, don’t bother them when they’re asleep or eating, turn off the flash on your camera, and sanitize your hands at the beginning and end of your visit. (See the FAQ at AnimalCafes.com for more on cafe rules and etiquette.) Oh, and try to keep track of the time—sometimes the staff are too busy to warn you when your hour is up. Other than that, relax, take a few photos, and enjoy your time spent with your new furry and feathery friends.
A word about animal welfare
Animal cafes are not always as nice as they should be to their furry and feathery hosts, and several establishments have been fined or come under fire for their disregard for animal welfare. While there certainly are good cafes that have the animals’ best interests at heart, there are, unfortunately, a fair few dodgy cafes too. We urge you to exercise discretion when selecting a place to go have a cup of tea, and report anything that seems unkind. – The TC team
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