October 30, 2019 Cats

Lessons from a Tokyo Cat Café

A cat cafe in Tokyo

Lessons from a Tokyo Cat Café

Recently, I traveled to Tokyo to present oncology continuing education lectures at the meeting of the Federation of Asian Small Animal Veterinary Associations. Over 7000 international attendees participated in 4 days of continuing education sessions given by expert veterinarians from around the world. Despite a very busy conference, I did manage to carve out some time to visit a Tokyo cat café. What an enlightening experience!

Lost in Translation

Two cats at a cat cafe in Tokyo

Finding Neko Maru Café was a bit of a challenge. The challenge was not the Tokyo subway system. Clean as a whistle, well-marked and with translation buttons on the ticket machine, we sped to Ueno Station. Google maps sent us safely over a foot bridge to avoid crossing the busy streets. But my New York sensibility told me the café would be on street level so everyone could see the cute cats. Not so. Although NYC is a vertical city, most storefronts are ground level and that is where I kept looking. Finally, I looked up and at the top of a vertical sign on a building, I saw the Neko Maru logo, eight stories up.

Lesson one: NYC is not the center of the universe.

Feline Friendly Environment

A cat cafe staff member playing with a cat

One glance around the room and I could tell the cats were well cared for by the staff. There was a wide sunny window sill where some cats were napping. Other cats were inside cardboard boxes or other private spaces. Everyone had their own space but were free to interact as they pleased. I didn’t see any litterboxes, but there clearly were some, perhaps in one of the resting boxes or behind a partition off limits to guests. In the hour we spent in the cafe, not a single cat took a swipe, swat or chomp out of another cat. Despite the high density of cats, everyone was getting along nicely.

Lesson two: cats need their own resting place to feel safe and secure.


Cat slippers worn at the cat cafe

We were welcomed into the sunny space only after we had taken off our shoes and slipped on cat head slippers. Japanese culture dictates outdoor shoes not be worn indoors. But there is a feline reason for the shoe change as well. Shoes could track in diseases, which in the close confines of a cat café could sweep through the resident cat population like the plague. We were also asked to wipe our hands with an antibacterial wipe and hand sanitizer. If we had recently petted a sick cat, we could have brought a virus into the café on our hands. Wiping and sanitizing decreases that risk.

Lesson three: cleanliness is next to godliness. Cats think themselves gods, so your shoes and hands had better be clean.

Portion Control

Cat cafe merchandise

Every cat we saw was shiny and sleek. We did not see a single fat cat, which told me the staff worked hard to control portions for the resident felines. Neko Maru gets the gold star for healthy body condition score cats living in an indoor environment. Every day in the clinic, I hear clients tell me, they cannot control portions because they have more than one cat.

Lesson four: No more excuses, you too can control portion size in your cats.

If you get the chance to go to Tokyo, be sure to take in a cat café. I’m sure you will have a fun time.