Japan is famous for the quirky cafes it has, and in particular for the cafes based around animals. This was a concept I eagerly researched for many years, long before the first cat cafe opened up in London. Now that I’m here in Japan, I’m not so sure that I like what I see.
I guess the London cat cafe, which I finally visited for my birthday this year, has set the standards high for me. England’s animal welfare protection is by no means perfect, but I was pleased to learn about all the requirements the people opening Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium in London had to fulfil. The cats have to stay healthy, be vaccinated, get enough rest and exercise, be fed properly, etc. They certainly seemed happy enough when I visited. Like many people, I expected a bit more of visiting a cat cafe than what I got: I did not get immediately swarmed by purring fluffballs, but the cats don’t mind making new friends if you approach them carefully and don’t disturb their sleep. The best part was watching the little star of the show, Lizzie, interact with one of the waitresses, as she deigned to walk inside one of those giant wheels for cats, demanding attention and affection in return.
Recently I made it to one of Kobe’s cat cafes. You could tell that here in Japan it’s a far less unusual experience, as the waitresses welcomed us just like in a normal cafe, and there were far fewer decorations than in the London one. Still, the cats seemed to have the facilities they needed, although the room was a bit dark and small. Both in this one and in the London cafe, the cats mostly wanted to sleep and not be disturbed. However, I noticed that here in Japan they looked extra sluggish, a bit too fat, and some of them had untreated eye infections. In general, the poor animals just looked very done with all this human attention. Also, in Japan the care for the cats really varies depending on the cafe, especially as the Japanese laws are far less strict than the British ones.
Japan does really lack in terms of animal welfare. I heard many things, such as that zoo enclosures here are much smaller than in England. I also made the mistake of looking into one of those tiny pet shops that can be found on any major shopping street… the puppies and kittens were trapped in tiny cages, and apparently they get killed if they are not sold by the time they grow into adults. Another thing that really bothers me is the fashion for owl cafes – they are almost as common as the cat ones. But cats have more or less adapted to human attention, being awake at daytime, and living in a small room. Owls have not, they are animals that naturally want to be awake at night, and surely should have the freedom of using their wings in wide spaces, rather than being caged. And Japan just keeps on coming up with new cafe ideas – bunnies, hedgehogs, and… goats?! I’d rather pass up on the joy of seeing one of those animals in favour of them living a free life.
This is probably the least happy post on this blog so far, but it must be said – animal welfare in Japan needs improvement! There are so many glorious wild animals roaming the Japanese countryside, but my glee from that thought is dampened as soon as I remember how tired the cats looked in the cafe. Unfortunately, I added to their struggles by visiting, but I will not be going again.