The first cafe opened in Osaka in 2004 and in the years since this phenomenon has spread into all the major cities. In 2008 alone, twelve new cat cafes opened in Tokyo and business is booming in every single one of them.
So what exactly does one do in a cat cafe? Well, seeing that it is Japan, the first thing one does is remove their shoes. Then one's hands must be washed and sanitized, then one orders the coffee or tea drink of their choice and gets down to playing with the many cats and kittens that live in the cafe. Each cafe is different. Some are low-keyed and quiet, with paw shaped cushions to recline on and low lighting and some look like a sort of Chuck E. Cheese for the cat set, with people getting wild with cats in designated play areas, climbing up cat trees, and even just sitting quietly holding cats and scratching bellies. Some people just go to watch the cats, never laying even a finger on them. And there are some general rules throughout all the cat cafes: no flash photography, no grabbing any cat's tail, and no waking any sleeping cats or kittens. Play is restricted only to those cats who wish to play at any given time. There is usually an hourly fee of $8-12 that those who adore cats don't hesitate to pay at the end of a long work day.
This is a very interesting cultural trend, but one that would never fly here due to Board of Health regulations forbidding the allowance of animals where food or drink is prepared, which is probably a good thing for me, given that I am very allergic to cats (even though I foolishly own one). As far as I'm concerned, I like my cats as far away from my coffee and doughnuts as I can possibly get them, if only to keep the inevitable itchies at bay.
Photo courtesy of the Christian Science Monitor.