Cat Cafe, Tokyo, Japan, April 2012

Cat Cafe, Tokyo, Japan, April 2012

On the 13th day of our latest tour, having discarded the shackles of the tour programme for a day or two, we were treated to some precious free time in Tokyo. It felt imperative to experience as much of this mysterious and fascinating city as possible. We were fortunate enough to be led off well-trod tourist routes by two friends, Hirotaka and Yusuke. Whilst exploring, we had some of the most bizarre and outlandish experiences of our travels so far. Below, is a brief account of my memories of one such visit, to a ‘Cat Cafe’ somewhere in the ‘Asakusa’ district:

‘As the elevator doors open, and the three of us step out into a narrow hallway, we’re startled by a woman behind a glass door. She scurries out to greet us, warmly clasping our hands in hers and bowing deeply. The corridor is bathed in a peculiar, nicotine glow, and the woman’s hands are paper-dry and icy cold. We are invited to swap our shoes for slippers before entering the inner sanctum beyond. There is a furtive exchange of accusatory glances between the three of us as a rogue scent, reminiscent of stagnant water, rises from our discarded shoes and, worse still, our socks – a potent reminder that a launderette visit is long overdue. We scramble to squeeze our feet into the clean slippers and, with a paw-like gesture, our hostess ushers us through the glass door.

The air is suddenly heavy with the scent of feline treats and freshly licked fur. There they are! Cats – a dozen or so of them, some wide-eyed with surprise, others disdainfully disinterested in our arrival. Despite the open hospitality of the woman, I feel strangely uninvited!

The room is small, the walls adorned with bizarre feline paraphernalia. The carpeted floor feels soft underfoot, bar the shed cat claws that we occasionally crush into it.

One cat struts away from my outstretched hand, lazily glancing over its shoulder as it collapses into its comfy den. Another parades in front of us, coming to a halt at the feet of our hostess, saffron tail swaying hypnotically. The woman bends low over it, hands held tightly together, purring compliments like a parent admiring a child.

The cat yawns – eyes squeezed shut, back arched elastically and its salmon pink tongue fully extended. For a moment it gives a satisfied shudder, lazily clawing at the carpet before deftly leaping up onto its owner’s left shoulder. She tuts as the cat buries its head under her chin. We stay a while, sipping at cold bottled lattes, trying to seduce a couple of perplexed bobtails into playing with a thin piece of black wire.’

The resident cats housed here were all originally strays. These ‘Cat Cafes’ are developed as shelters, with visitor contributions assisting with veterinary and food bills.  hostess mentioned that for many of her regular visitors, this place provides effective relief from the stresses of everyday life.

Thanks to Hirotaka and Yusuke for directing us to ‘crazy’ places, and to Hiroki for your surprise visit.

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