Cat cafés are the kind of thing that I heard about before coming here and didn't really believe. One of those things that I saw on TV or the Internet somewhere and thought "OH, JAPAN! YOU SO CUH-RAZY!"
For those who don't know, a cat café is a place where you pay to sit in a room full of cats and pet them. Or play with them. Or do any other number of adorable things.
When I was in Kyoto for winter break two years ago, my friends and I happened to come across one. At first, I thought it was a pet store until I looked inside and saw a room full of ADORABLE cats. The girl friend that I was with and I got incredibly excited and decided that we should go and see what it was like. My dude friend that was with us shook his head warily and decided to join us later.
When we went in, we paid 1000 yen (about $10) for like twenty minutes, I think? We ordered our drinks and then were led into a room with several yowling cats. The minute that the woman opened the door, she immediately had to push about three cats back with her feet. They were trying to escape.
We took a seat next to the window and waited for our drinks to come. The cats were all over! There must have been about a dozen or so in the small, cozy room that we were in. Gray ones, orange ones, fuzzy ones, shorthaired brown ones, black ones, kittens, old cats - there were all types!
On the table between us lay a large, cute scrapbook that had detailed bios of each cat. I mean...detailed bios! Their age, blood type, favorite food etc. It was expertly decorated and cute-ified out.
We tried to call over some of the cats, but none of them seemed to be having us. Instead, they were laying all around the room pretending that we didn't exist. A few were anxiously waiting by the door for their next chance at escaping.
Some were up in the rafters, chilling on the wooden beams that ran across the ceiling - safely out of reach of grabby human hands. Some were lounging around the corners of the room while others were semi-interested in us. We successfully played with one for a short time before he got bored and moved on.
At one point, two of the cats got into a hissing fight. Then one tackled the other and they started wrestling noisily. The front desk person walked in lackadaisically (brushing the waiting cats aside as she entered) and broke them up. She did this by taking one of the cats out of the room and putting him into a kennel in the separate room where we put our coats and shoes.
This didn't stop the remaining cat from trying to pick another fight with a cat who was minding his/her own business on the ceiling. Another noisy scuffle happened not too long after. This time, nobody came to the rescue.
From the other room, we could hear the departed cat yowling sadly from the kennel he was in. The other cats at the door perked their ears up and waited expectantly for the worker to come back. For their chance to escape again.
After our twenty minutes were up, my friend and I left the warmth of the café and made our way back into the bitingly cold winter evening. I think that I pet a cat for a total of maybe 3 minutes. The rest of our time was spent watching the cats lounge around warily.
Neither of us really enjoyed our experience at the cat café, we decided. It was actually a pretty sad experience. The cats who were in there clearly didn't get along. Nor did they really care for human interaction and affection. If anything, I felt more like an intruder in their room. Being pet and picked up and played with and poked day in and day out has to get old after a while, right?
And at night? It pained me to think that they get locked up in kennels only to be released into that room again the next day to do it all over again. I'm fairly certain there were more rooms in the café, but still.
Going into the cat café, I expected to be up to my knees in happy, purring kitties who would jump into my arms and let me pet them and love them. In reality, I was met with a group of oversocialized, grumpy cats who made me feel terrible for encroaching on their territory and bothering them.
I definitely don't see myself going to another one any time soon. Or at all.