By Takao Ueda, The Japan News/Yomiuri, 9/22/16
Riding the coattails of the cat cafe boom, so-called animal cafes have become popular, especially in urban areas. Customers can get up close and personal with a variety of creatures – including snakes, owls and rabbits.
Animal cafes in Osaka have increased eight fold over the last five years, as people seeking solace with the animals, as well as foreign tourists craving novelty, have increasingly sought them out.
Nami Kuroki, an 18-year-old company employee from Osaka, enjoyed the roughly 3-foot-long snake draped around her neck at the Rock Star reptile cafe in the city’s Naniwa Ward.
“I like that she cuddles up to people even though they don’t give her attention. Her mysterious nature is fascinating,” she said.
Rock Star’s reptile collection also includes iguanas and chameleons. The cafe opened in 2014 and, after generating strong word-of-mouth buzz, was able to double its seating capacity to 40 last year.
Eighty percent of its customers are women, many of whom came to the shop in search of a scary experience and later became regulars after finding the atmosphere comfortable, according to the cafe.
Although the number of animal cafes nationwide is unknown, a tally compiled by the Osaka city government showed the number of such cafes in the city totaled 48 as of late August, an eight fold increase from five years ago. More than half are cat cafes, but the number of cafes with reptiles, owls, small birds, hamsters and other types of animals has also increased.
Fukuro no Mise (“Owl Shop”) in Osaka’s Kita Ward has increased its efforts to lure foreign travelers, posting information on the internet and taking other steps. Fukuro no Mise employs people from Taiwan, and 70 percent of its customers are now foreigners.
“It’s interesting because we don’t have shops like this in Taiwan,” said a 20-year-old university student visiting Japan. “The big eyes are charming.”
Ashiya Get Plus, a pet rabbit shop in Higashi-Nada Ward, Kobe, added a cafe to its premises in 2012, making it popular among university students and other young people. “Our place even seems to be on a list of popular dating spots,” its operator said.
The Environment Ministry has conducted surveys on well-known cat cafes. According to a survey carried out last October, cat cafes numbered 314 across the nation, up 89 from two years ago.
At Cat Cafe Nekokaigi, which opened in Kyoto, in 2008, customers sometimes have to wait an hour to enter on weekends. The cafe is home to 12 cats that were adopted from people who rescue strays.
“I want to make this cafe a place where people can learn the importance of life and proper way to care for cats,” said cafe manager Mayuko Horii, 37.
Akemi Natsuyama, a senior researcher at the Hakuhodo Institute of Life and Living, said, “The use (of animal cafes) has spread widely, as they not only serve as places for healing but also offer people a unique experience that’s easy to post on Facebook and other sites.
“For people living in urban areas who have difficulty keeping pets, the fact they don’t have to take care of the animals all the time is one reason the cafes are popular,” she added.
Some animal cafes have raised concerns. In June, the Tokyo metropolitan government revoked the business license of a cat cafe in Sumida Ward for its failure to treat sick cats and other improper management. The revocation is believed to be the first of its kind in the nation.
In Osaka, the city government instructed an animal cafe to improve its management after receiving complaints from customers, including that there were animal hairs in the food.
The Animal Protection Law allows pet stores and other facilities to display dogs and cats from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. For cats, the rules were eased in June to extend the display time to 10 p.m., following calls from business operators handling cats. However, other animals are not subject to such time restrictions.
“If animals are abused for the sake of business, it’s really defeating the purpose,” said Megumi Yokoi, the head of Animalship classroom for children, a Tokyo-based company offering animal-assisted education. “I want customers to show good sense by, for example, choosing stores that properly manage the condition of animals.”