Cat cafés. Big in Japan. Coming to Britain
Will £7-an-hour cuddles and soft drinks catch on as life makes it less practical to keep pets?
Airu is a slinky minx with perky features and big green eyes. Normally, for the price of a good sandwich, she will come padding over and wait to be stroked, but today she’s being standoffish. Frankly – according to her profile – she’s more popular with people than cats, but at least she’s not drinking water from the sink, which is one of her favourite pastimes.
Every day dozens of people pay about £7-per-hour to sip soft drinks and cuddle Airu, one of 11 cats at the Caterium café in West Tokyo. Each has its own profile and photograph on a board which lists their personalities and hobbies. Some even have twitter accounts and DVDs. A shrine with photos and messages from well-wishing fans has been constructed for a moggie that passed away last year. “She was very popular,” laments owner Yuki Shigemuri.
Once considered a mainly Japanese phenomenon, cat cafes are spreading to Europe, with one each in Austria and St Petersburg and more planned elsewhere. In London, an entrepreneur is trying to raise £108,000 via crowd-funding to set up Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium. “I think Brits will take to it,” founder Lauren Pears told The Independent. “Lots of people live in small flats or their working lives make it impractical to keep pets.”
Residents of Tokyo, home to about 40 cat-themed cafes, have lived with those restrictions for years, points out Shigeru Onozaki, a real estate agent who dropped by the Caterium on his day off. “Our image of the UK is that people have big homes and always keep pets,” he says as a cat stretches out into a shoebox near his head. “In Tokyo, about half of all real-estate agents ban pets.” Many people are, in any case, too busy to keep them, he adds. “I rarely get home till after 8pm. A cat would starve.”
Cat-themed cafes began in Taiwan and took off a decade ago in Japan’s crowded cities, where apartments are often too cramped for pets, even when landlords allow them. Today, there are about 160 throughout Japan, along with hundreds of shops that rent dogs and other pets out for hourly rates.
Sociologists believe the cats fill a void in an ageing country with too few children - Japan’s population fell last year by 264,000, its largest drop in decades. But Mr Shigemuri says his customers come in all shapes and sizes.
“We do get quite a few lonely-looking women, but we are also popular with children and dating couples. Sometimes salary-men drop in on the way home from work for a cuddle.” A former counsellor for bereaved pet-owners, Mr Shigemuri says stroking cats is a stress-reliever for many people. “Cats are quiet, pliant and clean – a lot easier to maintain than dogs, which you have to walk and look after. They calm you down.”
The cats themselves, stuck indoors and pampered by a string of adoring customers, can be sensitive; after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, Mr Shigemuri says they stayed cowering in a corner for days.
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Weather bomb in pictures: Storms cuts power for tens of thousands – and snow is on the way
Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
Russell Brand was rendered speechless on Question Time by this man
Fury at Airbus after it hints the super-jumbo may be mothballed
Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
New era of cheap oil 'will destroy green revolution'
Ukip founder Alan Sked and Nigel Farage 'begged Enoch Powell to stand as a candidate'
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant
£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company leads the market i...
£30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Manager for Cyber Secur...
£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Service Desk Analyst (App...
£35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: 3rd Line Support Engine...